A heavy-handed government response to coronavirus, while tough in the short term, may ultimately fuel a faster hotel industry recovery, according to the world’s largest hotel company’s chief executive.
Marriott grappled with the pandemic’s impact on its portfolio since January in China, and since March in the U.S. China’s central government eventually ordered stringent lockdowns, and the country is reporting low transmission rates and strong momentum in its hotel industry recovery.
But the virus and how to balance public health and the economy have become politicized in America, and its array of responses — and fast reopenings in some states — have led to spikes in transmissions and even a likely ban on American travelers to the European Union later this year.
While not calling out the U.S. specifically, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson noted there is a potential lesson learned from a strong central government response like China’s in helping to fuel the hotel industry’s recovery.
A MISTAKEN RECOVERY
The U.S. has taken a less centralized approach than other countries in battling coronavirus. While there have been federal guidance and funding for testing, states have largely controlled their own public health policy and reopening timelines.
“If I’m in Florida and see a resurgence in Miami, it’s going to cause some folks thinking of going to Miami to not go to Miami,” Sorenson said. “We have to make sure, through conduct and data, that we are earning the steady state on that recovery.”
The hopeful signs of an early recovery is attributable to the cautious and phased lifting of restrictions, according to Sorenson.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who also chairs the National Governors Association, noted state leaders are in a tough position navigating how to balance saving lives and saving their economies.
Maryland’s 14-day trend pattern of new coronavirus cases is down 45 percent, according to the COVID Tracking Project and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the Maryland governor cautioned against complacency, which could lead to a reversal on reopening.
NO MAGIC SOLUTION
Hoteliers shouldn’t expect a quick turnaround, despite leisure destinations posting strong occupancy numbers this summer.
“It would be far, far too optimistic to think recovery from something like this would be like flipping a switch,” Sorenson said. “What does full recovery look like? Nobody knows the answer to that, but it’s likely to be a number of years.”
“I think the recovery has begun,” he said. “Confidence can only be had when there is the sense that Covid-19 is behind us.”
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