Aug 16, 2022 - Economy & Business

Marriott CEO: Travelers are "a bit numb" to COVID these days

Illustration of a woman pulling a gigantic roller suitcase

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The world’s largest hotel chain says leisure travelers are shaking off the pandemic despite the latest COVID-19 subvariant making its way through the population.

Why it matters: There are several factors that could crimp travel demand — rising prices, economic fears — but COVID no longer seems to be one of them.

Driving the news: “Either there's not deep traveler concern about that variant, or the traveling community is getting a bit numb or confident because they've been two, three, four times vaxxed,” Marriott CEO Tony Capuano says.

  • Capuano spoke Monday while giving a group of journalists — including Nathan — a tour of the company’s gleaming new headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, where he crowed about Marriott’s resurgent prospects.

The big picture: The economy is undergoing a stark shift in spending back toward services — such as travel — and away from physical goods that homebound people binged on in the early going of the pandemic.

By the numbers: The latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index backs up Capuano’s assertion, showing that Americans aren't thinking much about the coronavirus as they hit the road, Axios’ Adriel Bettelheim reports.

  • Half of adults have taken a vacation or trip in the past three months, and among them, only 27% said they had limited their indoor dining or events during their outing.

Yes, but: Business travel continues to lag behind leisure travel.

  • The Global Business Travel Association projected that business travel spending would not bounce back to pre-pandemic levels of $1.47 trillion until mid-2026, which would be 18 months after its previous forecast released in November 2021.
  • A “rapid” deterioration in macroeconomic conditions is key to the delayed recovery, the association said.

The other side: Capuano acknowledged that business travel spending remains down, but he said Marriott is tracking an upswing in “blended” travel — in which people mix business and pleasure on their trips.

  • He said Marriott hotels are repositioning their offerings to cater to such customers.
  • “We are challenging our operators to think about … what they're doing with fitness and spa, what they're doing with their menus and their operating hours,” Capuano said. “You might show up on a Wednesday or Thursday in business attire, and they might see you come down the elevator Friday in shorts and flip flops.”

Meanwhile, Marriott's new 21-story headquarters is poised for an official grand opening in September. The company moved across town in Bethesda from an older facility where it had been for decades.

Marriott HQ employees are not currently required to come into the office, but the facility is designed to entice them to do so voluntarily with features such as:

  • An upscale test kitchen, a 7,500-square-foot fitness center, treadmill desks, massage chairs, an 11,000-square-foot childcare center.
  • 13 "test rooms" in the next-door Marriott Bethesda Downtown hotel, each one designed to give hand-picked guests the experience of a different Marriott hotel brand.
  • A 20-foot-tall high-resolution digital screen displaying art and travel destinations.
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