The travel industry mourned the loss of Arne Sorenson on Tuesday, after Marriott International announced the CEO and President’s passing. He was 62.
Sorenson had been battling pancreatic cancer, and only two weeks ago revealed he would be stepping back from day-to-day responsibilities as he sought more demanding treatment. His stage 2 diagnosis was shared with the public in May 2019.
Sorenson was a champion of travel. On LinkedIn in September, he penned “A Love Letter to Travel,” describing the way he missed regular travel as the way “I miss an old friend – the absence is there even without pausing to focus on it,” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sorenson wrote he had been traveling all his life, being born in Tokyo, Japan to Lutheran missionaries and later settling in the United States Midwest. In his teenage years, he adventured in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a wilderness region on the border of the U.S. and Canada, followed by road trips to Big Sky, Montana, and San Diego. He explored Europe and the Near East after he graduated, and then with his wife, Ruth, and four children.
“My life has been blessed with the opportunity for frequent travel, as part of work and for purely personal reasons. Travel is always eye-opening to me. When your eyes and ears are open, what you learn is priceless,” he wrote.
“Whether it is the streets of London or a drive through the Western United States, the places we go stretch us. They literally open our horizons, broaden our perspectives about life and give us memories that bring us back again and again.”
U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow remembered Sorenson as a dear friend, business leader and travel advocate.
“This is a huge loss, first and foremost for Ruth and Arne’s wonderful family, but also for his many associates at Marriott International and those of us across the travel industry who had the pleasure of interacting with him. We frequently sought his wise counsel and collaborated to improve the travel experience. Arne always offered a vision that extended well beyond the lodging sector he so expertly represented,” Dow said in a statement.
“To me, Arne was more than a professional colleague with whom I shared a special Marriott bond, he was an ally, a trusted friend and a partner. He also lent his considerable talents to U.S. Travel, particularly as chair of our CEO Roundtable, but also in countless other ways. I will miss him terribly.”
Hospitality leaders also expressed their sadness over the loss of not only a colleague, but a dear friend.
Chris Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton, said Sorenson was “an incredibly respected man, a leader in hospitality, and a devoted husband, father and friend. It’s been a true honor to work alongside him on behalf of our great industry for so many years, and I will miss him and the friendship we’ve built.”
“God Bless one of the greatest leaders we’ve ever been gifted to have lead our industry over the years on so many different levels. Arne will be missed in more ways than we will ever know,” said Geoff Ballotti, president and CEO of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.
Mark Hoplamazian, president and CEO at Hyatt Hotels Corporation, said “Arne was a great partner, always a warm and gracious friend – and I will miss him dearly.”
On LinkedIn, Keith Barr, CEO at IHG Hotels & Resorts, posted: “Arne was an incredibly inspiring person to so many people, and his love of our industry, his passion for his company and the care he showed for those around him were clear for all to see.
“When he spoke, people wanted to listen, and when he led, people followed. That is the mark of a great leader and his legacy at Marriott speaks for itself, not just in how he consistently raised the bar to grow the company, but also in the way he championed progress on important social and environmental issues, and represented our industry with such grace in the best of times and in the most challenging of times.
As an industry colleague and a friend, I feel privileged to have known Arne and to have worked together on tackling some of our industry’s big challenges. I have such respect for all he achieved and for the way he stayed so strong during his illness, leading Marriott through the hardest time in our industry’s history, at what was clearly a very difficult time for him personally.”
Sébastien Bazin, chairman and CEO of Accor, called Sorenson a true leader and visionary, whose “business acumen was second to none, but beyond that he was a remarkably empathetic man who cared deeply about our industry and the people in it.”
ASTA joined with the travel community in mourning the recent passing of Arne Sorenson. Marriott was a longtime “Proud Partner” to ASTA, and he was a frequent presence at ASTA events – most recently appearing by video during ASTA Global Live 2020. In that video, he said “as an industry, we need each other now more than ever.”
“Indeed, we do. With gratitude for his leadership and support for the travel advisor community, we express our deepest condolences to his wife and four children as well as the entire Marriott family for their loss. Our industry has lost another great,” ASTA said.