June 2, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio

Marriott International’s growth in Australia since taking over Starwood Hotels and Resorts in 2017 has been explosive and, according to the company’s most senior executive in the region, it’s not about to stop.

Sean Hunt is Marriott International’s Vice President with responsibility for the growing portfolio of hotels across Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.

There are now 54 hotels operating or under development in Australia alone. Hunt says while this may not make it the biggest operator in Australia, it has more new hotels than anyone else.

That fresh and diverse mix of hotels and brands continues to make it a critical supplier of capacity for the business events sector.

Last week, the company outlined its pitch to business events organisers, including corporate clients and professional conference organisers, at a hybrid event across Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

The event, which was supported by Business Events Australia, showcased its partnership with Microhire for technical production of live, virtual and hybrid events.

Marriott International launched its new CONVERGE program designed to address mental health and the drivers of happiness after commissioning research through one of Australia’s leading psychologists, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg.

In essence, Marriott International wants to stand out in the market for its deeper understanding and commitment to the power of human interaction through business events.

The MICE market is at the core of the company’s diverse market segments and Hunt and his team have invested heavily in their refreshed pitch. At the core of that pitch are some very “now” messages about human connection.

When Marriott International took over Starwood’s 1,200 hotels globally its portfolio grew to 7,500 hotels in 154 countries. Hunt looks after one percent of these investments. That may not be a big chunk of the company’s overall stock, but for Hunt they are the most important.

Hunt is a hotelier through and through. He’s got an extraordinary perspective on the whole business. He’s opened hotels in Australia, in Asia and the Pacific. It’s in his blood – most of his career has been in hotels, starting in the kitchen butchery section and covering operations and senior management roles in the region.

The new W Melbourne opened in February this year

Marriott Hotels is pumping investment into Australia at a rate of knots. And Hunt says the “explosive growth” is not about to stop.

“We’ve got a dozen hotels to open in the next 18 months and the owners are not stopping, they are committed,” he says with a smile that lights up the Zoom screen.

That’s a growth of 45 percent and 2,867 more room keys. New destinations include Hobart, the Sunshine Coast and Margaret River.

Hunt is clearly a builder – especially of teams. He’s big on team culture and empowering people to do their jobs well.  He’s invested in the “human” side of the business and creating a culture that values people – both his teams and the guests who stay or have events at the hotels. His GMs are pumped too – that was clear at the launch event for the CONVERGE program.

Hunt has been through every season that our industry has faced over recent decades – the highs and the lows. He speaks candidly about the challenges of the current market but at the same time he is buoyant about the opportunities ahead.

He thinks it’s premature to reopen international borders – for now he sees the national market and some travel bubbles as being most important. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, he warns.

“We have a robust domestic travel market – if we keep the trans-Tasman [bubble] happening, we can be in a good place.

“Aussies and Kiwis spend billions – the drive and regional markets have record occupancies. We’re in reasonably good shape.”

The leading performers are the resort properties where occupancies are going through the roof. But the business events market is yet to come back on a grand scale.

Read part two of this story.