As fear surrounding the coronavirus pandemic wanes and bookings across the travel industry continue to increase, Marriott International continues to lead hotel brands in dedication to guests and the vacation experience.
Marriott Group President for the United States and Canada, Liam Brown, has helped the company throughout the pandemic, and he spoke to TravelPulse about a host of topics, including the impact of COVID- 19, the 2022 travel resurgence, sustainability initiatives, diversity efforts and more. .
Here’s the full Q&A session with Brown:
TravelPulse (TP): The Omicron variant is just the latest in a series of coronavirus-related roadblocks to the travel industry’s recovery. What was the impact on Marriott and were any plans changed as a result?
Liam Brown (LB): Travel is incredibly resilient, and we’ve seen that more than ever in the past two years. We are pleased with the progress we have made despite the continued challenges of the pandemic. Although Omicron caused a temporary setback, we are gaining momentum as new bookings across all customer segments have returned to pre-Omicron levels.
With respect to any plans that have changed, at the heart of our approach, while the environment will certainly be different from what it was before the pandemic, our commitment to providing guests with an exceptional stay and the experiences that they look forward when traveling has not changed. At its core, our business is about giving customers a great experience, attracting great talent, and working great with owners and franchisees. These are the principles that have guided us and will continue to guide us.
Plus, we’re excited about some of the new ways people are traveling. Leisure demand continues to be strong and we believe there will be interest in business-leisure travel this year. More flexible working environments and virtual connection comfort will encourage this way of travelling. At the same time, the engagement, connection and collaboration that people get from an in-person meeting simply cannot be replicated through technology – we hear and see this from our group customers.
TP: Travelers face cold temperatures and dream of vacations, whether to warm destinations or spring and summer breaks. Do you think Marriott is ready for the influx of reservations? From a staff perspective?
KG): Over the past year, we have seen strong pent-up demand for leisure travel and, like the rest of our industry, we have encountered staffing challenges, particularly in markets where we have seen an increase in recreational demand – for example, Florida, California, Texas and Arizona, among others. By the end of last year, we had filled nearly 50,000 positions at our managed hotels in the United States and Canada.
Our goal is to communicate the incredible benefits of a career in hospitality. There really is no more exciting, rewarding and challenging career. This is a message that our entire industry needs to embrace and communicate. We seek to attract candidates who wish to establish a long-term relationship with Marriott. I can say from personal experience that we provide a great opportunity for people to develop their careers with us. For example, half of our general managers in the United States started out as hourly hotel employees.
TP: A new year is an opportunity for new beginnings. What does Marriott have planned for 2022 in terms of future marquee properties and the future of the company as a whole?
KG: We have several highly anticipated openings and renovations this year. In March, the new Marriott Bethesda Downtown at Marriott HQ will open. The New York Marriott Marquis has undergone a major $135 million renovation. The Ritz-Carlton New York, NoMad will open this spring as one of the tallest buildings in the area, with views from the Empire State Building to the Statue of Liberty. The Sheraton brand continues its transformation with several newly renovated properties in Canada, including Sheraton Center Toronto, which recently launched its new arrival experience, lobby and renovated Club Lounge. From a future growth perspective, we are well positioned to continue to grow our lead in resort destinations, as well as in the luxury space.
Overall, our ability to deepen our engagement with our guests through Marriott Bonvoy will continue to be vital. We are enhancing and growing Marriott Bonvoy into an immersive travel platform that includes our 30 hotel brands as well as multiple products and offers that allow us to deliver value to our members beyond hotel stays.
TP: What are Marriott’s sustainability efforts to make its hotels, resorts and other properties more environmentally friendly?
KG: Our sustainability and social impact platform, Serve 360, guides our commitment to making a positive and lasting impact everywhere we do business, delivering value to associates, customers, owners, the environment and communities of the whole world. Integrating sustainability into our operations and value chain is central to our business strategy to ensure the resilience and longevity of the business, and of the communities and environments in which we operate. Our sustainability strategy includes our commitment to climate action – last year we took the next steps by committing to set science-based emission reduction targets and achieve net zero emissions by 2050 later. We have also joined the Race to Zero via the most ambitious standard, Business Ambition for 1.5, in which all participants commit to reducing emissions across all perimeters quickly and fairly in accordance with the Paris Agreement, with transparent action plans and solid short-term goals.
To support these goals and commitments, we are implementing a variety of initiatives ranging from innovative ecosystem restoration and carbon sequestration projects, such as working with The Ocean Foundation to dispose and reuse Sargassum seaweed, to launching a publicly available responsible sourcing guide for our supply chain. . Our hotels led the way in operationalizing programs such as The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage and five other California hotels by installing a food waste reduction system, which diverted 37,931 tons of food waste from landfills between November 2019 and March 2021. The JW Marriott Washington DC recently received the 2021 Global Energy Management Leadership Award, one of the highest honors in energy management and conservation, for reducing more than 725 metric tons of carbon emissions. And these are just a few examples – there are so many more.
TP: What are Marriott’s efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion?
KG: Marriott has a long-standing commitment to fostering a culture of inclusion and belonging. More than 50% of US senior management and our global operating committee are diverse. While we’re proud of this progress, we also know there’s still a long way to go. Last year, we announced an acceleration of our efforts to achieve global gender parity for women in leadership roles by 2023, two years ahead of our original goal. We also set a new goal to increase the representation of people of color in leadership positions in the United States from 20.5% to 25% by 2025. We have several programs focused on attracting and developing of diverse and inclusive talent, including the Emerging Leaders program. To date, this program has more than 1,200 participants who have progressed to leadership positions within the company. Additionally, Marriott is working with the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation and Howard University to establish the Marriott-Sorenson Center for Hospitality Leadership at Howard to address racial equity in the hospitality industry by creating a pipeline of diverse leadership talent, which is a priority for Marriott and our industry.