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New Marriott CEO Tony Capuano can't celebrate for long: the world's largest hotel company still faces a long recovery from the global pandemic.

Marriott’s board of directors tapped Tony Capuano, who most recently oversaw the company’s global development division, as its next chief executive, the company announced Tuesday.

Capuano, 55, succeeds the late Arne Sorenson, who died last week following a nearly two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

“Arne was a mentor, a champion and a friend to each member of his close-knit leadership team,” Capuano said in a statement. “It is because of Arne’s efforts that we are prepared to move forward with this transition. Together, we will advance the strategy we have in place, which is laser-focused on recovery, expansion, providing opportunities for our associates, maintaining constructive relationships with our owners and franchisees, delivering safe and innovative experiences for our guests and customers, and building value for our shareholders.”

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Marriott CEO Tony Capuano (Credit: Marriott International)

A Baltimore native, Capuano joined Bethesda, Maryland-based Marriott in 1995 on the company’s market planning and feasibility team before going on to lead the company’s full-service development efforts on the U.S. West Coast and Canada. He later expanded his oversight to global development.

A graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, Capuano now lives in Potomac, Maryland, with his wife and daughter. He is also a member of the board of directors of Save Venice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the artistic heritage of Venice, Italy.

“Tony has played a critical role in Marriott’s growth over the last decade,” said J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr., Marriott’s executive chairman and chairman of the board, in a statement. “He will be a terrific leader as we continue to advance our growth strategy while also navigating the market dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Marriott’s financial recovery remains the top task of the incoming CEO. At the worst of the pandemic, global occupancy at the company averaged 12 percent and revenue per available room — the hotel industry’s key performance metric — was down by 90 percent. Global occupancy was still only averaging 35 percent in the fourth quarter, the company announced last week.

“Certainly, in addition to making folks safe, we’ve got to get them enthused about travel,” Capuano said in an interview with Skift.

Capuano had been sharing acting CEO duties for the last week with Stephanie Linnartz, who was named president of the company Tuesday. Linnartz most recently served as group president of consumer operations, technology, and emerging businesses.

A Truist Securities memo released late Tuesday morning indicated analysts feel Capuano comes to the table with a “deep holistic background” of the entire hotel industry while Linnartz is a wise pick for drawing a diverse customer base to a variety of Marriott products like its Homes & Villas vacation home rental platform.

A Long Road to Recovery

Capuano’s leadership ascent comes amid Marriott and the greater hotel industry facing its worst months financially on-record.

Marriott last week posted a $267 million loss for 2020 — its first annual loss since the 2009 financial crisis — and $164 million loss for the fourth quarter. Rising case counts around the world over the winter and heightened travel restrictions — even in China, the country leading the recovery for Marriott and the greater hotel industry — led to the decline.

Capuano recognized helping franchisees is a critical part of the job ahead.

“The financial pressure the pandemic has created on the owner community is significant,” Capuano said. “The care and feeding of those owners and franchisees is a top priority [along with] doing everything we can to help them navigate the financial pressures the pandemic has created.”

Capuano led the company’s Commitment to Clean initiative of heightened safety protocols in response to the pandemic. Those measures aimed to boost traveler confidence and pave the way for a travel recovery.

Another Capuano-led initiative could also play a role in accelerating Marriott’s rebound. The company’s push into all-inclusive resorts ramped up earlier this month with a 19-property deal with Toronto-based Sunwing Travel Group in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Marriott will also continue to growth the Homes & Villas platform.

Linnartz indicated last week there were “a couple million homes” viable for this growing division. There are currently a little more than 25,000 listings on Homes & Villas.

The push into each of these growing travel divisions is about reaching leisure travelers in market segments where Marriott previously didn’t have much, if any, of a presence.

“We are seeing leisure-transient lead the recovery. That’s not for a moment to suggest we aren’t seeing green shoots in business travel and even a bit of small group, but leisure transient has a pretty good head start,” Capuano said earlier this month. “This allows us to continue to build on that leisure-transient recovery.”

Arne’s Legacy

Capuano, Linnartz, and the entire hotel industry continue to mourn Sorenson’s passing.

“Every member of the leadership team feels a profound sense of loss at Arne’s passing. He was not just a friend and a leader for us, he was a guidepost for the hospitality industry,” Linnartz said. “The best way we can honor Arne’s memory is to continue to move the company forward.”

While Marriott’s leaders say their late CEO would want them to look forward, Capuano is still guided by some of the mentorship of his former boss.

“Among the biggest gifts he gave me was to encourage my intellectual curiosity,” Capuano said. “He was rarely without a book under his arm. He was a student of the world, and when you had the privilege of touring our hotels with him, the way he would engage with our associates — there was so much to learn from every one of them.”

[UPDATE]: Following initial publication of this story, Skift conducted an interview with new Marriott CEO Tony Capuano. This story has been updated.

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Tags: Arne Sorenson, coronavirus, coronavirus recovery, marriott

Photo credit: Ricardo630 / Wikimedia

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