Becoming ‘culturally competent’

Marriott employees gain insights to better meet hotel guests’ needs

Becoming ‘culturally competent’
In years past, Marriott International has held Culture Day programming with staff learning the historic significance of henna through the work of an on-site henna artist. Credit: Kryvenok Anastasiia (Shutterstock)

Corporations play an important role in today’s global society. They have the opportunity to help shape the world around them, demonstrate responsibility and influence leaders, societies and cultural trends.

Studies show that consumers want to engage with companies they believe are socially responsible, transparent and accountable.

Marriott International works to ensure it holistically considers key stakeholder groups such as employees, suppliers, owners, communities and, of course, guests. The company strives to meet consumers’ needs, improve cultural competence and delight its visitors.

Inclusivity is at the heart of everything Marriott does, and its strength lies in the uniqueness and diversity of its workforce, guests and business partners.

Corporate and market teams work hard to build preference and loyalty from diverse customer segments for the Marriott portfolio of brands, and promote inclusion through relationships with key stakeholders. This entails listening, understanding, accommodating and welcoming people from all around the world. 

This is accomplished by having an inclusive mindset and programs that build cultural competence. The company has had a perfect 100 score on the Corporate Equality Index published by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation for years, by offering education and sales training focused on cultural inclusivity across its properties for all employees.

Culture Day

One innovative approach is its Culture Day program.

Founded in 2014, the opportunity provides employee training to ensure a welcoming environment and accommodating experience at all the hotels. Culture Day was designed to help global teams become more culturally competent and better serve multicultural guests.

In a series of one-day events across the properties, the program provides information about the requirements and customs of 13 countries and cultures, as well as best practices that are essential for hosting successful, culturally diverse events.

Each curriculum is based off real-world scenarios, focusing on appropriate cultural terms, business and social protocols, traditions, trends, cuisine and clothing. In the last five years, Marriott has hosted more than 50 Culture Day training sessions in more than 30 cities and eight countries.

The program also answers the needs of specific markets across the globe. For example, the immigrant population in Calgary has almost doubled since 2001 — now surpassing 400,000, according to Statistics Canada.

The primary groups leading this rise include newcomers from the Philippines, India, China, Pakistan and Nigeria. This year, it was reported that South Asians make up 7.5 per cent of the city’s population.

This year, Marriott held a Culture Day training session on South Asian culture, focusing on catering and customs — given the high volume of wedding business in the city.

In years past, the hotel has also touched on the historic significance of henna through the work of an on-site henna artist, and learned about Indian attire through a sari tying demo.

Additionally, to ensure those with a South Asian background can easily celebrate in traditional style at the Westin Calgary, the hotel has the ability to block off outdoor street space for a traditional Baraat leading into the venue. There’s also a wedding co-ordinator and event staff experienced in traditional Indian wedding celebrations.

Mexican culture became a new focus this year, as has LGBTQ initiatives. And just recently, the hotel team was able to secure a three-year foreign air crew contract worth more than $130,000 thanks to their learnings in cultural competence.

Instilling confidence

Participants typically leave feeling confident, with newfound insights about different countries and cultures that help them effectively anticipate and understand a guest’s need. This leads to better business outcomes and higher customer satisfaction. It’s about understanding the “differences that make a difference.”

Marriott’s core values, particularly of putting people first is essential to its culture of inclusion and will always be at the forefront of the business.

It recognizes that society is increasingly looking for companies to have a point of view on issues impacting employees and guests, and it is putting words into action when it comes to focusing on diversity, inclusion and cultural awareness.

This year, Marriott will host more than 25 Culture Day programs around the world, and in Canada alone, it has trained more than 200 associates at seven different sessions.

Marriott has been recognized for its talent development programs and landed on several top employer lists including DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity, Black Enterprise Best Companies for Diversity, LATINA Style Company of the Year, and Asia Society Best Companies for Asian Pacific Americans Awards

Put simply, the hotel chains welcomes all guests — no matter who they are, where they come from, or who they love.

This mission cannot be taken lightly by a hospitality leader, and Marriott is committed to continue in its efforts to put people first.

Apoorva Gandhi is vice-president of multicultural affairs at Marriott International in Washington, D.C. For more information, visit 

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