Arne Sorenson, chief executive of Marriott International, is kept awake at night by “a global wave of nationalism”.
After receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award 2017 at the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) in Berlin, Sorensen was candid in an onstage interview with BBC journalist Tanya Beckett about what concerns him in his role running the world’s largest hotel company.
Referencing the UK’s Brexit vote, the election of Donald Trump and a swing in opinion against immigration in many countries, he said: “The risk for us in the travel business is that even though travel is different than immigration, if people aren’t careful about the way they talk about it, they seem to be the same issue.”
He emphasised the need for the hospitality industry in every country to communicate that foreign guests are welcome, adding that Donald Trump’s travel ban on Muslim-predominant countries was “not helpful” and sending out the wrong message, but peoples’ feelings towards the president would not necessarily impact their desires to visit the US.
He also discussed Marriott’s £13b acquisition of Starwood to create the world’s largest hotel company last year. He said Marriott initially dismissed the acquisition as far too expensive, but reconsidered when the deal became cheaper and after considering the challenges the future holds for Marriott.
He admitted that it was the lure of the combined loyalty programmes that made them reconsider – combining Starwood Preferred Guests and Marriott Rewards created a loyalty programme of 75 million guests with access to a portfolio of 6,000 hotels and 30 brands across 115 countries – allowing Marriott to compete with both other hotel companies and online travel agents (OTAs).
“We became convinced that the loyalty programme, the bigger we could make it, the more powerful our platform. [With] that much more choice for our customers, we could create a deeper connection with them that would protect us from intermediaries, from folks offering different products, from folks trying to use their technology to get in the middle of our relationships.”
He described the power of the companies’ combined rewards programmes as “both defensive and offensive” and a way to “protect” themselves and their guests from OTA poaching, however adding that when OTAs bring in extra business it is of course a positive.
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