As part of the Americas Lodging Investment Summit’s Patron sponsorship program, ALIS asked Marriott Group President-United States & Canada Liam Brown eight timely questions as we prepare for the 20th annual event July 26-28, 2021, at the JW Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles L.A. LIVE. Following are his responses.
You were appointed to your current position last October and shifted focus from EMEA to the U.S. and Canada. What parallels can you draw from that transition as it pertains to interacting with hoteliers from quite distinct geographical locations?
It’s much like a feeling of coming home. I spent 28 years in the U.S. and Canada in various roles prior to EMEA, so I have quite a bit of experience here to draw upon and am very familiar with the landscape. What I have found during my career at Marriott is that no matter the geographical location, the common thread across the board is that our owners, franchisees, and customers choose our brands because of the way we do business.
Our company values aren’t something we just talk about. For over nine decades, they have guided how we partner with our owners and franchisees, how we meet the needs of our customers and how we provide opportunities for our associates. That’s what I think is universal about our approach and why hoteliers around the world are drawn to our company and our brands.
What’s the most common issue that Marriott owners, developers and franchisees ask you to address—and how do you respond to them?
During this most challenging year, our owners and franchisees have appreciated that we are committed to being active partners. Communicating with them every step of the way has been critically important. The key question we get asked is “how will we emerge stronger and better than we were before?” That’s exactly the right question everyone should be asking. And there’s not one answer.
For us, it means focusing on running hotels as effectively as possible in an environment with limited occupancy and delivering the best service we can to our guests. And it’s also about driving demand, offering new products and services, and expanding how we engage with our Marriott Bonvoy members on and off property.
What challenges and opportunities will emerge in the Americas during the next 12 months from a development standpoint?
Despite unprecedented disruption to the hospitality industry caused by the pandemic, interest in developing Marriott’s brands continues to be strong, especially from owners looking to convert hotels and maximize returns from Marriott’s global scale, our Marriott Bonvoy travel program, and our sales platforms.
Near term, the availability of debt financing presents a significant challenge to advancing new construction projects, and the rising cost of raw materials (lumber, concrete, steel) is exacerbating the challenge. The value proposition of Marriott affiliation is particularly appealing in a downturn and combined with our powerful platform of conversion-friendly brands, we offer a multitude of opportunities for hotel owners to grow with us. Given the magnitude of available capital, we expect development to further accelerate as business volume recovers, creating additional opportunities for new unit growth.
What do you see in terms of transactions and investments during the next 12 months?
We closely monitor the marketplace, and we expect to see an increase in transactions as 2021 unfolds as lenders begin to envision an exit path on distressed hotels. We’re committed to working with developers and owners to navigate these challenges by streamlining processes and placing the focus of PIPs on condition and useful life. Bid/ask spreads continue to impact the number of successful sale transactions, but we’re optimistic that better clarity regarding the pace of recovery may generate more transaction activity.
What should hotel owners be doing now to prepare for the recovery, including the expected rush of U.S. leisure travelers hitting the road this summer?
Every day the pandemic news seems to be getting more positive as more vaccinations are distributed and as work continues to contain the virus. We know there is a lot of pent-up demand – people have put off major life moments like reunions, weddings, graduation celebrations and they are eager to get back on the road.
The first and most important thing we need to focus on is being able to service existing demand – ensuring we are appropriately staffed, and associates are trained so that they can deliver the best possible guest experience while also being mindful of the continuing need to keep our Commitment to Clean protocols in place. We are also watching the data to understand how demand patterns are changing or have changed and finding ways to capture that demand. Working to build confidence, trust, and meaningful relationships with guests as they begin to travel again will be paramount.
What are the key steps the hotel industry will need to take as the recovery emerges, and then gains momentum?
Our role, and the broader role of the industry, is to be ready for travelers when they are ready for us – this is essential to our collective recovery. We’ll continue to focus on ensuring every hotel and hotel leader has the tools necessary to take care of their business.
By implementing enhanced safety and cleanliness protocols, for example, hotels can help guests feel more secure traveling and meeting. As we navigate through the rest of the pandemic, we will need to be nimble and mindful of the day-to-day challenges but always respond with a mindset of delivering an exceptional experience, so that guests feel confident that they made a great decision to travel.
What silver linings have emerged for hotel owners, operators, and developers as a result of the pandemic?
Consumers want to travel again, and we know there is pent-up demand for both the leisure and business travel experiences that people have been missing for the past year. The silver lining is that our industry will survive and emerge better than before. We’ve learned how to act fast and navigate through an environment that changes day by day. For Marriott, our principles and values have guided our business recovery and will continue to guide our decisions in a world where there is no playbook.
What’s the one takeaway people should know about Liam Brown?
I love this business. My passion for the industry simply can’t be shaken by this pandemic. I have a belief that the business itself is remarkable; it presents you with daily challenges along with daily affirmation and rewards. It’s a wonderful business to be in, even in a challenging environment because our people and our culture are central to it. We have remarkable associates, great owners and franchisees, wonderful partners and incredibly loyal customers that are eager to stay with us again. I know we all want to see demand return and welcome guests back – and we will – better days are coming.