Skift Editor’s Note: Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson wrote the following open letter to President-Elect Donald J. Trump on LinkedIn. Sorenson has not been afraid to express his views on social and political issues that impact the hospitality industry, and society as a whole, and the following letter details his hopes for the future, not only for the hospitality industry, but for the country, and its place in the world. It should be pointed out that Marriott and its leadership have a history of supporting Republican candidates and former GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is on Marriott’s board of directors.
Congratulations on your election as President of the United States. You ran an impressive campaign, never doubting your message. You now have the opportunity to lead from the White House and all of us want you, and the nation you will serve, to be successful.
I was gratified to hear your inclusive words in your election night speech. As President, you will have the ability to represent everyone, whether they supported you in the election or not. Particularly after this campaign, we need leadership to bring us together, to find areas of common ground and to help us find a path through issues that require compromise.
You have the chance to disprove your critics
While your Electoral College victory was solid, you should guard against the victor’s curse: Don’t convince yourself that your victory is a personal mandate that absolves you of the need to collaborate in governing. While millions voted for you because they agreed with your ideas, millions voted for you even though they agreed with only some of your ideas or because they didn’t like the alternative. And, of course, many did not vote for you. Bring all those people along with you. Leadership is about listening and then convincing. It is not about mandating.
One powerful early step you could take is to break the cycle of retribution. Too often, we have seen new leaders invest too much time and effort in getting even with their opponents through criticism and investigations. If you’re serious about bringing us together, consider simply letting Secretary Clinton ride off into the sunset with thanks for her public service, perhaps even with a pardon. By itself, this would be a unifying step, one that would set you up well to be the kind of leader that we need – focused entirely on the future, instead of the past.
To many of us it is not clear what political philosophy guides you – at least with respect to traditional Republican or Democratic labels – other than the useful goal of making America better. Having listened to you on the campaign trail, I wonder whether a more definitive philosophy might be that the federal government’s role in our daily lives should be limited. Let’s not have the government act unless it is uniquely capable of taking positive action to address an issue.
While many conservatives would instantly agree with a philosophy like this, it should extend to areas that are a bit more controversial. A case in point: The government has no business in our bedrooms – or our bathrooms. Everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or identity, has a right to live without interference in their private lives. Similarly, everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or identity, gender, race, religion or ethnicity should have an equal opportunity to get a job, start a business or be served by a business. Use your leadership to minimize divisiveness around these areas by letting people live their lives and by ensuring that they are treated equally in the public square.
There are a number of other areas where the government has a critical role to play. Some require urgent attention because they are vital to improving economic growth. They are infrastructure, immigration reform and tax reform.
You know as well as I do the sorry state of our nation’s roads, bridges, highways and airports. You’ve rightly promised to do something about it. As head of a company that operates around the world and serves millions of travelers, I have seen and heard the complaints many times. Our woefully outdated and dilapidated infrastructure is putting our country at an economic disadvantage. These are all places where the government has traditionally acted and where the need for further investment is clear. The infrastructure jobs themselves – and the economic growth that better infrastructure will fuel – are needed given our anemic growth numbers.
This is not a complicated issue and it should not be made complicated by connecting it to the repatriation of foreign earnings or by tying it to some philosophy of privatization of historically government functions. We need the investment. We can borrow the money, cheaply. Let’s just do it.
On immigration, you’ve spent a great deal of time talking about illegal immigration, border security and the threat of terrorism. Of course, we need to make sure our borders are secured as well as our airports. You have been clear about your intent to quickly enhance the security of our borders. That is a sensible idea, even if a literal wall is unwise.
Strengthening our borders, however, should not lead us to close America to travelers from around the world. The 75 million foreign visitors we welcome every year support in excess of two million jobs in the U.S. Those jobs cannot and will not be transferred off shore – unless, of course, we dissuade those travelers from coming to the U.S. We should keep the welcome mat out for foreign travelers.
One particularly worthy idea that strengthens our borders and enhances the economic growth of travel is to roll out a global trusted traveler program to ensure that we focus our security resources on those who pose risk, not on the overwhelming majority who pose no risk.
Once steps have been made to enhance security on our borders, we should move swiftly to figure out what to do with the undocumented immigrants already here. Let’s take appropriate steps to ensure that these 11 million people can help make America stronger by paying taxes, investing in the future and continuing to contribute to our communities. It is impractical and heartless to think that we will evict all these people. Let’s find a way to let them live their lives productively.
We also need to adopt a transparent approach for future immigration, which is essential to so many industries – including hospitality. Our business depends on the vibrant exchange of ideas, the sharing of customs, the ability to travel and experience new things. We know the many tangible benefits of diversity and inclusion, because we live it every day in every one of our properties.
We also know how critically important it is to be able to attract and retain the best, brightest, most talented, hardest working people — wherever they come from. We do not want the aging demographic profile of Japan or of Western Europe – it would create enormous head winds against growth and opportunity. Our economy and our society benefit from immigration done right.
The need for tax reform is also urgent. Far too often, our tax laws put government in the role of picking winners and losers when market competition should do that work. As you well know, just complying with the Byzantine tax code is an enormous drag on our economy, wasting billions of dollars and work hours. We need a dramatic simplification of our tax code that closes loopholes and unnecessary tax preferences, lowers tax rates to levels comparable to the rest of the industrialized world and removes market distortions as much as possible.
If we dramatically simplify the tax code, we can reduce the corporate tax rate and go to a territorial system — without losing revenues or increasing our budget deficit. An added bonus: by going to a territorial tax regime, we could see trillions of dollars come back to the U.S. economy to be returned to American shareholders or invested. If we don’t take these steps, the relatively lower tax rates and the prevalence of territorial tax systems around the world will make foreign ownership of U.S. companies more and more likely, costing U.S. jobs and competitive strength.
President-elect Trump, you have a historic opportunity in front of you. It is the opportunity to implement changes which are fair and transparent, that further the interests of all Americans, particularly those most in need of opportunity. You have the chance to disprove your critics – reach out, govern, collaborate with your opponents.
You can make America even greater.