Marriott man: Arne Sorenson interview

With more than 3,700 hotels under management, Marriott International is often seen as a bellwether for the hospitality industry as well as the global economic outlook. Its CEO and president, Arne Sorenson, tells Arabian Business why the US political situation could have the biggest impact on the global economy

With more than 1,000 guests, a star appearance by the British pop star Leona Lewis and some of the most senior members of staff from both Marriott International and Emirates Airline, the opening of the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai was certainly one of the parties to be seen at last month.

The Emirates Airline-owned property, which boasts 804 rooms and is officially the world’s tallest hotel at 355 metres high, is also set to become one of Dubai’s largest hotels when it opens its doors to a second 804-room tower in 2014. The sheer size of the property, coupled with the fact that hotel occupancy rates across the city reached nearly 90 percent in January means it will come as little surprise to many that for Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International, Dubai is one of the hotel operator’s most exciting markets internationally.

“Dubai is a really exciting market and it’s a treat to be here because there is an enthusiasm which is infectious,” he tells Arabian Business.

“While I think the people in Dubai are reticent about proclaiming that things are good when others are hurting, they still are benefitting from the fact that it is a safe haven when so much of the rest of the region is not… You are seeing Dubai come back as strong as it’s ever been and I think the growth prospects here are pretty generous,” he adds.

As one of the world’s largest hotel operators, with 3,700 properties under management and revenues of over $12bn, Marriott’s performance is often seen as a bellwether of not only the international hospitality industry but also the global economic outlook as a whole.

Hotel operators were hit hard by the global financial downturn amid a severe decline in international tourists and business travellers but as the economy picks up in Asia and the US, the outlook has started to show some signs of recovery.

Marriott, which counts Ritz-Carlton, Residence Inn and Courtyard by Marriott amongst the eighteen brands it operates, reported a 6 percent rise in revenue per available room (RevPAR), a key metric that measures hotel health, and a 4 percent increase in room rates in the fourth quarter of 2012. Competitors InterContinental, the world’s biggest hotel operator, and Starwood also reported better than expected profits underpinned by a pickup in US operations and expansion in developing markets such as the Middle East.

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