Davos Video: Marriott CEO's letter to Trump unanswered, and more

Arne Sorenson

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson—who will receive the IHIF Lifetime Achievement Award in March—discussed a variety of topics with Business Insider, many dealing with the various changes and challenges Marriott faced in 2016, and what's ahead for the company now that it's 30-brands strong. 

On the acquisition of Starwood...

Four months after the merger was finalized, Sorenson said, "there’s an enormous amount of work to do." As Marriott continues adjusting to its new position as the largest hotel company in the world (do they really need 30 brands?) Sorenson said the leadership is focused on keeping everyone happy, from the guests to the associates and the hotel owners. "Our business model is to manage for real estate investors, and they want to make sure that this is good for their investment, too."

On Cuba...

In the months before the acquisition was finalized, Starwood opened the first American-run hotel in Cuba in 59 years. Now run by Marriott, the Four Points by Sheraton is poised to be the first of several American-branded hotels in the island country. Marriott is poised to open another hotel in Cuba this year, and "another handful" in the coming years, Sorenson said. "There are not enough hotel rooms in Cuba to meet the demand."

On his open letter to Donald Trump... 

"I wanted to share the thinking that I had about what I would do if I were him, listening to what happened during the election. I wanted to address the things that were important to him and to us." With 650,000 associates working for Marriott worldwide, Sorenson said, many people had a vested interest in the election, its outcome and what the new administration's policies will mean for them. The letter's main messages, Sorenson said, focused on inclusiveness and respecting diversity. 

Sorenson said he penned the "broadly read" letter on a flight and that the President-elect had not—yet—responded to it. Granted, he is currently busy with his own letter to the American people. 

On Airbnb... 

So far, Airbnb's impact on Marriott's profits has not been profound, Sorenson said...but that doesn't mean that there hasn't been any impact at all. "There's a reason for that," he said, and explained that Airbnb is intended to sell a different product than a traditional hotel does. It is also sometimes less expensive, and this is an area where Sorenson acknowledged that Marriott needs to be more competitive. "We have never been the cheapest room in a market," he said. "We don’t aspire to be the cheapest room in a market." To keep up with the growth of the sharing economy, he said, Marriott would focus on quality, service and opening in locations. The availability of concierges—or even virtual concierges—offers traditional hotel company an advantage, he said.  

On Marriott's future... 

At the beginning of 2017, Marriott had about 1.2 million hotel rooms open and about 420,000 hotel rooms in development. "In 2017, we will open close to 500 hotels," Sorenson said, noting that this is more than one new hotel opening worldwide every day. Beyond development, Sorenson said that the team would "make progress" on integrating Starwood into the fold, and would explore new ways to combine technology with travel. "That’s about helping customers use technology that is intuitive, that is simple to plan trips, to experience trips and to share trips."

Watch the full interview here...