Rajeev Menon, Marriott International President – Asia Pacific (excluding China), thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule, to talk to AccomNews.
You now have three decades of experience in the industry but what was your first foray into hospitality?
I joined the hotel industry over 30 years ago, starting out at the Sir Stamford Double Bay and Stamford Plaza Double Bay in Sydney, Australia.
In 2001, I joined Marriott International, and soon became General Manager of the Renaissance Mumbai Hotel and Convention Centre and Marriott Executive Apartments, Mumbai. Since then, I’ve taken on a number of different roles, living in multiple major cities around the globe, mentoring employees and serving guests.
What is it about this industry that excites you the most?
It is my passion for people that really got me started in hospitality, what drew me to Marriott International many years ago, what keeps me going and what excites me the most.
What lessons have you taken from the ‘ups and downs’ of the last couple of years?
After spending almost three decades in the industry, the last two years have undoubtedly been the most challenging and difficult.
The pandemic has been one, if not the worst crisis to hit the hospitality industry. However, it was also an incredible time of learning for me, as we weathered the storm together, grew closer as a team and came out of it stronger.
To me, there are three main key learnings that I have taken away from the past two years.
The first is hyperlocalisation. Hyperlocalisation continues to be important, as we at Marriott International continue to focus on relevant partnerships locally. Our collaboration with Rakuten, launching Japan and Korea co-branded credit cards are just a few of the many examples we are doing that.
The second is agility. The situation over the last two years was immensely fluid and challenging at times with unpredictable outcomes. In order for us to overcome the challenges, we needed to be and still continue to be mindful of the volatility of the pandemic, even now post-pandemic.
Finally, innovation was and continues to be key. During the pandemic, we had to adapt to a more digital approach compared to our traditional methods of hospitality. This included introducing innovative solutions and ideas like Marriott Bonvoy on wheels which brought hotel-quality food to the comfort of homes, and the launch of Good Travel with Marriott Bonvoy which provided opportunities to guests to create a positive impact on the environment and communities as they increasingly look for purposeful travel.
To help ensure guests’ safety and well-being, we also pivoted to more digital and technological solutions like mobile chats and digital check-ins for our guests.
You lead Marriott with such passion, why do you love the brand so much?
One of the core values of Marriott International is ‘Putting people first’, this is something that truly resonated with me over 20 years ago when I joined the company and still does, even today.
It is this key value that helped the company navigate and weather the storm of the pandemic and goes far beyond just caring for our guests.
“Take care of the associates and they will take care of the customers”. This is our founder’s philosophy and, for more than 95 years, Marriott has committed itself to nurturing and empowering our associates across our properties and creating a positive impact in local communities with our key programs and initiatives.
What are the signs of recovery in ANZ that please you the most?
There are many exciting signs of recovery, and we remain confident in the resilience of travel, with our growth momentum expected to continue.
Marriott anticipates the opening of our 1000th hotel in early 2023, a demonstrator of our confidence in APAC growth for the near future. These new openings and brand debuts further build on our vision of delivering exceptional and distinctive travel experiences for travellers.
Marriott International saw the debut of the AC Hotel brand in Australia with the opening of AC Hotel Melbourne Southbank in May this year.
We also launched Homes & Villas by Marriott International in Australia and New Zealand which is a collection of Marriott Bonvoy’s curated and growing premium and luxury whole home rentals around the world. The launch comprises over 350 premium and luxury homes in prime leisure destinations, including Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Orange in Australia, and Auckland and Queenstown in New Zealand.
We are also expecting to launch The Ritz-Carlton in Melbourne, marking the second Ritz-Carlton hotel to open in Australia and the anticipated opening of W Sydney in 2023, which will mark the third W hotel in Australia.
What was the most important message you took away from HICAP 2022?
Despite headwinds (which everyone is watching closely) travel is returning and the excitement of being back together and catching up on the lost personal moments is powerful and energizing.
It was great to catch up with peers and partners during my in-person time at HICAP.
One of the biggest hurdles for recovery is the staffing and talent crisis in ANZ, how is Marriott managing the situation?
We will continue to focus on a number of approaches. The first is to strengthen our ‘People-first culture’, making sure that we grow great leaders, investing in our associates, and providing equal access to career opportunities.
We have our Future Forward Program, to identify, develop and engage with the best high-potential associates to continue growing the company. It was founded as a collective leadership effort to continue developing our talents despite the difficulties we were going through during the pandemic.
We believe that “Success is never final”, and there is always more to be done.
In your opinion what are the most important qualities a hospitality leader should have?
The last two years in the industry really challenged my role as a leader, as I had to navigate challenges that I had never encountered in my more than thirty years of experience in the industry.
To me, a hospitality leader needs to be agile and adaptable.
Being nimble and the ability to flex in challenging times is an essential aspect to have in hospitality, especially with changing circumstances.
Another quality is to take care of employees and always put people first. People are the foundation of every hospitality business, and it is important to look after your associates well so that they take care of guests with the utmost care and comfort.
Finally, respect for all in the service and industry is crucial – having shared and mutual respect for all involved.
From associates to guests and to the community we work in, everyone deserves respect, especially in our role as hoteliers – to serve and welcome from all over the world.
What is your advice to aspiring industry leaders?
I believe self-awareness is an extremely important skill that all aspiring industry leaders need to have.
A self-aware leader not only understands themselves and their values but also recognises the impact that they have on others.
If we are not aware of our own strengths and weaknesses, it is difficult for us leaders to improve. That’s why, personal development is of great importance, especially true for aspiring leaders.
It is also why we, at Marriott include personal development as part of many of our associates’ balance scorecard. We want to develop an organization where people grow, and where we advocate for lifelong learning – no matter what stage of our career.
What are you hoping for the future?
Sustainability is, and will be a priority for all of us in the future. It’s no longer just a buzzword, but an urgent call to action that needs to be inculcated in all aspects of a hospitality business.
Although put on the back burner over the last two years, the pandemic has now more than ever highlighted the need for a more sustainable and resilient future. It’s taught us to be more resilient and responsible than ever before, and it falls upon us to steer this industry forward responsibly and holistically for the people and the travel.
It falls on us to make a better world of travel for generations to come.
Rajeev Menon is President Asia Pacific (excluding China) Marriott International.
Mandy has over 17 years of accommodation and tourism industry writing experience and is Editor of AccomNews & Resort News, Publisher of SchoolNews & Director of Multimedia Pty Ltd. She is a retired registered nurse with a 25-year NHS career that followed a few unforgettable years in hotel housekeeping.