David Marriott, chairman of Marriott International's board of directors. Credit: Dan Schere

After struggling heavily with recruitment and suffering from a sharp decline in revenues early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Marriott International is increasing its recruiting efforts and plans to do more outreach to students at area universities and professional schools, according to David Marriott, the chairman of the company’s board of directors.

Marriott spoke with Bethesda Beat on Monday following a media tour of the company’s new headquarters on Woodmont Avenue in downtown Bethesda. The company will hold an official opening ceremony with a ribbon cutting at the headquarters in September.

How does it feel to be in the new building?

It truly is incredible. I remember very vaguely being [at] the [former] River Road location, which is where Washington Episcopal School is. And so, this is really a big transformation when you think about the six-story sprawling campus that we had off of Fernwood [Road] that was built 42 years ago. To now be in this new building in downtown Bethesda is spectacular.

How many employees will work here full-time?

That’s a tough one to answer, just because we haven’t been able to see it in motion because we’re just bringing all the departments in and getting to full capacity. But being in the travel industry, we have people that are on the road all the time. So even when we were in Fernwood before the pandemic, we might have had 3,000 associates assigned to that building, but I don’t think there was ever a day when 3,000 associates were in the building.

We really didn’t change much about the design during the pandemic. I think a lot of the way in which people work, we were trying to think through that. And I think the pandemic didn’t necessarily change where the workforce was going, but I think it sped up where that was going. People were already starting to work remotely a little bit more and trying to do things from different locations.

How is recruitment going for the company?

Before the pandemic, I think people that worked within hospitality could never have foreseen a drop in our business the way that it occurred. Our revenues dropped 90% overnight. And so, I think the people that worked in our industry had the sense that, ‘our jobs are always going to be protected, right?’ And then when you have that kind of revenue drop, you have to make really difficult decisions … to survive and get through the pandemic.

We had a lot of folks who left and went to other industries, so we’ve had a lot of turnover. We’ve been able to bring a lot of people back, and we’re bringing new people in. And I think early on as we came out of the pandemic, that was a real challenge. Finding workers to come into the industry was one of the biggest challenges that we faced. But I think that’s improving dramatically.

When you say the company faced challenges in recruiting, do you mean generally or in Montgomery County?

I’m talking about generally. I think Montgomery County and the Washington, D.C., area followed the patterns that we’re seeing elsewhere in the country. Resort markets came back first (Florida, Arizona and others). They were probably the most stressed in terms of labor and getting the workforce ramped back up. So we took some of the learnings from those markets. While that curve might not have been as steep in Bethesda or in the DMV … it still followed those similar patterns and challenges.

Does the county offer enough options for training employees in the hospitality industry?

You’ve got tremendous representation in hospitality in this area. So we’ve got our headquarters here in Bethesda, you have Host Hotels & Resorts just down the road [in Bethesda], you have DiamondRock [in Bethesda] … so you have a tremendous amount of jobs and opportunity in Bethesda and Montgomery County, and the whole DMV for that matter. And you’ve got Choice Hotels [in Rockville].

One of the things we’ve made an investment in is to create a hospitality school in conjunction with Howard University [in D.C.]. We have a great vision around being able to set us up for great success in terms of hiring diverse leaders within the industry long term — and really putting hospitality on the map even more so.

I do think that there’s a gap in Montgomery County and in other areas [in the region] in terms of aligning our educational systems with the industry that exists within our area. There is a shortage of hospitality schools in this area, which is another great reason to invest in a school at Howard University, and to promote more education in this area for this industry.

I’ve heard leaders in the technology and software space also say that there could be more alignment around educational opportunities with the industry in this area as well.

So that would be one of the gaps, but I think the opportunities that exist within our industry and within our space are unmatched in Montgomery County, compared to almost anywhere else in the country.

Does Marriott plan to reach out proactively to students?

For sure. Recruiting at the university level has been a big focus for us. As you can imagine, when you go through something as drastic as we did the last two years, we had to put our recruiting efforts on hold for a time because we weren’t hiring early on in the pandemic. So we’re at the point now that we’re trying to ramp back up our recruiting efforts to ensure that we’re in touch with the right hospitality schools, with the right universities. It’s not just hospitality schools that we want to pull talent from. It’s business schools. It’s culinary schools. And even at the high school level. So we’re rebuilding that recruiting process and strategy to make sure we’re in all the places where we need to be, whether it’s high school, whether it’s community college, whether it’s culinary school.

What message would Marriott deliver to the next County Council?

I think just support business as best as they can, recognize the opportunities that business creates and the more support they can give to business, the more opportunities [it] will create for the people of Montgomery County and Bethesda. So whether it’s providing companies with incentives to grow and hire more people, or providing tax relief for companies that are good citizens and employing the local residents within the county. That support for businesses that exist within the county would be greatly beneficial and appreciated.

As the pandemic persists, what’s the company’s outlook for the coming months?

There’s no sign of our business slowing down at this point… . We have incredible pricing power and incredible demand for our hotels right now. There’s been so much pent-up travel demand through the pandemic, and there’s no signs of that pent-up demand slowing down right now. So we’re very positive about the next 90 days, and how things look for Marriott.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com