Five hotel CEOs enter a room, and one of them makes a big promise: to commit $50 million over the next few years to help recruit a more diverse set of hotel owners. Thankfully, this isn’t the opening of a joke: At Monday’s NYU International Hospitality Investment Conference, Marriott International CEO Anthony Capuano announced that the world’s largest hotel company had launched a “Bridging the Gap” program to break down barriers faced by underrepresented groups in the hospitality industry.
“Black, Latin American, Native American, and female [hotel] ownership is still low,” Capuano told his industry peers during a “View from the Top” panel, which also included the CEOs of Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, and Accor. “We need to create access to capital to drive new ownership opportunities.”
While Marriott has 30 brands and nearly 8,000 hotels in 139 countries, the company itself does not own and operate most of those hotels. Rather, like other major hotel chains, it franchises out the brand to individual owners who meet brand standards for everything from design to food and beverage to sustainability. The startup costs for a medium-size hotel could be in the low millions, which is why this capital is so important.
Marriott’s program will start by offering financial incentives to “qualified historically underrepresented owners and franchisees” in the United States and Canada “that will have a controlling equity interest in select branded projects,” the company said in a statement. These incentives apply to new franchise applications starting June 1, 2022, and continuing during the next three years. The company also plans to offer up members of its roster of “seasoned hotel developers, operators, and lenders” as mentors of sorts for eligible owners.
Panelists on Monday noted that diversity is defined differently across countries—though all agreed that getting more women into leadership positions was a priority internationally.
“We need to bring more female colleagues through the development side of the business,” said Mark S. Hoplamazian, president and CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corp.
Keith Barr, CEO of IHG Hotels and Resorts (which includes Six Senses, Intercontinental, and Kimpton), agreed, noting the risk of more subtle barriers to entry. To recruit more women to top roles, “We need to get rid of things like ‘previous chair experience’ to open up the applicant pool.”
According to a 2022 Women in Hospitality Industry Leadership report by the nonprofit Castell Project, “Women are gaining representation in hotel company leadership roles (CEO, president, founder, etc.). Although still skewed in favor of men, women now hold one leadership spot for every 10.3 men, an improvement from one to 11.2 in 2019.”