A dose of perspective

About two weeks ago I did an in-person interview with a very confident and determined young developer-operator who had so much positive momentum with his business. He had the proverbial world as his oyster with multiple projects about to come online and many more in various stages of development. He showed a will and determination above what I usually see, and it was inspiring.

I talked to him again a couple of days ago. Considering the turn of world events since we talked, follow-up questions were required. Oh my, what a difference two weeks made.

He was out running, looking for clarity, and he was clearly shaken. He was searching for the right things to say and, while still determined to be among the strong standing when the coronavirus crisis passed, he didn’t have many answers to offer. This is just about where everyone stands today.

As HOTELS tries to get insight and forward-looking perspective from hoteliers around the world, we see that most are overwhelmed in triage mode and haven’t had a chance to figure out what is next other than to conserve cash, take care of their own as best they can and believe better days are ahead.

At the moment, it looks like those better days might be a bit further out than first expected, as so much uncertainty remains about what this virus will do next. Until a vaccine is created and made available, I’m afraid the industry will mostly remain in guerrilla warfare mode. This industry has plenty of guerrillas to go around, including the young hotelier I talked to who is determined to come back strong.

In my 25-plus years covering the global hotel industry, nothing has come close to matching the stress the hotel business and many of its wonderful people are facing at the moment. When I watched Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson’s video last week telling his team about the state of affairs and plans moving forward, hearing his voice crack as he tried to overcome the emotion he was feeling in that moment, it was the single most moving and powerful experience I have witnessed in this business. His newly shaved head showed how he is also in the middle of staring down cancer. In that moment he demonstrated extraordinary leadership we should all look to emulate.

Arne Sorenson from HOTELS February photo shoot
Arne Sorenson from HOTELS February photo shoot

In fact, back in February I interviewed Sorenson for HOTELS April cover story as part of our annual People issue. At the time, he spoke about how much he loves the industry and the global experiences he relishes.

“The joy makes such a difference,” he said. “It brings curiosity. It brings stamina… One of the great gifts of both the industry that we work in but Marriott as a company and the job I have is I just love it all. I’m curious about the world, so the travel is not a wearying thing. It is an energizing thing.”

While those words are not befitting of the moment, they are still worth reading. In fact, the entire article can provide perspective and help you remember what makes this business great. The April issue is filled with similar stories of entrepreneurial leadership and serves as a reminder of what is possible.

It will be a rough road back, but I expect the industry will get back to a new normal toward the end of this year. Leaders like the young hotelier with a will to win and steady and strong veterans like Arne Sorenson will make sure we succeed again. As Arne’s mentor Bill Marriott has so aptly said time and again, “Success is never final.” Never more true, Mr. Marriott.