Marriott International encompasses a portfolio of more than 7600 properties under 30 leading brands spanning 133 countries and territories. Marriott operates and franchises hotels and licenses vacation ownership resorts all around the world.
What was your background prior to working for Marriott International?
I have been with Marriott International for 32 years, starting out as a night auditor at the Vienna Marriott Hotel, before moving through the ranks of the finance and accounting team. In 2006, I decided to look at new career opportunities and joined operations, taking up various roles including the cluster general manager of the Imperial Riding School Renaissance Vienna Hotel and the Renaissance Vienna Hotel. From there, I moved into an area VP role, and then took on the position of CFO for Europe. Then, in 2016, I took on the job of COO, luxury & southern Europe, and global design, EMEA.
I’ve been fortunate and thankful to have had a fantastic Marriott career over the past three decades, and it really has been the people I’ve shared the journey with who have made my roles so rewarding.
What does your current position involve?
My role as Marriott International’s president for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) is fundamentally about three things – inspiring and looking after our people, ensuring our guests have incredible and unsurpassed experiences in our properties, and delivering returns for our owners and franchisees.
In reality, no two days are the same. From using the power of our loyalty programme, Marriott Bonvoy, to accelerate our commercial recovery, to driving operational excellence across our hotels and providing innovative products to our customers, like mobile solutions or new initiatives such as Marriott Bonvoy’s day, play or stay pass – my role is to ensure the team is focused on delivering our plan and realising our ambition to be EMEA’s favourite travel company.
What are the most challenging issues you face in your current role?
In the EMEA region, we have almost 1000 hotels across 76 countries and operate in over 25 languages. Our region is complex, with a huge array of cultures, political views and religions.
Staying abreast of government regulations across such a vast area, especially in this fast-changing world, has been challenging at times. However, I’m so proud of how our teams have risen to the occasion. Ultimately, the success of our region is down to the teams, and they continue to go over and above every day.
One of the most challenging things about this region is that there is no one-size-fits-all model for EMEA. As a company, we understand the growing importance of localisation, and ensure country/region-specific nuances are considered so we can offer products and services that appeal to different customers across the region.
As we look ahead, our focus on localisation and personalisation will only increase. From rolling out new language capabilities on Marriott.com (we currently have eight languages live, with four more coming this year), to activating local and relevant sales and marketing campaigns that benefit local travel trends, to working with owners across the globe to open new properties that meet the needs of our future guests, we have a strong and exciting plan in place.
“One of the most challenging things about this region is that there is no one-size-fits-all model for EMEA”
What role does Europe and the Middle East play in Marriott’s growth?
Despite the challenges over the past 12 months, we’ve continued to focus on growth. Even amid a global pandemic, in 2020 we signed over 13,500 rooms and opened over 50 new hotels, including the incredible Al Wathba, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa in Abu Dhabi, Element Al Jaddaf in Dubai and Domes Zeen Chanai, a Luxury Collection Resort in Crete.
As of today, we’ve already opened 20 new hotels this year, including The St Regis Cairo, which opened its doors in January. This property is stunning – I was there earlier this year and left hugely impressed.
Looking forward, we have a whole host of hotels set to open in EMEA this year, including Matild Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Budapest, W Rome, W Algarve, Marriott Resort Palm Jumeirah Dubai, and The Westin London City, to name but a few. And by the middle of the year, we will open our 1000th hotel across the region.
We see great potential for more conversion opportunities across the continent. Brands like Autograph Collection, Tribute Portfolio, Delta Hotels by Marriott and Four Points by Sheraton lend themselves to conversion opportunities.
These brands still have tremendous opportunity to grow – especially here in Europe, where the ratio of independent hotels outweighs branded properties. And without doubt, there will be many independent hoteliers who could benefit from pulling into Marriott’s powerful distribution, sales and loyalty platforms – especially in the post-pandemic business environment.
In terms of other segments primed for growth, we strongly believe that there is still potential for another brand option in the economy space – something that is likely to compete with Holiday Inn Express and Hampton by Hilton in Europe.
We also believe that there is still an opportunity to bring a premium, all-inclusive product to Europe, following our 2019 acquisition of Elegant Hotels in the Caribbean. We know that post-pandemic leisure travel will return first, and some of our fantastic premium and luxury resorts would see value from having an all-inclusive offering.
Finally, we launched Homes & Villas by Marriott International in 2019, and we now have more than 28,000 amazing homes in 250 destinations around the globe. Our homes come with the assurance of the Marriott brand, and guests can earn and redeem Marriott Bonvoy points. We believe this will be an excellent growth vehicle now – and in the future.
“While design styles can vary, the guiding design principle should be meeting universal guest needs and brand expectations”
Is there anything exciting you’re working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
Yes! We’ve got lots of plans under way, and there are a few things I’m particularly excited about. Firstly, growth is a big focus area for us. Over the next year, we’ve got lots of new openings coming up, including The Ritz-Carlton, Amman, Hotel Riomar, Ibiza, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel and The Westin London City. We’re also looking to bring a new brand to our region, Fairfield Inn, which should be a great addition to the 24 brands we currently have in EMEA.
We’re also planning to grow Homes & Villas by Marriott International. Over the past year, we’ve seen demand spike for premium private rentals, where consumers are reassured to know that the homes will have Marriott’s exacting standards and rigorous cleaning regimes in place. Plus, our Marriott Bonvoy members can still earn and redeem points, which clearly ticks a lot of boxes.
We’re also working on a range of new tools for the meeting and incentive business. It’s clear that hybrid meetings will be an essential offering in the future. Our Connect with Confidence programme offers events and meeting planners the opportunity to host events both virtually and in person.
Finally, we continue to work on new partnerships linked to our Marriott Bonvoy travel programme. We recently teamed up with Uber in the US, allowing our loyalty members to earn points on all qualifying transactions. This means members in the US can earn points by booking a taxi or ordering food via Uber Eats. It’s very exciting, and provides a taste of what’s to come as we continue to innovate.
“In our business, you only get one first impression, so when we think about design, we consider all aspects”
How does design play a role in driving customer loyalty?
In our business, you only get one first impression, so when we think about design, we consider all aspects – from how we communicate to our guests, to how they feel when they walk through our doors.
It’s not just about the paint colour or lighting – we consider it holistically, and factor in everything from the website and first communication to the way our rooms and public spaces look. Every touchpoint matters and contributes to the brand story and the experiences our guests will have.
With over 1000 touchpoints in every property, we are in a unique position to curate an experience that touches all five senses – sight, touch, taste, smell and sound. Our design team look to create a cohesive design story to spark an emotional connection.
These connections provide lasting and positive experiences, which result in our customers falling in love with our brands and hotels. And when they do, they become our biggest advocates – something more powerful than any marketing email or advertising campaign. Ultimately, design has a fundamental role in driving customer loyalty.
Where do you see hotel design going in the future?
Trends in hotel design are constantly changing – the options are never ending, and there will always be new colours and materials to use. At the same time, we also have to keep up with the trends of the modern world and continuously deliver what our customers want and need.
We see a number of areas which will only become more important in the coming years. First off, technology is a gamechanger, and as the world become more mobile enabled, our role as hoteliers is to ensure there’s a thread of technology that weaves its way through the hotel – sometimes visible, and at other times behind the scenes, but always adding value.
Another big trend is sustainable design. Consumers expect corporates to be good citizens more than ever before, and as we emerge from the pandemic, this will become even more critical. Sustainability has always been central to our strategy and long-term goals, and we start thinking about this from the moment our hotel deals are signed. From a building perspective, we talk to our owners and franchisees and work with them to build more sustainable hotels via external building certifications such as LEED and BREEAM. And while this is not always easy and straightforward – especially when many of our hotels are beautiful historic buildings – it is an absolute priority for us.
When it comes to design, we’re always considering how we can be more sustainable, working with local and credible suppliers and partners to ensure we provide aesthetically pleasing experiences, while positively impacting on the world.
Other trends we’re seeing at the moment is the desire for privacy in the luxury segment, and the rise of multi-generational travel, which is where Homes & Villas by Marriott International plays nicely.
In general, it’s easy to fall into the trap of chasing the latest trends, and our approach is more about providing timeless design through storytelling that reflects the local culture. While design styles can vary, the guiding design principle should be meeting universal guest needs and brand expectations.
How important is interior design within your hotels?
Each of our hotels has a brand story to tell, and their interior design has a fundamental role in this. Each project is unique, and we consider each design aspect carefully to ensure we provide fantastic experiences – from the lobby entrance to the corridors, the rooms and restaurants. Take W Hotels, for instance – while the interiors may differ in each property, and incorporate the local surrounding, there is a strong and bold design story that allows the brand presence to be felt in every hotel, and this creates a consistent experience.
Another important aspect is ensuring we don’t over-design. When our teams look at potential furniture and décor, they consider the functionality. Yes, visual beauty is important, but so is practicality. For example, how can a chair be beautiful, but at the same time really comfortable? It’s important to find this balance, and our teams do an amazing job of perfecting each design to offer seamless hotel operations and seamless guest experiences.
As more and more people share their daily interactions and moments on social media, interior design has a key role to play. It not only has an impact on the hotel’s guests’ perceptions, but it may also make an impact on the perception of their online followers and friends. Every element of design needs to be social media friendly, and ready to meet the eyes of consumers – both physically and virtually.
Interior design also plays a critical role in creating social spaces. Our teams continuously work hard to animate social spaces that encourage spontaneous interaction and connect guests with the people and places around them. Ultimately, it’s not only about the overnight stay. We want our hotels to be hubs of activity – we want them to be the place where people come to hang out. And to become those destinations that create ever-lasting experiences, interior design will always have a big part to play.
“Each of our hotels has a brand story to tell, and their interior design has a fundamental role in this”
What plans and aspirations do you have for Marriott?
I can sum this up very simply – look after our associates, deliver excellence for our customers, and provide healthy returns to our shareholders.
From an associate perspective, we want to provide our people with rewarding careers. Ultimately, our incredible associates will determine our success, and I want to ensure they thrive in their personal and professional lives. We’ll do this through new tools, training, and ensuring we provide great opportunities for our people.
From a customer perspective, we’ll continue to provide outstanding and memorable experiences through our incredible portfolio of Marriott Bonvoy hotels. At the same time, we’ll continue to elevate and amplify our loyalty programme through localised marketing experiences and partnerships, enhanced language capabilities, and digital transformation across our customer touchpoints – including our digital channels, booking journey and marketing campaigns.
From a shareholder perspective, we’ll continue to make it easy and competitive to do business with us – after all, when we succeed, so do our owners. Over the coming years, we’ll look to continue to grow through new development opportunities, new brands and ancillary revenue streams, and accelerate market share across our region.
What’s your biggest dream in life?
My other passion is tennis, and my dream would be to play tennis on the Wimbledon Centre Court. Clearly, I’m no match for some of the tennis legends, so I’d settle for a friendly game!