Arne Sorenson, chief executive of Marriott International, has delivered a rousing performance in support of the tourism sector during the Future Hospitality Conference in Saudi Arabia.
Speaking to a global audience he argued the impact of the virus would eventually be contained, with the desire to travel reasserting itself.
“One of the things that gives me sustaining optimism is that there is no doubt in my mind that the virus will get behind us,” he said.
“When it does, the forces that have propelled growth in travel and hospitality for decades will come back.
“We cannot be sure exactly when this will be, or when we will reach the levels we saw in 2019, but we can be confident travel will come back.”
The UNWTO recorded some 1.6 billion international trips in 2019, with industry experts differing on when the hospitality sector might reach such heights again.
World Travel & Tourism Council chief executive, Gloria Guevara, earlier argued it could be as soon as 2022, if global authorities are able to coordinate their actions.
However, the International Air Transport Association has warned recovery may take as long as four years.
Turning his attention to business travel, Sorenson said he had no concerns about the long-term health of the sector.
“I am not worried about the future of business travel.
“We heard after the popping of the tech bubble, after 9/11 and the Great Recession that business travel would never come back – and that was not the case,” he added.
“We heard early on that working from home was ‘as good’ as working from the office, but the further we go into the crisis, the harder it gets for us to say that.
“There is a drive for us to be together – as we plan for the future and work out which questions it is we need to answer.”
The Marriott chief also pointed to the role of technology as one of the positive elements to come out of the current Covid-19 slowdown in travel.
“The use of digital tools for connecting with our customers, including checking in and opening room doors, has accelerated dramatically,” he said.
“This technology was available before the pandemic, but its use has now been accelerated
“This will drive satisfaction, as guests are able to bypass the front desk.”
He joked: “We had seen some resistance to this, among business travellers, who were perhaps unwilling to give up that interaction as they worked the desk in search of a room upgrade!”
Overall, Sorenson was able to sound an optimistic note.
“I think overwhelmingly, when you listen to folks across the world, on the personal side you hear they want to get out of their house, they want to see friends and family.
“This will drive folks back out to collect the experiences that you can only get through travel.
“The forces that were drying the increase in leisure business in the pre Covid-19 era will return and this wild drive us forward.”
Sorenson was speaking at the Future Hospitality Summit, a hybrid virtual conference developed to explore big ideas and tackle the challenges facing the hospitality industry, and will take place in Riyadh over the next two days.
The event, which promises to be one of the most impactful gatherings of the hospitality community, will be delivered on a cutting-edge event platform from Bench Digital.
It will provide an immersive live experience, including a virtual exhibition, one-to-one video networking and integrated chat features to all participants.
Future Hospitality Summit is organised by ministry of tourism Saudi Arabia and G20 Saudi Secretariat as part of the International Conferences Program, honouring the G20 Saudi presidency 2020.
Find out more on the official website.