Marriott is one of the most prominent names in the hotel industry, with over 7,000 properties around the world today. But how did this global brand grow from humble beginnings in the 1920s into a powerhouse multinational company?

A key driver of Marriott’s expansion strategy over the decades has been franchising – allowing entrepreneurs and investors to operate hotels under the company’s established brands. So when did Marriott first embark on franchising and what fueled its rise as a leading franchisor?

In short, Marriott began experimenting with hotel franchising in the 1960s, but it was in the 1980s that franchising took off and became core to the company’s business model for rapid growth.

Marriott’s Early Years as an Operator

Marriott, a renowned name in the hospitality industry, has a fascinating origin story that dates back to 1927. It all started with a humble root beer stand in Washington D.C. The founder, J. Willard Marriott, had a vision to provide exceptional service and create memorable experiences for his customers.

Little did he know that this small venture would eventually blossom into a global empire.

Founded in 1927 with a root beer stand in D.C.

J. Willard Marriott’s root beer stand quickly gained popularity among the locals, thanks to its refreshing beverages and friendly service. The success of this venture laid the foundation for a series of innovative business ideas that would revolutionize the hospitality industry.

Marriott’s commitment to quality and customer satisfaction propelled the company forward, leading to its expansion into new ventures. In the years that followed, Marriott branched out into various industries, including airline catering, food services, and even the operation of airport restaurants.

Opened first hotel in 1957 in Arlington, Virginia

In 1957, Marriott took a leap of faith and entered the hotel industry by opening its first hotel in Arlington, Virginia. This marked a significant milestone in the company’s history, as it signaled the beginning of Marriott’s journey as a prominent hotel operator.

The Marriott hotel in Arlington quickly gained recognition for its impeccable service, luxurious amenities, and attention to detail. This success laid the groundwork for Marriott to continue expanding its hotel portfolio and become a leading player in the industry.

Grew portfolio through owned/managed properties at first

During its early years, Marriott primarily focused on owning and managing its properties. This strategy allowed the company to have greater control over the quality of service and guest experience. As Marriott’s reputation grew, so did the demand for its properties.

Marriott’s portfolio expanded rapidly, with new hotels opening in key locations across the United States. The company’s commitment to excellence and innovation made it a preferred choice for travelers seeking exceptional accommodations.

Over time, Marriott evolved its business model to include franchising, which further fueled its growth. By partnering with individuals and companies who shared their vision and values, Marriott was able to expand its reach and establish a global presence.

Today, Marriott continues to innovate and adapt to the changing needs of travelers worldwide. With a diverse portfolio of brands and a commitment to exceptional service, Marriott remains a leader in the hospitality industry.

First Franchise License Signed in 1967

In the early 1960s, Marriott was already making a name for itself in the hospitality industry. However, it wasn’t until 1963 that the company took its first step towards the franchise model. Marriott licensed the name Twin Bridges Motor Hotel, marking the beginning of their foray into franchising.

Marriott licensed the name Twin Bridges Motor Hotel in 1963

Marriott’s decision to license the name Twin Bridges Motor Hotel in 1963 was a strategic move that allowed the company to expand its reach without taking on the burden of ownership and management. This move laid the foundation for Marriott’s future franchise endeavors.

Signed first franchise deal for a Marriott-branded hotel in 1967

Building on the success of licensing the Twin Bridges Motor Hotel, Marriott signed its first franchise deal for a Marriott-branded hotel in 1967. This marked a significant milestone for the company, as it allowed them to leverage their well-established brand and expand their presence in the market.

Slow start to franchising in the company’s early days

While Marriott’s entry into the franchise model in the 1960s was a promising move, it didn’t immediately take off. The company faced challenges in convincing potential franchisees to invest in the Marriott brand.

However, with time, Marriott’s reputation for quality and their commitment to customer satisfaction helped them overcome these obstacles and establish a successful franchise model.

Franchising Expansion in the 1980s and 1990s

During the 1980s and 1990s, Marriott experienced significant growth and expansion through its franchising model. This period marked a crucial chapter in Marriott’s history as the company took bold steps to expand its offerings and reach a wider audience.

Marriott Vacation Club timeshares introduced in 1984

In 1984, Marriott introduced its groundbreaking Marriott Vacation Club timeshare program. This innovative concept allowed individuals to purchase a share of a Marriott vacation property, providing them with a luxurious and flexible way to enjoy their holidays.

The introduction of timeshares was a major milestone for Marriott, as it not only created new revenue streams but also allowed the company to establish long-term relationships with its customers.

Partnerships fueled international growth

One of the key drivers behind Marriott’s international expansion in the 1980s and 1990s was its strategic partnerships. By joining forces with local developers and investors, Marriott was able to tap into new markets and establish a strong presence worldwide.

These partnerships enabled the company to navigate the complexities of operating in foreign countries, leveraging local expertise and resources to ensure the success of their ventures. As a result, Marriott was able to expand its franchise model to destinations across the globe, catering to the growing demand for high-quality accommodations.

Franchising surged under CEO Bill Marriott

Under the visionary leadership of CEO Bill Marriott, the company experienced a surge in franchising during the 1980s and 1990s. Recognizing the potential of this business model, Bill Marriott actively promoted and supported franchising as a means of growth for the company.

This strategic decision allowed Marriott to rapidly expand its footprint, with franchisees opening new properties in both domestic and international markets. The franchise model not only provided opportunities for entrepreneurs to become part of the Marriott family but also enabled the company to leverage the local knowledge and expertise of these partners, ensuring the success of each new venture.

Ongoing Franchise Growth and Diversification

In order to maintain its position as one of the world’s leading hotel chains, Marriott has continuously pursued franchise growth and diversification. By acquiring leading brands such as Ritz-Carlton and Starwood, Marriott has expanded its portfolio and solidified its presence in the luxury and upscale segments of the market.

This strategic move not only allowed Marriott to tap into new customer bases but also leverage the reputation and recognition of these prestigious brands.

Acquired leading brands like Ritz-Carlton and Starwood

One of the key milestones in Marriott’s franchise model evolution was the acquisition of Ritz-Carlton in 1995. This marked the beginning of Marriott’s foray into the luxury hotel segment, offering guests unparalleled experiences and impeccable service.

The acquisition of Starwood in 2016 further strengthened Marriott’s position in the market, bringing together iconic brands such as St. Regis, W Hotels, and Westin under the Marriott umbrella.

The addition of these leading brands not only expanded Marriott’s global footprint but also provided opportunities for cross-brand promotions and loyalty program integration. This has allowed Marriott to cater to a wider range of travelers, from budget-conscious individuals to luxury seekers, and retain their loyalty across different hotel brands.

Extended franchising to new concepts like Fairfield Inn

In addition to acquiring established brands, Marriott has also extended its franchising model to include new concepts. One such example is the introduction of Fairfield Inn, a mid-scale hotel brand that offers comfortable accommodations at an affordable price.

By diversifying its portfolio, Marriott has been able to cater to a broader customer base and capture market segments that were previously untapped.

The success of Fairfield Inn and other new concepts has further fueled Marriott’s franchise growth, attracting potential franchisees who see the value in partnering with a reputable and established brand.

This expansion into different market segments has allowed Marriott to adapt to changing customer preferences and stay ahead of the competition.

Now over 70% of hotels are franchised

Marriott’s commitment to franchise growth is evident in the fact that over 70% of its hotels are currently operated under the franchise model. This shift towards franchising has allowed Marriott to leverage the entrepreneurial spirit and local market expertise of its franchise partners while maintaining control over brand standards and quality.

It has also enabled Marriott to accelerate its expansion into new markets and leverage the local knowledge and connections of its franchisees.

With a growing portfolio of franchised properties, Marriott has been able to rapidly expand its global presence, with hotels in over 130 countries and territories. This extensive network not only provides travelers with a wide range of options but also strengthens Marriott’s position as a market leader.

The Mutually Beneficial Franchise Model

Marriott’s franchise model has been a key driver of the company’s success, enabling it to achieve rapid expansion and establish a strong presence in the hospitality industry. This mutually beneficial arrangement has brought advantages for both Marriott and its franchisees, while also benefiting consumers.

Franchising enabled rapid expansion for Marriott

Franchising has played a crucial role in Marriott’s growth strategy, allowing the company to expand its footprint quickly and efficiently. By partnering with franchisees, Marriott has been able to tap into local markets and leverage their expertise and resources.

This approach has enabled Marriott to open new hotels in different locations, both domestically and internationally, at a faster pace than if they were relying solely on company-owned properties.

According to a report by the International Franchise Association, franchising has been a significant driver of economic growth, contributing billions of dollars to the global economy. Marriott’s franchise model aligns with this trend, as it allows the company to create job opportunities and stimulate economic development in various communities.

Franchisees benefit from branding, support

Marriott’s franchisees enjoy several advantages that come with being part of a well-established brand. By affiliating with Marriott, franchisees gain access to the company’s extensive marketing and advertising resources, which can help them attract customers and increase profitability.

The Marriott name carries a reputation for quality and consistency, which can be a significant selling point for potential guests.

In addition to branding benefits, franchisees also receive support from Marriott in various aspects of hotel operations. This includes assistance with staff training, operational best practices, and access to the company’s proprietary technology systems.

Such support can streamline operations and improve the overall guest experience, leading to higher customer satisfaction and increased revenue.

Consumers gained consistency and loyalty

One of the main advantages for consumers resulting from Marriott’s franchise model is the consistency they can expect across different properties. Whether they are staying in a Marriott-owned hotel or a franchised property, guests can rely on the same high standards of service, amenities, and overall experience.

This consistency has helped build customer loyalty and trust in the Marriott brand.

Moreover, the franchise model has allowed Marriott to expand its presence in various markets, making it more accessible to travelers around the world. This increased availability of Marriott properties gives consumers more options when choosing accommodations, ensuring that they can enjoy the benefits of the brand no matter where they travel.


For nearly a century, Marriott grew as an operator and owner of hotels. But franchising emerged in the 1960s as a strategic opportunity, before accelerating to become the company’s primary growth vehicle from the 1980s onward.

For Marriott, franchising allowed rapid geographic expansion and diversification of brands while requiring less capital investment. For franchisees, using trusted brands like Marriott lowered risk and marketing costs. This ultimately benefited the consumer through a steadfast travel experience.

In summary, Marriott began cautiously experimenting with hotel franchising in the 1960s, but it was in the pivotal 1980s that franchising became core to Marriott’s expansion. This strategic shift propelled Marriott’s rise to become the world’s largest hotel company, enabled by franchising’s mutually beneficial dynamics for franchisor, franchisee, and traveler alike.

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