Exclusive interview: Arne Sorenson, CEO & President – Marriott International
Arne Sorenson is not only at the helm of the world’s biggest hospitality group but also recently had quite a bit to celebrate in Berlin – being given the IHIF Lifetime Achievement Award – and speaking about “managing the deal of the decade”. Firstly, we asked him how he felt about receiving the award.
I feel like I may be too young for this (laughs)! I am obviously honoured by it and humbled, but in many respects, what we have done so far is simply close the transaction. We haven’t yet proven what we need to prove – that we can build something from the combination of these two companies which is more powerful than we could have done on our own. That’s the hard work we’re about today. So, while we are celebrating in a sense, we are certainly energised, but I don’t think we are claiming victory.
Indeed, you are now at the helm of the largest lodging company in the world. What were the most challenging elements of “managing the deal of the decade”?
WE ARE GOING TO OPEN A HOTEL A LITTLE BIT MORE OFTEN THAN ONCE EVERY 16 HOURS IN 2017.
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 flawlessly 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. 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 we 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.
Beyond the loyalty programme, we do believe that there is a long-term advantage of having the kind of distribution in luxury and lifestyle that the combined platform gives us. We had great momentum in those spaces before, in particular with Ritz-Carlton
in the luxury space and in lifestyle with recent launches like Edition and Moxy, but Starwood obviously had, with St Regis, and W, and Luxury Collection, and Aloft, and Element, strong cred in the lifestyle space particularly. And by bringing the two together we think we are really sizeable in the place which is the most emotionally appealing.
What are your thoughts on IHIF?
It is THE European industry gathering that I think is the most important on the annual calendar, bringing together hotel owners, operators, franchise partners, lots of other folks who support the industry, for an opportunity to talk about issues of common concern, and to think about where we are going as opposed to where we have been.
What’s next on your roadmap?
I think all hands-on deck right now are focussed on bringing these two companies – Starwood and Marriott – together. A lot of that is around the loyalty platform we have talked about. We are excited about the stuff that’s “coming down the pike”!