Mar­riott go­ing strong in China

China Daily (Canada) - - XI’S VISIT - By CHEN WEIHUA in Washington chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa. com

Arne Soren­son, pres­i­dent and CEO of Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional, has some ad­vice for Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama when they meet in Washington later this week.

“Let our peo­ple bring us closer to­gether,” Soren­son said.

The man who runs a lead­ing global lodg­ing com­pany with prop­er­ties in 81 coun­tries is ex­cited by a re­cent sur­vey’s find­ing — the coun­try with the high­est per­cent­age of peo­ple who most want to visit the US is China. Fully 60 per­cent of the Chi­nese sur­veyed by Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional se­lected the US as their top des­ti­na­tion.

“I think that’s a sign that even though our pol­i­tics can be com­pli­cated at times, even though our gov­ern­ment sys­tems are ob­vi­ously very dif­fer­ent, there is a fas­ci­na­tion that we have with each other that I think bodes very well for travel be­tween the two coun­tries,” said Soren­son, who was ap­pointed by Obama to the Pres­i­dent’s Ex­port Coun­cil in 2013.

Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional has seen the num­ber of Chi­nese guests it re­ceives in the US grow by about 20 per­cent each year. “We ex­pect that to con­tinue,” Soren­son said.

The re­cip­ro­cal 10-year tourist and busi­ness visa ex­ten­sion agree­ment be­tween China and the US inked last Novem­ber has been wel­comed by the tourism in­dus­try. Soren­son wrote af­ter the an­nounce­ment that “for the in­dus­try over­all, close to 7.3 mil­lion Chi­nese are pro­jected to travel to the United States by 2021. That is ex­pected to con­trib­ute nearly $85 bil­lion a year to the econ­omy and sup­port 440,000 jobs.”

“What that means is that we need to make sure we’ve got Chi­nese lan­guage skills, Man­darin, and the abil­ity there to welcome those guests when they show up,” he told China Daily.

China has al­ready be­come the sec­ond-largest mar­ket for Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional, be­hind only the US, and Soren­son ex­pects this is go­ing to be the case for some time to come.

“We are do­ing great in China. We are open­ing a ho­tel ev­ery two weeks,” he said, but he added that con­di­tions dif­fer from city to city, with Shang­hai be­ing the strong­est mar­ket and Bei­jing among the weak­est.

“But we are grow­ing well and we be­lieve the fu­ture is go­ing to be quite strong,” he said.

Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional has 75 ho­tels run­ning in China, with more un­der de­vel­op­ment.

As China’s eco­nomic slow­down has been mak­ing head­lines, Soren­son said there are re­ally two as­pects to it: The slow­down in ex­ports, which will have zero im­pact on Mar­riott, and the slow­down in in­fra­struc­ture, which does not di­rectly drive de­mand for ho­tel rooms.

The slow­down shown in cap­i­tal in­vest­ment, such as in real es­tate, how­ever, could have an im­pact.

“I sus­pect we will see fewer new ho­tel con­struc­tion starts in the next few quar­ters…We would guess that there will be a short- and medium-term im­pact, but long-term, there will be good growth in ho­tel de­vel­op­ments in China,” said Soren­son, who joined Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional in 1996 and suc­ceeded Bill Mar­riott, Jr as CEO in 2012, be­com­ing the ho­tel chain’s first CEO whose last name is not Mar­riott.

Soren­son said in the long run, Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional is very bullish on China. “With a grow­ing mid­dle class in China, we see many more peo­ple with the re­sources to travel, and that travel takes place in China, of course, but also abroad,” he said.

Un­like 15 years ago, when most of the guests in Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional’s ho­tels in China came from abroad, to­day an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity, in­clud­ing in Shang­hai, are Chi­nese.

Soren­son said his dream is for Mar­riott to be as strong in China as it is in the US. “I would like for our brands to be viewed as Chi­nese brands, as much as any­thing else.”

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