|By John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
June 25, 2004 - About the time General Motors Corp. and Marriott International finished renovating the former Westin Hotel at the Renaissance Center in 2001, the travel industry sank into a prolonged slump.
The industry appears to be gathering strength again. And that has Marriott executives hopeful that their commitment to the Ren Cen hotel will pay off soon.
John W. Marriott III, the chain's executive vice president, said during a visit to Detroit on Thursday that the Marriott Renaissance Center posted 50-percent occupancy averages for the past three years. Hotels generally need at least 60 percent to break even, and the company's suburban hotels in metro Detroit typically see occupancy rates in the mid-70s to low-80s.
"Obviously we're not thrilled with 50-percent occupancy but it's been an usually tough three years," Marriott said. "And as we see the economy coming back and the industry improving, we believe this will be a great asset."
Although the hotel renovations were generally finished three years ago, GM still is in the midst of making over the Ren Cen and its environs, including a new entrance and a new riverfront promenade.
"We think there's a lot of potential here," Marriott said. "Once the construction is done, and you have the walkway out there and the roads cleaned up and they have retail space finished, it'll do much better."
Marriott and his top aides are conducting an annual round of visits to company sites around the nation. They talk with employees and customers to garner ideas for future growth. "The purpose is, one, to learn, and, two, to connect with people," he said. "Information if it's bottom up tends to work better than if it's all top down."
Marriott is the grandson of his company's founder and the son of current Marriott chairman and CEO J. W. Marriott Jr.
During his Detroit visit Thursday, he noted that the company actually owns a piece of the Ren Cen hotel--about one-third, with General Motors owning the rest. It's unusual for the company to own any of the properties it operates. That fact signals that, "We're very committed to this asset and the city," he said.
The Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center is the city's leading convention hotel. It will be the National Football League's headquarters hotel for Super Bowl XL, to be played at Ford Field on Feb. 5, 2006.
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