Industry celebrates life, legacy of Arne Sorenson

Arne Sorenson [left], Marriott International president and CEO, and J.W. Marriott Jr., executive chairman and chairman of the board of Marriott International, in New York City's Times Square. Photo credit: Marriott International (Arne Sorenson J.W. Marriott Jr.)

Hospitality leaders are commemorating the life and legacy of Marriott International President and CEO Arne Sorenson, who died Monday at age 62. In May 2019, the company announced that Sorenson had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. On Feb. 2, Sorenson said he would temporarily reduce his schedule to focus on more demanding treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Related: Arne Sorenson on why Marriott's success is never final

“Our hearts today at Wyndham are broken with the passing of our dear friend and colleague Arne, who meant so much to all of us,” said Geoff Ballotti, president and CEO of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. “We will keep Arne, Ruth, Astri, Esther, Lars and Isaac in our prayers along with all of the Marriott family. God bless one of the greatest leaders we’ve ever been gifted to have lead our industry over the years on so many different levels. Arne will be missed in more ways than we will ever know.”

Sébastien Bazin, chairman and CEO of Accor, said he was “extremely sad” to hear of Sorenson’s death. “He was someone who I admired and respected on so many levels; a true leader and visionary. His business acumen was second to none, but beyond that he was a remarkably empathetic man who cared deeply about our industry and the people in it. I will deeply miss his leadership, his wit and the passion he brought to our industry.” 

“I am deeply saddened by the heartbreaking news of Arne Sorenson’s passing,” said Chris Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton. “He was an incredibly respected man, a leader in hospitality, and a devoted husband, father and friend. It’s been a true honor to work alongside him on behalf of our great industry for so many years, and I will miss him and the friendship we’ve built. On behalf of everyone at Hilton, I want to extend my condolences to the Sorenson family, the thousands of Marriott associates around the world and the countless people whose lives he has positively impacted over the years."

“Though I never knew Arne personally, I felt like I did,” said Dream Hotel Group CEO Jay Stein. “He always carried himself with dignity, cared about the things that really mattered and was never afraid to say what he believed. A true icon ... In a time when the act of being humble seems to be a lost art, Arne mastered it."

Association Response

Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said the hotel community was joining together to mourn Sorenson’s death. “We offer our condolences to his family, team, and everyone whose life he touched during his more than 30 years at Marriott,” he said. “Arne was a visionary leader driven by passion for his people, the millions of associates around the world who worked for and with him and by a desire to spread a love for travel. He was an icon in our industry, dedicated to improving the lodging experience for the guests we serve and the people who serve them.

“Arne’s battle against cancer embodied the qualities that made him such an exceptional human being—endless optimism, perseverance, and servant leadership. His touch on the hospitality industry will be felt for generations. His impact on the lives of all of us who knew him personally is profound. The world is a better place because of Arne Sorenson. Everyone at AHLA feels a numbing loss today and our hearts go out to his immediate family and his extended family at Marriott. His lasting legacy will live on in all of us."

“It is difficult to find words that express the depth of our sadness at the passing of Arne Sorenson, our dear friend, business leader and travel advocate,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “This is a huge loss, first and foremost for Ruth and Arne’s wonderful family, but also for his many associates at Marriott International and those of us across the travel industry who had the pleasure of interacting with him. We frequently sought his wise counsel and collaborated to improve the travel experience. Arne always offered a vision that extended well beyond the lodging sector he so expertly represented.

“To me, Arne was more than a professional colleague with whom I shared a special Marriott bond, he was an ally, a trusted friend and a partner. He also lent his considerable talents to U.S. Travel, particularly as chair of our CEO Roundtable, but also in countless other ways. I will miss him terribly.”

AAHOA President and CEO Cecil P. Staton called Sorenson a visionary hospitality executive, saying the group is deeply saddened by his sudden passing.

"As one of the first CEOs with whom I met after joining AAHOA, he was an approachable leader—always ready to listen, to learn, and to share his views and advice. He had a profound impact on Marriott and the broader hospitality industry and was a champion for equality and opportunity," Staton said. "AAHOA members knew Arne as a huge supporter and advocate of the association, and he was a considerable presence at AAHOA’s conventions, conferences, and young professional events. Arne embodied the spirit of hospitality, and owners valued his accessibility, engagement, and passion for his work. As thousands of hoteliers and millions of workers struggled with the economic fallout of the pandemic, Arne could be counted on as a beacon of optimism despite the health challenges he faced.

"On behalf of AAHOA members, I offer our condolences to the Sorenson family, his colleagues at Marriott International, and every individual who was lucky enough to be impacted by Arne and his life's work. The hospitality industry lost an invaluable leader yesterday, but we will all continue to benefit from the sizable impact Arne made through his work, dedication, and significant contribution to our industry.”

David Eisen, HotStats’ director of hotel intelligence and customer solutions and former editor-in-chief of Hotel Management, said he was saddened and stunned to learn of Sorenson's passing: “He was a paragon of leadership, a consummate champion for the hospitality industry and always used his platform for the betterment of it.”

Eisen, who interviewed Sorenson numerous times in his role as editor, said the outpouring of sympathy for the late CEO and his family is testament to not only the influential role he played within the hotel industry, but the acknowledgement of his character, which he described as kind, friendly and generous. “He was always very gracious with his time and never tried to rush through a conversation to get to the next journalist. On one occasion, I remarked that Marriott’s new headquarters were being built right next door to my parents’ apartment in Bethesda, Md. He told me he’d try to keep the noise down. He’ll be missed.”