HB ON THE SCENE: Leaders Say ‘Go Big’ at Marriott Select Brands GM Conference

NEW ORLEANS—Leadership at Marriott International knows what it means to “go big or go home.” No doubt about it. “Go big” is the brand’s rallying cry and theme of the biannual Select Brands General Manager Conference here at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

“We’re in the Big Easy for the conference. However, it’s not really about how big we are as a combined company. We haven’t done the work yet for it to really resonate,” said Toni Stoeckl, VP and global brand leader, distinctive select brands, Marriott International. “Together as a combined company, we are bigger than the sum of all parts and we are bigger and better if we figure out a way to bring these brands together in a meaningful way.”

The conference was a reunion for some and an introduction for others as, for the very first time, key executives and GMs from the newly established family of brands—Marriott Select, Classic and Distinctive—converged since the 2016 acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. This event is one of eight the company will host around the world, serving as a prime opportunity to talk shop with GMs about what’s new, what’s coming next and how they can play a role in helping the vision come to life.

“Our idea is multifaceted. Partly, it’s just to bring people together after the merger to create one team, get to know each other and celebrate what has been accomplished. The second thing is to talk about our priorities going forward and those priorities are about our customer,” said Arne Sorenson, president/CEO, Marriott International. “For instance, what are we doing with our loyalty program, and what are we doing on the service side? It needs to resonate well with our customer and be as strong as it can be. It’s also all about the brands, so each team will go out and have a deep immersion into their brand. Courtyard GMs spending time on the Courtyard brands, AC Hotels and Element GMs doing the same thing, and so on.”

Collectively, the select brands continue to be a tool for growth because this segment meets a customer need, which in turn makes it a value product in some respects and opens the door to new possibilities, explained Sorenson.

“It is also a newer product. We find that our development partners, our franchisees are extremely interested in continuing to grow these brands so we see that they’re powerful growth engines. We also see that from a customer and franchisee partner perspective, there is a renewed willingness to explore some new brands. They’re saying ‘What about Aloft, AC and Moxy?’ These are lifestyle brands. They’re a new take on much of what select-service has been in the past and they’re not for everybody, but they’re intriguing to many and the lifestyle growth is a pretty interesting new place.”

Marriott recently unveiled an aggressive three-year growth plan with a goal of opening approximately one hotel every 14 hours globally. The move would add 285,000 to 300,000 rooms worldwide by 2019, which could yield a record $675 million in annual stabilized fees from these rooms, according to the company.

“It’s heavy growth. I think the select brands will be a significant part of that growth in the U.S. and around the world,” said Sorenson. “A year from now, we will be bigger because those hotels will begin to open. As they continue to open, they will continue to resonate with some of these new brands and really start to drive distribution. It will become known by customers and do that much better. At Marriott, we say success is never final, so two years from now, undoubtedly, we’ll be celebrating some successes and we will be looking at being even better in the years ahead.”

The five-day conference isn’t just about business; it’s about giving back to the communities in which the hotels operate. The company’s corporate responsibility initiative, “Spirit to Serve,” in partnership with more than 40 local cause-oriented organizations will draw over 3,000 Marriott International associates for service projects and revitalization efforts here—its largest to date.

“New Orleans is a special place. It’s a place where we had a lot of these conferences in the past and a city everyone loves. There are so many hotels and associates who work in New Orleans and, especially because of Hurricane Katrina, it’s always held a place in our hearts,” said Janis Milham, SVP and global brand leader, classic select brands, Marriott International. “We’ve done [volunteer work]more by individual brands, but this time we’re going to really ‘go big’ and do it all together—and what better place than New Orleans.”