Several students active in The School of Hospitality Business’ Real Estate Investment Club (REIC) traveled to Washington, DC September 23-24 for what amounted to intensive workshops on various aspects of hotel development.

Marriott DC.On the advice of The School’s Real Estate Investment Management Advisory Council, the trip was planned to give the students an in-depth examination of a major hotel corporation with headquarters in Washington, DC. Trip organizer Dr. A.J. Singh, director of The School’s minor in Real Estate Investment Management, explains that “DC has the largest concentration of hotel corporate offices, so the Council endorsed our focusing on one corporation at a time for a ‘deeper learning dive.’”

“Marriott International has long supported our School’s efforts in a number of arenas,” says School Director Dr. Michael McCall. “We appreciate this important partnership.”

Dr. Singh expressed thanks to Carol Wagner (MBA ’85), Marriott’s senior vice president of Development Planning and Feasibility and a member of the Advisory Council. Carol enlisted her colleagues in the corporate office to participate and network with the students. Retired Marriott executive and DC-based Alumnus Richard Farrar (BA ’73), assisted Dr. Singh with travel logistics in DC and conducted a session on development and franchised projects. Jennifer Lund, senior director of Global Design Strategies, together with Carol and Richard, helped guide the tour of Marriott headquarters and answered ongoing questions.

The student Executive Board of the REIC worked with Dr. Singh to identify and select the students who traveled to DC, each of whom was supported by travel scholarship funds from The School’s Real Estate Investment Management minor.

After arriving at Marriott Headquarters, the students heard from Doug Sargent, senior manager of Strategy, Design and Delivery (The Americas) on the subject of service and product proof of concepts. Doug is responsible for the implementation of, Marriott’s award-winning, pin-worthy website that is transforming the way customers shop, buy and plan meetings.

According to REIC Vice President for Industry Relations Cameron Armstrong (BA ’16), Doug described Marriott’s “go-to” hotels at which they test their newest ideas when rolling out new innovations and concepts. The idea either proves itself or “fails fast,” allowing the company to move on and avoid losing excess time and money. Doug also stressed that innovations should not be geared towards becoming a hotel of the future. Instead, they should be geared toward becoming a hotel of “now.” He talked about the latest initiatives that have proven successful, including #roofnic, a wildly successful rooftop bar over Oxford Street in London.

Kindra Sudama, director of Development Planning and Feasibility, and Brett Werblow, analyst in Development Planning and Feasibility, gave a thorough and optimistic presentation on development and managed projects, discussing the historic run of growth driven by the introduction of new brands, stabilization of transactions and development, and general recovery of America’s economy. The students gained insight into an impressive “day in the life of Marriott.”

On the second day, the students met with Tony Capuano, executive vice president and chief development officer, who discussed global growth strategies. Tony is responsible for the global development of all Marriott lodging brands and supervises offices in Bangkok, Barcelona, Beijing, Cape Town, Delhi, Dubai, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Jakarta, London, Mexico City, Moscow, Paris, Rome, São Paulo, Shanghai, Tokyo, Zagreb, Zurich and multiple offices across North America.

According to Cameron, “One of the most interesting topics revolved around barriers to entry when conducting business in emerging markets and how transparency in some of these countries makes project development a challenge.” Tony also stressed that relationships are everything when it comes to development. He reminded the students that instead of using Americans to do local jobs internationally, it is best to have a “Polish developer in Poland and a Chinese developer in China.” He described Marriott’s push to have development headquarters on each continent.

Karim Khalifa, senior vice president of Global Design, gave a visually exciting presentation in Marriott’s innovation lab, “The Underground,” an underground collaborative design space where guest-driven research comes to life – including the new award-winning design strategy for Marriott’s flagship Marriott Hotels brand.

Cameron says, “We were privileged to see the newest designs for the latest and greatest of Marriott’s brand standards.”

In delving into trend analysis, the students were reminded that it was important to be able to distinguish “trends” from “fads.” Brand standards allow for mass customization, but the company is careful to keep permanent structures in neutral tones and simplistic designs so that they can be modified for years to come. Speaking of risk, Karim emphasized that it is easy to take a chance on a pillow, but much different when constructing an entire bathroom. Differentiation is essential, Karim said. “As a brand, we need to stand for something or be known for nothing.” Karim told the students about practicality, noting that rooms are becoming more simply designed, with an emphasis on functionality and synching with technology.

The students had the opportunity to present research they conducted under Dr. Singh’s guidance the previous academic year. YunWei Zhang (BA ’16) gave a presentation on “Alternatives to Room Service,” and Cameron Armstrong (BA ’16) and Spencer Ruman (BA ’15) presented “Adopting and Adapting: A Summation and Strategy Regarding Minimum Wage Increases.”

There was the honor of a surprise photo opportunity with Mr. J. W. Marriott, Jr. when, eating lunch in the staff cafeteria, Richard Farrar and the students spotted him sharing a meal with his daughter and son-in-law, both executives in the company. Named The School’s Alumni Association Industry Leader of the Year in 2001, Mr. Marriot was happy to meet the group and pose for a photo.

“This was a chance of a lifetime,” says REIC President Jake Beachum (BA ’16). “We had the opportunity to pick the brains of executives at the highest level of hotel development. I am very grateful that The School provides these outside-the-classroom experiences to us.”

Dr. Singh agrees, noting the historic close relationships between executives from companies like Marriott International and The School. “Connections like these are what help to set our students apart and launch their successful careers.”