Marriott held a conference call for financial analysts this morning to give better visibility on how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting the company.
I decided to dial in (I sometimes read transcripts of these calls afterward) to find out how Marriott is handling the situation and if there are any interesting tidbits.
You can access Marriott’s consumer page for coronavirus information here.
Here are some notes that I made that are interesting:
- Worse than 9/11
- Uncharted territory
- Preserve liquidity
- Rightsizing loyalty
- Collected $410M in credit card sign up and usage fees last year (selling points)
- More cash from CC than hotels’ loyalty contribution
- Loyalty net user of cash in 2019
- Usage of points lower when rates/occupancy distressed
- Hundreds of hotels in the United States will temporarily close
- Only 30 hotels in China still closed down from 90 at the height of the outbreak
- Occupancy rate in Shanghai in the 20’s (going up)
- Europe/North America occupancy at 25% (going down)
- Goodwill banked with consumer by allowing cancelations
Here’s release that Marriott issued before the call:
Arne M. Sorenson, president and chief executive officer of Marriott International (“Marriott” or the “company”), said, “The travel industry is being impacted in unprecedented ways by COVID-19. As the virus and efforts to contain it have spread around the world, demand at our hotels has dropped significantly. We are working tirelessly to take care of our associates, our guests, our owners and our other key stakeholders. The situation is changing by the day and there is still tremendous uncertainty, but we feel it is important to share an update on some of what we have seen to date and describe key measures we are executing to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. While we cannot predict today how long this crisis will last, we know that it will get behind us. And when it does abate, lodging demand will rebound. We are confident that our company has the expertise and the resources to weather this crisis.”
BUSINESS PERFORMANCE UPDATE
2020 got off to a solid start. Global RevPAR growth in the first two months of the year was down 0.3 percent worldwide and up 3.2 percent excluding Asia Pacific. For January and February, RevPAR increased 3.5 percent in North America, with full-service hotels particularly strong, up 4.4 percent. Europe RevPAR was up 3.2 percent, while Caribbean and Latin America increased 1.2 percent and Middle East and Africa RevPAR was flat for the first two months. Asia Pacific RevPAR declined 24.7 percent through February, with Greater China down 52.1 percent and the rest of Asia Pacific down 8.4 percent because of the COVID-19 situation in that region.
Today there are very early signs of improvement in Greater China, as workers return to their jobs. The number of closed hotels in Greater China has declined from over 90 hotels a month ago to under 30 today. While occupancy levels in Greater China are still under 15 percent today, this is an improvement, and trend lines are pointing in the right direction.
In the rest of the world, where the crisis is much more recent, the trend lines are still negative. North America and Europe have seen occupancy levels below 25 percent over the last few days, compared to around 70 percent a year ago. The company could see further erosion in performance in the weeks ahead and does not expect to see material improvement until there is a sense that the spread of the virus has moderated. Marriott continues to work with its customers to navigate through this crisis. While there have been historically high levels of cancellations for stays through the first half of this year, there have not yet been meaningful group cancellations for 2021 related to COVID-19, and many group customers are at least tentatively rebooking for later in 2020.
The company is taking numerous proactive steps to mitigate the negative financial and operational impacts of COVID-19. Business contingency plans have been implemented and will continue to be adjusted in response to the global situation. At the property level, contingency plans include measures such as closing food and beverage outlets, reducing staff and closing floors or even entire hotels. The company has also temporarily deferred most brand standards to help owners and franchisees, including delaying renovations due in 2020 by one year, deferring required furniture, fixtures and equipment funding and suspending brand standard audits.
At the corporate level, these steps include making significant cuts in senior executive salaries, requiring temporary leaves in North America, shortening work weeks around the world and cancelling non-essential travel and spending. Marriott estimates these cost cutting measures will reduce 2020 corporate general and administrative costs by at least $140 million. As additional measures continue to be implemented, this number is expected to grow. The company has also taken steps to dramatically reduce costs related to programs and services that hotels reimburse it for, such as marketing costs, to be more in-line with the expected decline in funding given likely lower systemwide revenues. The company has also reviewed its investment spending plans and currently expects to eliminate or defer at least one-third of its prior forecast of $700 to $800 million of spend in 2020, generally proceeding with funding only when the company was previously obligated.
BALANCE SHEET UPDATE
In the current environment, a major priority is preserving liquidity. Marriott has a $4.5 billion revolving credit facility that expires in June 2024 to provide liquidity when needed. As of March 17, the company has drawn down $2.5 billion primarily to support commercial paper maturities. The company’s levers to preserve cash include reducing or eliminating share repurchases, suspending the cash dividend, reducing payroll and other costs and cutting back investment spending. The company has not repurchased shares in 2020 other than the $150 million of share repurchases reported in the February 26, 2020 press release, and Marriott anticipates that its previously announced first quarter 2020 dividend, payable on March 31, 2020, will be the last until conditions improve. The company is also working with vendors and other partners in order to preserve working capital.
UPDATE ON 2020 OUTLOOK
Given the meaningful coronavirus impact experienced to date and the uncertainty and fluidity of the ongoing situation, Marriott withdraws all aspects of its outlook and assumptions for 2020 provided in its press release on February 26, 2020 and on its February 27, 2020 earnings call.
It sounded like Marriott management believes that the $410M from credit card companies would be static and not volatile. Various fees (management, performance, etc.) will go down in correlation with revenue that they (hotels) collect.
I truly doubt that consumers would be eager to cheerfully sign up for Marriott branded credit cards and continue swiping them, especially when travel is significantly down and the product not competitive.
You have to give Marriott management credit that they had this call and tried to cement some belief that business continues, although considerably down from 2019. The stock has crashed.
It is really difficult to say how fast the hotel business will rebound after the coronavirus pandemic is over. Much depends on how deep and long the recession that will follow is. Travel is mostly discretionary spending. Businesses and consumers tend to dial back immediately when times get tough.