Event Design

The Man From Marriott

Marriott International President and CEO Arne Sorenson — the Opening General Session speaker at PCMA Convening Leaders 2016 in Vancouver next month — on filling the Marriotts' shoes, easing global travel, and partnering with planners 'from inspiration to execution.'

Arne SorensenWhen Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International, takes the stage for the Opening General Session at PCMA Convening Leaders 2016 next month, there’s little doubt what will be top of mind for most people in the audience: Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide last month, which created the largest hotel company in the world, with 1.1 million guest rooms at more than 5,500 properties. Sorenson will talk about that at Convening Leaders, including what the acquisition means for Marriott’s voluminous meetings business.

Meanwhile, here’s a Convening Leaders Preview we did with him just before the big news went public:

What has been your priority in assuming the role of president and CEO of Marriott International? It’s been three years since I became CEO. And it is intimidating in some respects to step into a job, not just as the first non-family member, but when you look at the careers of both Bill Marriott and his father — his father was CEO for 45 years, Bill was CEO for 40 years, so between the two of them they covered 85 years. But, needless to say, Mr. Marriott’s been great, not just during the transition but as a mentor.

Along with an immensely talented executive team, I’ve been focused on making Marriott International the world’s favorite travel company. We have about 350,000 people who wear a Marriott name badge every day around the world. How do you give them the opportunity to feel like they’ve got pride in their work, and, obviously, how do you do that in a way that encourages them to deliver stellar service, something that customers recognize, and love us and want to continue to stay and plan their meetings with us? “Putting people first” — the foundation of our core values helps us with this.

I’ve also been focused on growth all around the world. Our global-development pipeline continues to increase, having reached more than 260,000 rooms at the end of our third quarter as owners and franchisees continue to choose our brands. Combined, our pipeline and open rooms exceed 1 million rooms worldwide.

What are some general trends in the hospitality sector that most excite you? I think the hotel industry is a great business. It’s universally of interest because so many have the experience of staying in a hotel. From a trend perspective, I’d have to say that technology is revolutionizing how we operate, from reservations, to choosing food-and-beverage options, to how guests check in and check out, to meeting planning.

We also have been strong supporters of easing global travel. There are a billion international border crossings every year. With the rising middle classes of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America eager to travel, the numbers grow at more than 5 percent annually. Isn’t it time that collectively governments consider how to share security and personal data across borders to create a Global Trusted Traveler Card? Based on a personal security evaluation, vetted travelers might be able to pursue education, adventure, social service, and commerce across countries. In an interconnected world, trade too could be better facilitated by a system of cooperation that spurs commerce, including the powerful travel engine, and that would further connect nations and enable us to create jobs and prosper together.

How do you partner with meeting planners in executing their events? Marriott wants to partner with meeting planners — from inspiration to execution. We also want to make it easy to create the events you want to at our hotels. That’s why we have an integrated Convention & Resort Network that is home to our premier collection of 60 of our properties, representing over 60,000 rooms and 6.7 million square feet of event space in our JW Marriott, Autograph Collection, Renaissance, Marriott, and Gaylord hotels and resorts.

Our goal is to dazzle you with the ease with which we help you plan and host your groups, with a comprehensive pre- and post-meeting focus. We provide standardized post-convention reports to ensure the transfer of knowledge and best practices from one property to another — making it easier to plan annual conferences and events with our properties.

I’d say we approach the convention and meeting business the same we approach our individual guests: by putting the customer first. It’s that focus that has allowed us to grow our business while still staying true to our core values.  

How would you describe Marriott’s approach to hosting meetings/conferences at its properties? We host thousands of meetings every year, so planning a well-crafted, creative, and inspiring meeting has become an art form for us, with so many possibilities. Our global meeting strategy focuses on taking meetings beyond tables and chairs to transforming the meeting into an experience. Marriott is the first hotel company to reimagine the traditional meeting by creating a unique branded meeting experience for each of our full-service brands. Earlier this year, we launched an industry first, Meetings Imagined, a collection of innovative meeting-planning tools and services, created to help planners design and deliver inspiring experiences to their attendees. After thoroughly researching and analyzing over 40,000 meetings and events, we discovered that today’s meeting planners and attendees want a fresh and innovative approach to planning, and we believe Meetings Imagined is the answer to that need.

What is one takeaway you would like your PCMA audience to go away with? Our global sales team and planners at our hotels around the world are knowledgeable and strive to help planners achieve their goals. Coupled with their expertise and local area knowledge, our Meetings Imagined concept allows us to help planners create something that goes beyond “a meeting” and delivers an experience where people feel connected, inspired, and where meeting goals are accomplished.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.