Marriott Chairman Sees Industry Rebound


Hilton Head Island, S.C. (AP by Bruce Smith)--The nation's travel industry, hit hard by a sagging economy and terrorist attacks, should be well on the road to recovery by summer, the chairman and chief executive of Marriott International Inc. said Monday.

``There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel and the light is getting brighter,'' said Bill Marriott, here to rededicate the Hilton Head Marriott Beach and Golf Resort after a $20 million renovation.

``I would think that business travel is the last to come back in this current environment. Business travel we expect to pick up, hopefully by the end of this month, certainly by summer,'' Marriott said.

His visit to the hotel, the largest on this resort island, coincided with the six-month anniversary of the terror attacks on New York and Washington. Already, Marriott said, the chain is seeing an increase in leisure travel.

Marriott also said the package passed by Congress last week to stimulate business investment will in turn boost business travel. That measure is expected to pump $51 billion into the economy this year.

``Through the years, I've watched the impact of business investment on travel and feel business investment is a key element in driving business travel,'' he said.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, many businesses reduced travel and there was some thought they might rely more on video conferencing and the Internet to do business.

``I think it's too soon to predict if there has been a sea change in the way business travels,'' Marriott said. ``I think a lot of corporations have said, 'Maybe we were traveling more than we should.' But once the economy turns around and competition heats up, there is a propensity on the part of businesses to want to get the last sale.''

Marriott operates more than 2,400 hotels worldwide and had sales of $20 billion last year.

The company this year is forecasting a 2 percent to 3 percent decline in room revenues compared with last year. But that forecast is subject to change, Marriott said.

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