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Bill Marriott Jr Has Faith in Florida Tourism; Marriott International
 Has 184 Branded Hotels in Florida

By Randy Diamond, Tampa Tribune, Fla.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

Sep. 24, 2004 -TAMPA, Fla. -- One of the world's largest hotel operators, J.W. "Bill" Marriott Jr., predicted Thursday that Florida will quickly recover from the hurricanes that have put its tourist industry into a tailspin. 

"If there is any concern, it will pass quickly," said Marriott, who dedicated the new Renaissance Tampa Hotel at International Plaza mall Thursday. 

Marriott, the 72-year-old chief executive and chairman of Marriott International, said the combination of beaches, theme parks and other attractions make the state a top destination and will allow it to escape any long-term damage from the hurricanes. 

Marriott's comments came a day after the Florida Tourism Commission asked Gov. Jeb Bush for $30 million in emergency funding. The commission wants the money for an advertising and public relations blitz to counter negative perceptions that the state's tourist industry has been destroyed. Tourism officials say extensive media coverage of the storms has caused visitors to cancel trips. 

Marriott said he would be supportive of such a campaign. He said tourism will rebound once the facts are out that key resort areas suffered minimal damage. 

"I think people can be convinced to rebook," he said. 

Marriott has 184 hotels in Florida and 24 in the Tampa Bay area, including its latest hotel, the Renaissance Tampa Hotel, part of the company's Renaissance brand. Marriott International operates more than 2,700 hotels worldwide under 14 brands. 

The chairman also was confident that the U.S. Hotel market will continue to improve, preserving an upsurge that is giving hotel operators in 2004 their first solid year of room occupancy and revenue growth since 2000. Even so, Marriott noted problems, such as smaller meetings and conferences than in the pre-2000 boom years. 

Marriott's continued confidence in Florida could mean good news locally. The Marriott chairman, whose father, J. Willard Marriott, founded the company in 1927 with a nine-person root beer stand, also sees several more Marriotts in the Tampa area in the next few years. 

He said he expects they would be limited-service Marriotts such as the Courtyard by Marriott. Such hotels, which cater to business travelers, are considered among the most profitable in the industry because they can command a moderately high rate but with fewer amenities, such as no room service and more limited food service. 

Marriott International has almost no ownership share in hotels bearing its name, instead having much of its business plan rely on franchising rights and fees from managing the hotels. That differs from key competitors such as Hilton and Starwood, which sometimes have an ownership stake in the full-service hotels bearing their names. 

Marriott's fee agreements have led to criticism and lawsuits by a few Marriott hotel owners, who have maintained such fees are too high. 

Marriott International had no shortage of investors wanting to imprint the Marriott name on their property because the company's is among the most recognized in the hospitality industry. 

The Renaissance Tampa Hotel actually is owned by CNL Hotels and Resorts Inc., an Orlando real estate trust that owns 130 hotels. CNL Hotels and Resorts President John A. Griswold, who joined Marriott at Thursday's dedication of the Renaissance, said 70 of the hotels are Marriott brands and for good reason: The Marriott name boosts profit. 

He said within five months of CNL purchasing the Le Meridien hotel in New Orleans several years ago and turning it into a JW Marriott, occupancy almost doubled. He said it was obvious the new customers had loyalty to the Marriott brand because they presented their Marriott Awards card. 

The Renaissance is Marriott's specialty brand, and each of the 140 hotels has a unique look. The 293-room, eight-story Tampa Renaissance is done in a Mediterranean style. Managers say they are aiming to win a four-diamond rating from the AAA. The nearby Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay is the only hotel in Tampa with that rating. 

Researcher Angela D. Holan contributed to this report. 

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(c) 2004, Tampa Tribune, Fla. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail MAR, HLT, HOT, 


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