Marriott makes newspapers optional for guests

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Many U.S. hotel chains like to offer USA Today, The Wall Street Journal or their local newspaper as a courtesy to guests. Marriott International Inc will offer a different courtesy: no paper at all.

Marriott said on Monday that it will stop dropping daily papers automatically at its guests’ doors. Now, it will offer them a choice of papers or, if they want, no paper at all.

Based on preliminary data, Marriott projects that this will reduce newspaper distribution by about 50,000 copies daily, or 18 million annually.

Beginning June 1, guests at the company’s full-service hotels who opt to receive a newspaper can choose between USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and local city dailies.

This likely would affect USA Today more than any other paper. It is the largest U.S. daily by circulation, and derives a good portion of its readership from travelers who can pick up the same paper all across the country, much like the Journal or the New York Times Co’s flagship paper.

A spokeswoman for Gannett Co Inc, USA Today’s parent company, was not immediately available for comment.

Wall Street Journal spokesman Robert Christie declined to speculate on what Marriott’s move would mean for the paper, but said that it would likely affect only a small number of copies. The Journal is owned by Dow Jones & Co, a unit of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Marriott’s move reflects a wider trend across the United States. Newspapers circulation is falling as people turn to the Internet to get news for free instead of paying for it in print. New circulation figures out later this month are expected to show a continuing deterioration in circulation.

Marriott’s move may hurt the newspaper business, but the company expects it will be good for the environment -- something that many corporations are touting to gain a competitive edge and show their commitment to a “greener” world.

“We were seeing a lot of unused papers and thought of the waste,” Marriott spokeswoman Stephanie Hampton said. “We also saw a shift in customer demand and expectations -- 25 percent of them didn’t read the hard copy any more, according to our preliminary studies.”

Based on preliminary data, the company projects that it will avoid 10,350 tons of carbon emissions.

As for its own cost savings, they are not material, Hampton said. She said Marriott pays far less than the cover price for its newspapers because of the numbers it buys companywide. “However, since the quantity went down, the cost per paper went up. Since our new model is based on customer demand, it’s hard to project what our hotel owners might save, if anything.”

Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman and Robert MacMillan, editing by Gerald E. McCormick