Marriott International Area Vice President Australia, New Zealand and Pacific, Sean Hunt.
Marriott International Area Vice President Australia, New Zealand and Pacific, Sean Hunt.

Meetings and events could begin to get underway again potentially by the end of August, according to Marriott International, with signs from the business community showing a great desire to travel and get back to business.

The positive outlook came from Marriott International Area Vice President Australia, New Zealand and Pacific, Sean Hunt, who told HM that prior to the latest COVID-19 infection spike in Victoria, the corporate sector was agitating and eager to travel once again. Hunt said there had been an uplift in mid-week corporate business, driven largely by the mining and resources sector along with consultant-based organisations helping businesses to “right-size”.

“The situation remains fluid,” Hunt said.

“I thought we had this beat. We were down to under 300 COVID-19 cases across the whole of Australia. And now we’re picking up that many COVID-19 cases a day in Victoria. So, it remains fluid, but if we can get in front of this, I do believe the corporates will start to travel again. People want to get back to doing business.”

Marriott International has seen a good uptake in its Virtual Meetings offering.

Hunt clarified that while there was not much momentum expected from the large events sector for the remainder of 2020, there was already “pent-up demand” for gatherings in 2021. In the meantime, there has been a good uptake in Marriott’s Virtual Meetings packages.

“There’ll be pent up demand,” Hunt said.

“Companies have had to restructure their workforce and then they’ve got to communicate with their people what’s the new norm. The only way to do that is really to get together and meet.”

Despite the temporary halt in business gatherings, Hunt said the company has been highly active and engaged, communicating regularly with its Marriott Bonvoy members.

“We’ve got 140 million Marriott Bonvoy members globally,” he said.

“We’ve got several million members here in Australia. We’re staying actively engaged with them, keeping them up to date on what’s going on. And also, doing what we can to help them connect with their respective customers.”

The Staycation market is performing well, considering the current environment, Sean Hunt said.

The leisure front has been performing strongly for Marriott International in the current environment, Hunt said, with pent-up demand leading to offers for ‘Staycations’ and Bed & Breakfast being well received by the market and resulting in strong business on Saturday nights. The month of June began with occupancy in the single digits but closed with a regional average of 35%.

“it’s a far cry from the 80-90% occupancies we’ve run historically, but it’s what we would call in the Marriott world, green shoots of recovery,” he said.

Hunt said he was highly optimistic at the potential available for domestic markets to rake in a share in the AUD$65 billion spent last year by Australians and Kiwis on international travel. With many borders closed, the potential this has for the drive market and domestic tourism is highly positive.

“I’m quietly confident that if we can get COVID-19 in the rear vision mirror, that Q4 will see a Trans-Tasman travel bubble between Aussies and Kiwis. And hopefully some or a large portion of that AUD$65 billion will be spent here closer to home.

“I guess the positive parts of this would be that they will be compelled to travel closer to home, whether it be Australia, New Zealand or the Pacific Islands.”