With 30 brands and more than 7,000 hotel properties, Marriott International’s sales executives are in the thick of an upended marketplace, with changing pandemic protocols, labor shortages, a new level of interest in sustainability from clients, and high demand for meeting space, among other challenges. During a roundtable discussion with the media at IMEX America, Julius W. Robinson, chief sales & marketing officer, U.S. and Canada; Tammy Routh, senior vice president of global sales; and Brian Gilligan, senior vice president sales and distribution, shared their thoughts on concerns and opportunities for the year ahead.
On Hotel Labor Shortages
Labor remains a tough issue for Marriott and other hotel companies. “Recent studies have shown almost a third of our hospitality population exited during the pandemic, by choice or not by choice, and it's been quite difficult trying to get those individuals back into our hotels,” said Robinson. Many are looking for a level of flexibility that doesn’t work for the roles they used to have, he said. As a result, Marriott is trying to provide more flexible options, especially for operations roles. He noted that the labor challenges vary around the country, with significant hourly associate shortages in the Southeast and the West, and management shortages in the Midwest and Northeast. “We recognize that the best way for us to rebuild our hotels staffing is to really talk about the career opportunities in Marriott and in hospitality,” Robinson said. “We're not just a job; it's a career opportunity.”
In September, Marriott International announced that it had joined the Race to Zero, a global campaign rallying companies, institutions, cities, and others to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050. “And now what we're working on is what does it mean in the meetings and events industry?” said Routh. “I have been very surprised how sustainability has become one of the top two or three things customers want to talk about.” Routh said to look for meaningful developments from Marriott in terms of executing and measuring sustainable meetings. “We want to be very innovative in this space,” she said, noting to expect initiatives beyond buying carbon offsets. “We're hearing from our customers that [offsets] don’t feel like they really make the difference that we need to make.”
On the Luxury Market
Despite the pandemic, the luxury hotel market is thriving. It’s “one of the fastest growing segments that we have in the U.S. and Canada,” said Robinson. “We will be developing nearly 30 hotels over the next three years in luxury, which, in this environment, we feel really, really good about.” He pointed to The St. Regis Chicago, opening next year, as a highlight of Marriott’s luxury growth.
“I think meeting planners are going to be surprised at the lack of availability in some of their destinations for some of the weeks that they're looking for in 2022,” cautioned Robinson. Many meetings booked for this fall were pushed into 2022 as the mid-year delta variant surged. “We're trying to get the word out that ‘22 and ‘23 are going to be very busy years for short-term business as well as business that’s already on the books,” he said. “And we're going to need planners to think early about when and where they want to be.”
On Event Design
In-person collaboration is a high priority for planners, but it can’t be accomplished in an old-school format with three 15-minute breaks and a 45-minute lunch, said Gilligan. Planners are looking for new spaces and formats for collaboration, and event design that’s “more curated and orchestrated, and purposely built” for productive interaction, he said. “I think that's the big trend; breaks will be longer, lunch might be more spread out. There’ll be different options than the normal agenda. And we're beginning to see that play out in new RFPs that are coming in.”
On the Sheraton Brand
The revamp of the Sheraton brand continues. “Before the pandemic, we spent a lot of time talking about Sheraton and the work around transforming the brand,” Robinson said. “We had great progress there. The pandemic's set us back a bit, but now that we're coming out of that we're really happy to showcase our Phoenix hotel, which is our Sheraton-transformed property in the United States. It's the one that Marriott International purchased to showcase what the future of the brand is all about. And we're excited that the hotel is 99 percent completed.”