(CNN) — Marriott has grand plans for Asia.

The company is aiming to open two new hotels a week across the region this year alone as it looks to add 300 properties to its Asian portfolio by the end of 2020.

The hotel chain is hoping to cash in on “the most exciting, dynamic market in the world,” chief commercial officer Stephanie Linnartz told CNN Business in a recent interview.

China — Marriott’s top international market and the world’s biggest source of outbound tourists — will get more than half of its new hotels in the region, but the company is also planning to grow in India and Indonesia.

To win more Chinese customers, the company has been adding services that appeal to them directly. At one of its newest hotels, the St. Regis in Hong Kong, guests can call butlers using China’s most popular messaging app, WeChat, along with other platforms like Facebook’s WhatsApp.

Hotels in cities like London, New York and San Francisco — all popular destinations for Chinese visitors — are also trying to make them feel more at home.

Chinese travelers there are being welcomed by Mandarin-speaking staff, and offered Chinese newspapers, instant noodles and congee, a popular breakfast porridge.

Challenges in China

It hasn’t always been easy for the world’s biggest hotel chain to do business in China.

Last year, Marriott’s website was blocked for a week by Chinese authorities after its app listed Hong Kong, Macau, Tibet and Taiwan as separate “countries.”

In December, hackers working for China’s Ministry of State Security were accused of being behind massive breach that exposed the data of up to 500 million customers of Marriott’s Starwood Hotels.

Linnartz said the company was determined to bounce back from both setbacks.

“Those are challenges and we certainly regret that both of them happened,” she said.

The country labeling incident was “a mistake,” Linnartz said, adding that the company was doing “everything possible” to prevent something like that happening again.

Linnartz also stressed that Marriott would not speculate about “who was involved” in the data breach as it works with law enforcement around the world to investigate what happened.

Internal issues aren’t the only obstacle Marriott faces in China and the rest of Asia.

OYO, India’s top hotel chain, claims it’s adding rooms faster than the world’s top three hotel groups combined.

China is OYO’s second biggest market — and this month, the company expanded into Japan through a new joint venture with SoftBank, one of its big-name investors alongside Airbnb.

“By 2023 we want to be the largest and most preferred hotel chain in the world,” OYO told CNN Business recently.

Linnartz was reluctant to comment on OYO, but added that she doesn’t see the startup competing with Marriott “in the luxury space.”

Future of hotels

Marriott is counting on innovation in China to help beat off competitors.

Last summer, two of its hotels debuted facial recognition technology, allowing guests to check-in within 60 seconds using software from a joint venture with China’s Alibaba.

That partnership is “one of the things that I’ve been most excited about in the past couple of years,” said Linnartz.

The technology is still in the pilot stage, but Marriott hopes eventually to roll it out globally.

It’s the 92-year-old company’s latest major effort to shake things up.

Last year, it partnered with Amazon to let visitors use Echo devices to order room service or call the front desk. Linnartz, who describes keeping up with tech trends as a key challenge of her job, says she is constantly looking at how experiences like augmented reality could be brought into Marriott hotels.

But while automation has changed the game, the human touch is still vital.

“I think the key is about giving consumers choice,” she said. “It still comes to the warm smile at your door with the coffee or whatever, right?”

The-CNN-Wire
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