Marriott Loses `Handful' of Group Bookings From Travel Ban

  • CEO cites ‘broad sense’ that order’s ‘symbolism is wrong’
  • Company sees ban unlikely to affect individual business travel

Marriott International Inc., the world’s biggest hotel operator, lost a small amount of group business due to travel restrictions under President Donald Trump’s executive order last month, a move that’s led to protests and drawn criticism from major U.S. companies.

“We are aware of a handful of groups who have said, ‘You know what? I’m going to go elsewhere,’” Chief Financial Officer Leeny Oberg said in a telephone interview after Marriott announced its fourth-quarter earnings Wednesday. “Whether there’s a marked impact, I think it’s too soon to tell,” given that group business tends to have a longer lead time, she said.

The Trump administration’s restrictions on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Iraq and Syria, sparked lawsuits, protests around the country and condemnation from employers in the technology industry, which relies on foreign talent. Last week, a federal appeals court refused to reinstate the ban after a Seattle-based judge earlier put it on hold.

The seven countries named in the executive order don’t represent substantial sources of business for Marriott, according to the company.

“There is a broad sense, particularly across the Middle East but across much of the world, that the executive order is a really big deal, and that the symbolism is wrong,” Marriott Chief Executive Officer Arne Sorenson said Thursday on the company’s earnings conference call. Citing a handful of anecdotes that some groups moved bookings outside the U.S., Sorenson said, “I am sure there are a number that we’re not hearing.”

Read more: Trump’s travel ban -- a QuickTake Q&A

Sorenson said he doesn’t think the travel restrictions will have a significant impact on hotel stays by individual business travelers. Changes to U.S. travel policies for security or immigration reasons should be made quickly, he said.

“We really want people to come here and see us and do business here and vacation here,” Sorenson said.

Asked whether Marriott plans to join any of the lawsuits seeking to end the travel ban, the company’s CFO said no.

“It’s something we’re watching very carefully,” Oberg said.

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