Editor’s Note: At JW Marriott, a part of Marriott International’s portfolio of luxury brands, Bruce Rohr is responsible for overall brand operations and focuses on tailoring the guest experience through programming that helps guests find balance and be present in their body, mind and spirit. We asked him about his pandemic journey and vision for the returning group experience.

Name: Bruce Rohr

Vice President and Global Brand Leader, JW Marriott

Founder and advisor, ONE Marriott

Where were you when you realized this pandemic thing was real and was going to impact the hospitality and meetings industry profoundly?

In March 2020, I was taking a trip to Canada (in a different job) to talk to journalists about a hotel that was opening. The trip was canceled and, at first, I thought this was a temporary blip, that people were overreacting. I had lived through SARS and thought it would be the same.

Then we started to see meetings evaporate, and that sent shock waves. On April 6, the company announced furloughs, and I was impacted. The uncertainty hit me for myself, the industry and the world. It was a scary place.

In this industry, we are so used to being around people and traveling, and for it to suddenly stop was a shock. It took a toll on a lot of folks.

You found a silver lining and ended up back at Marriott. How did that happen?

During furlough, I took some time away. Some of my priorities shifted when I had a chance for the first time in my career to think about what fulfills me, what makes me happy. During my forced sabbatical, I took a Science of Well-being Course offered by Yale University psychology professor Dr. Laurie Santos, host of The Happiness Lab podcast. I realized life is about people and connections, not money.

At the end of the furlough, I heard about the opening, and it aligned perfectly with what I realized I wanted to focus on, personally and professionally.

How do you define wellness?

The JW Marriott brand is inspired by Marriott founder John Willard, who believed in taking time to walk in nature and sing at the top of his lungs in his car with his grandchildren. It wasn’t called wellness then, but he believed in taking time to rejuvenate and revitalize and believed his job was to allow guests to take care of themselves so they can focus on the most important things in their life.

Our goal is to carry on his legacy. At 104 JW Marriott properties in the world (including one opening in Charlotte, North Carolina, in early August and new ones in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Guadalajara, Mexico, by the end of the year), we focus on groups and events with 400 to 500 guest rooms or more, significant meeting space and our signature Spa by JW amenities. The Gathering with Intention program weaves mindfulness activities and healthy, organic food and beverage options into the meeting experience. We try to keep in mind the impact we have on the world and those around us.

One of the positive upshots over the last year was increased emphasis on inclusion and diversity. How are you working to make everyone feel welcome?

Inclusion has been a focus of mine for a dozen years. If you can’t be your authentic self, you can’t be as present. I founded ONE Marriott LGBTQ and Allies group and became involved with the human rights campaign. It is important to lean into places where we are vulnerable and can grow. I know I have had privileges that others may not. And I need to address that.

The most important part of DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) is equity. If we aren’t doing our best to make this a just and fair world, then the D and I won’t matter.

In my own journey, I realized I could help others by being my authentic self. My grandfather came out to me when I came out to him as gay.

I also believe being inclusive is good for business. If employees feel valued regardless of the color of their skin or who they love, you have less turnover. People feel invested in their work and the community. When people are working with us, they know we have the same shared values.

What is the recovery looking like at JW?

Resorts such as JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort in Florida saw the first signs of life coming back with leisure travel. Now we are starting to see meetings business, particularly in the U.S., pick back up. Q4 is looking much stronger than we anticipated.

Singular Goals

Marriott ONE counts 2,500 volunteer members in more than 25 chapters around the world. Its mission:

  • Develop community among members
  • Increase a diversity mindset to include LGBTQ issues
  • Assist in unleashing revenue opportunities with concentrated marketing and sales efforts within the LGBTQ community