WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- The chief executive of hotel giant Marriott International, Inc. (MAR) said Thursday the hospitality industry is just beginning to see tentative signs of an economic recovery.
J.W. Marriott, Jr. told The Economic Club he was starting to see early indications of growth, but that the hotel and travel industry is still recovering from a backlash against corporate travel fueled by politics and public anger over the financial meltdown.
“When (Pres.) Obama got up and told the TARP recipients don’t go to Las Vegas, don’t fly on a corporate jet–that just threw a blanket of despair and dark clouds over the industry,” Marriott said, referring to the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program. “They killed a lot of jobs in this industry.”
Administration proposals to pass a climate change bill and overhaul the country’s health-care system also pose potential threats for the industry, he said.
“Business uncertainty is just huge. We don’t know what cap and trade will cost us, we don’t know what health care will cost us,” he said. “By and large, the government needs to back off.”
Marriott did express support for a bill that would promote the United States as a travel destination to international visitors. The country has not seen an increase in foreign travelers since 2000, he said.
Asked about his business decisions by Economic Club President David Rubenstein, Marriott said the hotel chain’s expansion into multiple separate brands has served the company well. Marriott pioneered the idea of lower- service, cheaper hotels with its Courtyard brand 26 years ago in response to extensive customer research, he said.
“I said, ‘You mean we spent $1 million in research to find out people want a better room and lower price?'” he said. The company now has 800 Courtyard hotels and has expanded from 30 to 75 Ritz Carlton hotels since acquiring the chain.
So far this year Marriott has visited 265 of his hotels. He no longer drops by unannounced, he said. Around 20 years ago, he visited a Newport Beach Marriott hotel, walking into the kitchen around 8 a.m. the day after New Year’s.
“The manager came in and about had a stroke. Then I went to the next hotel and everyone was outside waiting for me,” he said. “I’ve given up the sneak attack.”