J.W. Marriott, Jr.
Chairman and CEO, Marriott International Inc.
Travel … a Form of Trade between the U.S. and Canada
Chairman: Dr. John S. Niles
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Diana Conconi, Senior Vice-President, Partner and Deputy General Manager, Fleishman-Hillard Canada, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Nicole Carnovale, Student, University of Guelph; Tad Callister, Mission President for Toronto-East Church of the Latter Day Saints; Ron Harrison, President, Marriott Hotels of Canada; James J. Lawson, CEO, Westerkirk Capital; Steve Gupta, President and CEO, Easton's Group of Hotels; David L. Lindsay, Deputy Minister, Ontario Ministry of Tourism, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Ken Fowler, President, Ken Fowler Enterprises Ltd.; and Garnet T. Watchorn, President, Graywood Developments.
Introduction by John Niles
Honoured guests, Directors, members and guests of the Empire Club of Canada, it was Benjamin Disraeli who said, "We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment."
That is unless you have five children, as I do, and cared for over 1,000 more. No parents I know wander for distraction, because if they did they would truly be distracted by the continual phrase that is like a hammer against their skull that all parents have heard and because of which they have wanted to pull their hair out by their roots: "Are we there yet?"
But thanks to the interstate highway system said Charles Kuralt, "It is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything." Except for the one place every parent who has travelled too long and too far wants to see--the Marriott.
This is because of Mr. Marriott's vision for his company to be the number-one lodging company in the world, which is grounded in his intense focus on taking care of the guest.
Known throughout the industry for his hands-on management style, Mr. Marriott has built a highly regarded culture that emphasizes the importance of Marriott's people and recognizes the value they bring to the organization. Marriott International's "spirit-to-serve" culture is based on a business philosophy started in 1927 by his parents, J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott--"Take care of the associate, and they'll take care of the guest." Today, approximately 151,000 Marriott associates are serving guests throughout the world.
At an early age, Mr. Marriott developed a passion for the business and worked in a variety of positions in the Hot Shoppes restaurant chain during his high school and college years. He joined the company full-time in 1956 and soon afterward took over management of Marriott's first hotel. Mr. Marriott became Executive Vice-President of the company, then its President, in 1964. He was elected Chief Executive Officer in 1972 and Chairman of the Board in 1985.
Mr. Marriott serves as a Director of the United States Naval Academy Foundation. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the National Geographic Society and the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation and is a member of the Executive Committee of the World Travel and Tourism Council and the National Business Council. Mr. Marriott is Chairman of the President's Export Council, a presidential advisory committee on export trade, and he serves on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board (TTAB) and on the Secure Borders Open Doors Advisory Committee (SBODAC). In addition, he serves as Chairman of the Leadership Council of the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries.
Mr. Marriott attended St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., earned a B.S. degree in banking and finance from the University of Utah and served as an officer in the United States Navy. He is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He is married with four children and 13 grandchildren. So he too has heard the phrase "Are we there yet?"
Will you please greet with me Mr. Bill Marriott, Jr., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Marriott International Inc.
J.W. Marriott, Jr.
It's great to be here in Canada.
My feelings for Canada aren't just personal. A little over 20 years ago, we opened our first hotel here--the Toronto Airport Marriott. Since then, we have added more than 50 hotels in Canada. We'll be adding another one when we open the Residence Inn in downtown Toronto later this month. Thanks to the people in this room, we're accelerating our growth in this country.
Last year I was in Toronto to break ground on our Ritz-Carlton Hotel and to see the model rooms in our residences. I hear they're selling great. I hope some of you got in on the ground floor!
Let me start out by admitting my bias. As a businessman in a global company with more than 2,800 hotels in 68 countries, I believe in free trade. I think travel should be as free as possible, too, because travel is trade, just like when we sell you agricultural products or you sell us oil. When a Canadian visits our Times Square Marriott and takes in a Broadway show, that's a U.S. export. When a newly married couple honeymoons in Lake Louise, that's a Canadian export to the U.S. Even more than other forms of trade, travel creates human bonds of friendship and understanding between nations.
Canada and the U.S. are each other's largest trading partners with Cdn$2 billion worth of trade crossing our shared border every day--and a big part of that is travel.
But travel between our countries--particularly U.S. to Canada--is suffering right now. Overall, trips by U.S. residents to Canada are down more than 17 per cent over last year. Same-day automobile trips are down a startling 23 per cent.
We can point to several reasons including exchange rates and high gas prices, but I believe there is also confusion over the U.S. government's new passport requirements. These came into effect on January 23 as part of what we call the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, or WHTI. WHTI means that everyone travelling by air between the U.S. and Canada, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean, must have a valid passport to re-enter the U.S. It won't apply to automobile travellers until over a year from now, but I believe confusion over the new law is clearly contributing to the steep decline in car travel.
No industry is more aware of the incredible importance of security than ours. We were hit very hard by the terrorist attack on 9/11. Our own company lost two associates that day. And our Marriott World Trade Center Hotel was reduced to dust. In Jakarta one of our properties experienced a car bombing and in Islamabad one of our associates gave his life stopping a suicide bomber from entering one of our hotels during a busy time of day.
Security is critical. But getting it right doesn't mean closing our borders, and it can't mean choking off the life-blood of travel between our nations, because if that happens, the terrorists have won.
Right now, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is working on a pass card that will work a lot like the electronic system drivers from the "905" area use to access highway 407. It's critical that the U.S. government gets this right--that it's ready in time, that it works, and that it's not too expensive.
I'm going to keep pressing on this issue, because we simply can't afford a permanent drag on our cross-border travel.
There are other issues, of course, some which need addressing on the Canadian side of the border, too.
You may know that the World Economic Forum recently released its first travel and tourism competitiveness report. Canada continues to rank among the top world destinations, which comes as no surprise as Canada is a beautiful place to visit. You ranked second in the world in air transport infrastructure and fourth in terms of using the Internet to book travel needs. That's spectacular.
But the report also pointed out that the high cost of airport fees, high taxes on ground transportation and hotel rooms discourages many travellers and probably keeps you from scoring even higher.
But I want to commend the Canadian government for recognizing the critical role of hotels to economic development and extending the exemption for the GST/HST visitor rebate program, enabling meetings, conventions and tour packages to receive a tax rebate.
There's an even larger issue on the horizon, though. It's a good news, bad news deal.
The good news is historically low unemployment figures. In the U.S., we've gone beyond full employment to acute labour shortages in many industries, especially ours.
I noticed that unemployment in Vancouver is 2 per cent. That's great. But Burger Kings and McDonald's are being forced to shut down because of a lack of workers.
The labour shortage is a big problem in Alberta where the tar sands projects are attracting skilled and non-skilled workers with extremely high salaries. The government is responding with programs designed to help the private sector in Alberta.
But the challenge continues across all of Canada. We recently opened a new hotel in Edmonton and we had to turn away business in the first two months due to labour shortages.
We're opening a new JW Marriott resort near Muskoka in Ontario, and we already know we will have to bring in many workers from other countries to open it.
Our industry faces a North American labour challenge. Something's got to give.
In the U.S. alone, it's estimated that we will need an additional 300,000 workers in the next eight years. And it's not just our industry.
I recently wrote about this on my blog; yes, I do have a blog, because I'm really a very hip guy, despite appearances, and I got a response from a steel fabricator in Phoenix, Arizona, who said he had the hardest time finding fitters and welders for his plant at $20 an hour.
We clearly need a humane and practical solution to immigration.
The U.S. government is wrestling with this right now. I'm glad your House of Commons was able to defeat a bill prohibiting replacement workers in federally regulated companies. But this was the 11th such bill, and already a new one has been tabled.
Every nation has the right--and duty--to control its borders and regulate labour. Respect for the law is critical. But we have to face facts, and the reality is that you can't have growth without jobs, and you can't have jobs without the people to fill them.
I am committed to working with our Congress and the administration on immigration reform that provides opportunities for the millions of eager workers who want to share in the American dream.
In a service business like ours, everything comes down to people--and our company is full of extraordinary people with extraordinary stories.
Like Mohammad Zolfagharian, our room service server at the Calgary Marriott Hotel. Mohammad happened to serve breakfast to Richard Robbins, the famous motivational speaker, when he stayed with us. Robbins was so impressed with Mohammad's genuinely warm, friendly and thoughtful service, his attention to detail and his dedication to exceeding expectations, that he not only wrote to Mohammad's manager praising Mohammad to the skies but he wrote a column about him. Now Richard Robbins and Mohammad are writing a book together about what it means to provide really superb service.
But what Robbins didn't know at the time was Mohammad's story. This man with the ready smile and sunny disposition who was so attentive to his every need is a refugee from Iran, where he was unjustly imprisoned and tortured for many years before finally coming to Canada in 1990. Mohammad has now--at the insistence of his 70-year-old mother--forgiven his tormentors, and his heart is simply filled with gratitude toward Canada for taking him in and embracing him as a new citizen.
Last year, Mohammad was one of Marriott's 10 Award of Excellence winners--out of some 143,000 employees worldwide.
I'm proud that Marriott has been listed as one of the 50 best employers in Canada--and the number-one hotel company. I'm especially happy because it means we attract the best of the best--like Mohammad--which means our business model is working.
That business model was created by my Dad when he opened his first root beer stand in Washington, D.C., 80 years ago. It's really simple. If you treat your people well, they'll treat your customers well, and they'll keep coming back and back and back. In whatever country you do business in, service is a universal language. It doesn't matter if it's Toronto, Detroit, Dubai or Beijing. It's the foundation of human relations.
That's why the travel part of trade is so critical, not only to the economy, but to the bonds of friendship between nations.
The friendship between our two nations is unparalleled. We share 3,000 miles of unfortified borders--a situation that is unique in human history, but not surprising when you consider our shared ideals of human freedom and opportunity for all.
Opportunity is what has made our countries great. It's what has made me proud to be part of this industry for more than 50 years, and proud to be able to call myself a colleague of so many of you here today.
The future of this industry has never been brighter, and the opportunities never greater. We're entering an era of unmatched global growth, including massive growth in worldwide travel. With your leadership we can all be part of making a bigger, better future for our citizens and cementing the great friendship between our two nations.
Thank you very much.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by David L. Lindsay, Deputy Minister, Ontario Ministry of Tourism, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada.