June 3, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio

This is the second part of Sean Hunt’s interview. Read part one from yesterday.

Sean Hunt, Marriott International Vice President for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific says that looking to the future, the return of business events is very important.

He says that business events enquiries are strong, there is huge pent-up demand, lead times are much shorter and he predicts that more meetings will be hybrid.

Although the market is yet to return in any “meaningful way” it’s not stopping the company from preparing the pitch to drive conversion.

“Every company’s culture has taken a dent – they have to come back together to reform their culture.”

Hunt has played a key role in kicking off the CONVERGE program for business events.

In addition, Marriott International has introduced new commercial policies that make it easier for organisers to book a Marriott property.

It’s a marriage between emotional and the rational commercial considerations. Hunt is keen to remove the barriers to booking. There are now no cancellation fees, and no attrition clauses, he says.

It’s unusual to see a hotel join forces with a psychologist, but that’s exactly what Marriott International has done to create an offering and a proposition that reflects the needs of the market as we come through the COVID.

The company PR material says it has made: “a leading move in the MICE market to reinvent its face-to-face meeting offering as Australia emerges from the pandemic”.

“The world has changed how we work and do business. Marriott is where leaders, thinkers, creators, difference makers, dreamers, innovators and influencers converge to build resilience and re-connect with one another,” Hunt says.

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg’s research says it has never been more important to connect in person for wellbeing, happiness and satisfaction. And because of this, the CONVERGE initiative factors mental health into Marriott International’s offering.

An event at Sheraton Grand Hyde Park in Sydney celebrated the launch of Marriott’s CONVERGE initiative last week

As Area Vice President, Hunt not only plays a big role in Marriott International in the ANZP region, he also has a leadership role outside the company.

As a Board Member of Tourism Accommodation Australia (TAA), he works at advocating for the whole industry to the Australian federal and state governments. He’s very tapped into the wider issues impacting the sector and representing it in forums with governments.

He’s passionate about the work being done by the hotel sector to keep Australia safe with the hotel quarantine program.

“The hotel sector has done a lot of the heavy lifting in the quarantine program to bring people back safely,” he says.

He believes this work has not been valued enough because of media focus on a small number of leaks rather than giving recognition for the hundreds of thousands of people that have been safely through the quarantine program.

In our interview he talked about TAA’s lobbying “win” in convincing the Government to lift its restrictions on the number of hours that students can work.

He says while this represents a significant policy shift, it’s been a hollow victory as many students have had to return home during the pandemic.

Hunt is marathon-fit.  He’s been doing the distance in hotels for a long time – in good times and also difficult ones, like those we have faced since March 2020.

As we approach the sixteenth month of turbulence, growth and change, he is reflective and considered. He knows the world is very different and people too have changed in what matters to them.

And he is no exception.

Ironically, although his company is in the middle of an unprecedented expansion phase, adding more properties to the portfolio and expanding into new regions – Hunt personally wants for less.

More than anything he says that the major lesson for him from the past year has been what we need and our capacity to contribute.

“We need less and should give more. We really do need less than we think we do.”

I suspect there’s a mighty big heart where that revelation came from too.