A New Marriott CEO Checks In

Article excerpt

Byline: Joanne Lipman

Reservations in a recession.

When incoming Marriott International CEO Arne M. Sorenson visited a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Marriott recently, the bellman congratulated him on his new job. "And then he started to laugh," Sorenson says, the kind of laugh, he adds, suggested "Good luck. You'll need it."

Sorenson, who takes the reins at the end of March, is only the third CEO in the company's 85-year history--and the first who isn't named Marriott. He comes to the job after a brutal decade for travel.

Tourism in the U.S. still hasn't rebounded to pre-9/11 levels. Before then, the total U.S. share of the worldwide travel market was 17 percent. It's now 12 percent. If the U.S. had the same share now as it did then, he says, it would translate into 500,000 more jobs.

Marriott has taken its share of hits, too. Occupancy rates that plummeted after the financial crisis have rebounded to pre-2007 levels, but room rates are down "probably 5 percent to 10 percent in most markets," so profitability levels haven't fully recovered, he says. The company's timing in some markets has been painful. It opened a luxury hotel in Tripoli a year ago, just before the Arab Spring protests erupted, and had to close it six weeks later. …