Executive view for 2022: Stephanie Linnartz of Marriott International

Stephanie Linnartz is the president of Marriott International.

With 30 brands and close to 8,000 hotels in 138 different countries -- and about 25 new countries in the pipeline -- our outlook really does vary quite a bit by region. It's tied to the pace of vaccinations, the rigor of restrictions and a country or region's dependence on international travel. Macroeconomic and geopolitical situations come into play, as well, so it's uber-complex.

Stephanie Linnartz, Marriott
Stephanie Linnartz, Marriott

In our largest market, the U.S., demand has been strong and the recovery is looking quite good. The great majority of guests are Americans, although it differs in gateway cities like New York or San Francisco. But, overall, it's still north of 95%. Demand is being led by leisure.

Our second-largest market is greater China, and, similar to the U.S., it has a large domestic market. Even pre-Covid, our hotels in China were 96% to 97% Chinese customers. Now, it's probably 99%. People there really love to eat in hotels, and in many of our hotels, up to 50% of the revenue can be in food and beverage.

Beyond China, the Asia-Pacific region is recovering much more slowly. It's much more mixed. I think it will have a longer recovery than other parts of the world because of low vaccination rates and the ups and downs of waves of Covid.

The Caribbean and Latin America are showing improving trends. We have really good momentum in our resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean, largely driven by leisure. We surpassed 2019 levels for the first time in May of 2021, and some resorts are seeing all-time-record performances. But even there, it's mixed. For instance, in Mexico City, which is business oriented, they're struggling a bit relative to resorts.

In the third quarter, we saw a dramatic increase in Europe versus 2019. RevPAR was down "only" 44% versus '19, but second quarter had been down 77%! We don't compare it to 2020; who does? You can't fall from the floor.

Europe is somewhat dependent on international travel, so we're focusing on the domestic market there, too -- staycations, things like that. The U.K. did pretty well in the third quarter, though they've got all the mess from Brexit they're dealing with as well as what's going to happen in Ireland, Scotland and then the labor market in Europe.

The Middle East and Africa are also dependent on international travel. As a region, it came in 20% below pre-pandemic levels in the third quarter but was led by strong performances in United Arab Emirates and Qatar. We are the No. 1 branded hotel company in the UAE. It's very much luxury and premium hotels, but we're starting to see some demand in the select service and lower-ended brands. There were tons of staycations, and RevPAR was pretty much even to 2019. Qatar RevPAR topped third-quarter 2019 levels because there was a lot of business prepping for the 2022 World Cup. It's a growing market for us, with 12 hotels scheduled to open there. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, they're all growth markets for us.

One thing, I think, worth noting is that for the third quarter, average daily rate was only 4% below 2019. In the last downturn, the '08-'09 recession, it took us about five years for ADR to recover. Overall, the hotel industry is smarter about matching pricing with demand and probably has better revenue management tools.

Remember, pre-Covid, when everybody was talking about the experience economy and how millennials in particular want experiences more than things? Covid has just supercharged that. Leisure travel, overall, is four times the size of business travel, even pre-Covid. Both are growing, but leisure at a faster rate.

In the depths of 2020, we all thought the individual business traveler would come back before groups and meetings, and the opposite has happened. Our new group bookings for 2022 are at 2019 levels, and group ADR is exceeding 2019 levels.

We're still bullish that business travel will come back. When we talk to our corporate travel managers, a lot talk about opening their offices in January, which would be great. When no one's in a company's offices, consulting firms -- some of our biggest customers -- don't have anyone to visit. But I don't think any of us honestly knows exactly when they'll open.

Some companies are saying "work anywhere you want for a month" to help attract young talent. Let's say you want to work in Austin, Texas, for a month; you sure as heck aren't going to buy a house, so we've got hotels, extended-stay properties, homes and villas. That could benefit us. So, while some areas of business travel will go down, other things are popping and, net-net, when you put it all in a blender, business travel will come back.

Going into 2022, Marriott Bonvoy is at the heart of our strategy. Not just growing the number of members but growing the engagement with them. A lot is tied to technology, and a lot of our efforts will be around our best customers, which isn't surprising. We want them to stay in our hotels, to rent homes and villas, to take a trip on the Ritz-Carlton yacht, to use their Marriott Bonvoy credit card.

With homes and villas, we've grown from 2,000 homes when we launched in '19 to close to 50,000. Forty percent are in markets where we don't even have hotels. We're continuing to invest there and, heavily, in all-inclusives. And we're the biggest player in branded residential. We have nearly 200 open and pipeline residential projects across 42 countries.

The first Ritz-Carlton yacht will sail in May, and it's going to be spectacular. It's got 148 suites -- about 300 people, so, small. It's Ritz-Carlton at sea, with everything you expect from Ritz-Carlton, and you can earn and burn loyalty points there, too.

We actually have quite a large retail business with Ritz-Carlton bedding, Edition candles, the Westin Heavenly Bed, and we'll soon be linking that more tightly to Bonvoy. We're trying to build out an offering around Bonvoy that is robust and deep and engaging.

Companies are defined by how they manage through a crisis, and there has never been a worse crisis than this. Our business was down over 90%, 25% of our hotels were completely shuttered, 80% of our team was either furloughed, on reduced work weeks or laid off -- it doesn't get worse than that.

You have a choice: Just hunker down and try to survive or invest in a new tomorrow and lean into the fact that life's going to be different. We did the latter, and even throughout the darkest days, we continued to invest in technology and new partnerships. We doubled down on our investment in mobile check-in/checkout and mobile ordering. We're making our website and app more personalized, making it faster and expanding what you can do with it.

But we're not a tech company, we're a hospitality company, so a lot of our work next year will be investing in our people, to staff back up. We need to pay competitively and have competitive benefits as we rebuild teams around the globe. It's also important to make sure people understand that at Marriott International, it doesn't have to be just a job, it can be a career. Fifty percent of our general managers started off as hourly workers, and I think that is awesome.

-- Interviewed by Arnie Weissmann

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