In Defense Of Marriott…

“You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”
-William Randolph Hearst

There’s nothing that generates clicks on a website faster than the hint of a good story (Come to think of it, I should have titled this page, “Four things you didn’t know about Marriott. #2 will horrify you!”). Whether it’s the Spanish-American war or an eclipse, we’re always drawn to a good story.

Did Marriott Really Strand Non-Guests?

frenchman's reef

Frenchman’s Reef.                                                                  Photo Credit: Creative Commons

It’s no surprise that Marriott has received some harsh publicity for allegedly leaving non-guests after Hurricane Irma demolished much of the island of St. Thomas. It made for a great headline: Evil corporation strands people because they didn’t pay to be rescued. But there’s likely a lot more to the story, as always seems to be the case after a natural disaster. People want a villain, and a tale this good creates one, even if it later turns out to be wrong (For more reading, see: Trump, Melania.). But there are multiple sides to every story, including this one, although the more mundane explanations don’t play nearly as well.

Since none of us knows who was say what to whom in at Marriott Headquarters, I’ll go with what makes the most sense to me.

Media has centered on the fact that Marriott did not board non-guests on a ferry boat to Puerto Rico, despite the fact that there was room for hundreds of people. That is a fact, one that Marriott has acknowledged. The discussion, though, has centered on the “why.” Explanations have ranged from “Marriott didn’t want the liability” to “bureaucracy.” Most of the reports in the press came from individuals who had heard the story third-hand, with a number of the quotes starting off with lines like “They told us that the Marriott CEO had said…”

What Makes Sense and What Doesn’t

Okay, a few things don’t make sense. First of all is the idea that the CEO said anything during the situation about denying travel. My guess is that the CEO wasn’t even involved. Not because he doesn’t care (I assure you, he does.) but because he would not have been even close to the best person to handle the situation.

Second, the that Marriott would strand people because they didn’t want the liability is ridiculous. First, they’re going to be liable for the 600 passengers that they had picked up. If they really didn’t want any liability, they wouldn’t have sent any boats at all. Second, let’s compare the relative outcomes. Marriott had to know that a story like this one would come out. The bad publicity it is getting is far more costly than anything that they could have been sued for (And what is that “anything,” anyway?).

Occam’s Razor

In this case, the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one.

Marriott owns a hotel, not the port. In order to get onto the ferry (in fact, even to get past the dock’s gates), a passenger needed to be on the manifest. Despite the storm, the company was still required to submit a guest’s personal information. Marriott had that information for its guests when it created the manifest ahead of time. It did not have that information for the others at the dock.

According to a Marriott spokesperson, they were told that they had to leave immediately, due to the potential impact of Hurricane Jose.

Marriott’s explanation makes perfect sense to me. In the best of times, travel is filled with red tape. As you can imagine, this was a worst of times nightmare. There simply is no game plan for the situation. If the government says that you need to be on a manifest to get out of the country, the dock worker is not going to be the guy to overrule them. The idea that somebody heard that somebody else heard that the CEO didn’t want any liability is ludicrous, although it makes for a great read.

But Here’s What Else I know

In the real world, I know a number of senior Marriott executives personally. Without exception, every single one of them would have been out on the boat personally, helping to evacuate anyone who they could find. “Hospitality” is not a buzz word at Marriott. If you don’t live it, you don’t work there, period. They care about their guests and, more importantly, truly care about their employees.

So Who Are The Real Heroes?

CEO Arne Sorenson could not, of course, be there to evacuate the passengers. So who are the real heroes in the situation? I think you’ll already know the answer to this one, but if this piece from a guest does not make you want to visit the island, I don’t know what will.


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