“At the Helm” of the World’s Biggest Hotel Group

Exclusive Interview: Arne Sorenson – President & CEO – Marriott International

Arne Sorenson is now at the helm of the largest lodging company in the world, having taken over the Starwood group. We asked him what the most challenging elements were of “managing the deal of the decade”?

Let’s put it in context. It is big. We are going to open a hotel a little bit more often than once every 16 hours in 2017, which gives you the scale of the size of this, and of course we need to make sure that those hotels each open as close to awlessly as possible, and that entails an extraordinary amount of work. It means motivating and empowering people who are set up around the world not from decisions that are made at the centre. I think when you look at the most important things for us to get right, obviously we need to get that day-to- day stuff right, in addition to the operation of the approximately 6,000 hotels we have operating today. But beyond that we have to make sure we pull together the loyalty programmes – Marriott Rewards and SPG – in a way that causes that community of almost 100-million unique members to like the programme as it evolves going forward and to intensify their loyalty to our portfolio of hotels.

Why was it so important to acquire Starwood?

It really starts with this loyalty programme. We obviously want to be able to deliver to our customers as broad a range of choices as they can, and we want to be able to say to them, “You really don’t need to look anywhere else when you are thinking about booking a hotel today”. We’ve got tremendous distribution in the luxury area, tremendous distribution in lifestyle, strong distribution in select service. As a consequence, no matter what you want to spend, no matter where you are going, no matter what kind of sensibility you want from the hotel, we have a place for you to stay. And we think we can create an ecosystem of loyal customers who look to us for their place to stay and look to us directly for booking their experience, sharing their experience, planning their travel… we want to be relevant in all those spaces. And we think by being bigger, by having that many more choices, by having that much bigger ecosystem of customers, we create something that is just that much more powerful than we could have done on our own.

You were chosen as the first “non-family” president & CEO in the history of the company. What qualities were required to fill this role, and what attracted you to this position?

I got to know Mr Marriott in 1992, and have been working with him regularly since 1996. He has taught me an extraordinary amount. In many respects, I think he’s forgotten more about the hotel business than I will ever know. But he remains a good partner, and I think as he got to a point where he needed to hand off the CEO role to somebody else, that relationship we had – the fact that I was a known quantity – were very comforting elements to him. I think beyond that, the things he has taught me and I believe to important would be an open-mindedness and a curiosity about trends in our business, threats to our business – and it’s about keeping your ears open and listening – both to folks internally and to competitors and to other forces that are happening in the marketplace. That open mindedness was very much a feature of his leadership style and I hope it’s one of mine. In addition to that, it is a job that requires an attentiveness to people. We all say this of course, but in no industry is it more true than in ours… we are a people business. We cannot deliver the kind of experience we want our guests to have except through our people.

What are your thoughts about ITB Berlin?

ITB is one of the globe’s principal gatherings of customers and travel companies – and an indispensable place to do business.