Marriott International executive vice president of business development Bruce Wolff described to BTN editors how the merchant model evolved over the past year.

In the old model, intermediaries used to require room blocks for participation. Room blocks ensured they had rooms to sell. Even during the worst of the downturn, there were instances of high demand where you couldn't get a room at certain chains' hotels unless you went to a merchant site. You couldn't get rooms on the hotel's own site because the hotel had exhausted its supply of rooms, but the merchant site was smart enough to hold out its block until the remainder of the inventory became scarce. Now there are only rooms on the merchant site if we have rooms to sell. If we don't, the intermediaries aren't going to get them. It benefits Marriott and it benefits the traveler.

With the new model, Marriott does not allow sales through room blocks. Margins industrywide are about half what they were. Remember, with the lower margin, you're not paying a GDS fee and a credit card fee, so it's much closer to the 10 percent travel agent commission than you would think. All Marriott's sales now are taken only when we want them. All the merchant sites either are fully automated or in the process of automating, so the properties don't have any extra work connected to these bookings. So the model created for TravelWeb - no room block, lower cost of participation, price integrity and automation - has ended up being adopted by the entire industry.