Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson’s Bizarre Interview: We Stored Your Unencrypted Passport #s to Help You

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson comes off as out of touch with his customers’ concerns when he claims frustrations with their loyalty program are just ‘noise around the edges’ but that hardly seems to be a one-off example.

He gave a rather bizarre interview to CNBC at the Davos World Economic Forum where he floated the idea of recession being a good thing ‘to get it over with’ and suggested that Marriott was storing the customer passport numbers that were hacked to help customers.

Let’s Have a Recession

Sorenson floated the idea — referred to as something he’s ‘heard some folks say” that “maybe we should just get a small recession now and get it over with, because then we could stop worrying about the length of the cycle and move on..could well be very mild and not very long lasting.”

That’s simply not how recessions work. They are caused by something, not mere time. We don’t get to ‘choose’ the length or depth of recessions or when to have them, they are the result of economic decisions (whether by individuals and firms or by government policy).

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Copyright: rido / 123RF Stock Photo

We Stored Your Passports to Help You

The Marriott data breach included 5.25 million unencrypted passport numbers were accessed and 20.3 million encrypted passport numbers.

Sorenson was asked, “why do you hold onto my passport data if you can’t protect it.. erase it, don’t save it?”

He replied,

We want ease when we travel. in many countries around the world we’re required to take your passport… If you’re making a reservation and a passport number is required, if you’ve got to enter it all over again every time, most consumers will say this is a pain it takes me a whole lot longer.

However the Marriott website isn’t requiring passports at time of reservation. Those are taken by individual properties where required by law. The data in question was collected by hotels, not entered by customers.

The answer that they’re storing passport information for customer ease, so customers don’t have to keep entering the information, is just wrong — so wrong it makes me wonder whether Sorenson even knows how reservations are made at Marriott.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Marriott is literally getting worse by the hour (not even day) at this point. As an SPG loyalist, I wish a competing chain would come about and start grabbing the old SPG properties. Marriott is ruining them. If only Hilton would recognize their opportunity to step-up and create a real elite program. Hyatt is ok (step down from Gold Passport days) but still far too small for most travelers.

  2. Tick tick tick. Marriott will write down a significant portion of the spg goodwill paid for the acquisition.

    Spg earned above average returns due to propert locations and loyalty. The locations will continue to be fine. However customer loyalty among some of its top customers has and will continue to deteriorate.

    Since mid last year, I have 65 Hyatt stays. Prior to 2018 about 40 total since 2001. I picked up lifetime Plat early in 2018 and have stopped staying at Marriott ever since. If they offer a compelling value on a particular stay I’ll give them my business otherwise no more.

    Cheers Arnie. You overpaid given your ability to manage your acquisition.

  3. First, Marriott was unprepared for its acquisition of the primo properties of Fairmont. Indeed, it was an historical marketing SNAFU for Canadian Pacific to cash in its well established and respected cache for the ho hum of Fairmont; let alone to sell out later.

    For Marriott’s CEO to so leisurely explain how he has moved to snarf up and expose the very private data of Americans, e.g., passports, would be laughable, if it was not so egregiously plain wrong.

    Only Marriott’s external legal counsel staff are kiddy with the anticipated financial bonanza defending Marriott, its Board, and senior management for their ability to exude over confidence in a world-wide fraud against their own customers. Certainly, the EU will enhance its financial bank account from levying multi-level serious fines.

    As we hide our faces now, we should not forget how we never had to endure such antipathy by a mega corporate source when we were comfortably a part of Canadian Pacific/Fairmont.

  4. I have a few reservations with Marriott/Spg. Seriously considering cancelling them and just Airbnb. I love spg before the merger but now Marriott have just make everything unbearable.

  5. My only regret that I did not burn all my SPG points in 2018 …
    With Marriott it is only getting worse with every day.
    On Jan 7 I have contacted Marriott/SPG guest services via e-mail regarding a simply task I was unable to do using their website. They have replied 15 days later:
    “Thank you for contacting Marriott and Starwood International with your ****** inquiry. I would be glad to look into this for you.
    Please accept our sincere apologies for the delay in replying to you. We have just received your message and we regret any inconvenience this delay may have caused…”

  6. Passport numbers is a bunch of BS.
    I stayed exclusively with Starwood Hotels in Europe for years and each time I checked into a Sheraton, Westin, Luxury Collection hotel – I would have to present my passport (for local law requirements). Each time I would stay at the same property – they would say that the passport information was NOT kept and I would have to present them again.
    So…were they lying?
    And calling the “special information line” that Marriott is offering is a joke – they don’t know anything.
    At the end of the day this is a Starwood thing that Marriott inherited.

  7. Well if its any solace, I don’t think Doug Parker understands how the regular public has to travel on American Airlines, so maybe Arne and he can get together and do the Bush Grocery test where they use a supermarket scanner the first time and look in AWE at it! LOL

  8. @andy – strictly speaking the person who was running marriott rewards is no longer there and the person who is running the combined loyalty program now comes from the starwood side. that doesn’t strike me where the problem is coming from. Marriott was never great on elite treatment, with award availability, or corporate customer service. That just hasn’t changed.

  9. I’ve had an open request with my “Ambassador” for more than two months now. I emailed her two weeks ago about this and still nothing. Maybe Marriott related, but she hasn’t been competent for the year or so I’ve worked with her.

  10. Had a long chat with my Ambassador who used to be totally on the ball…basically their hands are tied until the system fully merges. It’s really sad that Marriott hasn’t learned yet about elite bread & butter treatment. I have a feeling the $20,000 Ambassador requirement may be re-visted.
    I’ve been waiting since August for 6 SNA to be re-deposited. My Ambassador said not to worry, if push comes to shove and I need them for an upcoming stay – they can always intervene at the hotel on our behalf. At least they are making the effort!
    Although…I am waiting for the Bonvoy rollout- I think the different named levels will be better to understand from a hotel front desk perspective. Now when I stay at a pre-merger Marriott brand and I mention I’m the Ambassador level…they look at me like it’s a foreign language.

  11. Sad state of affairs at Marriott. I’ve been a 17 year loyalist and now I can’t wait to bail. Platinum service is non existent. They have a new farce now called “ office of Arne Sorenson “ which is just more hacks lying and defending Marriott. They’ve screwed the top tier people and don’t think they care. Wait times are worse, phone apps are terrible. Now BonVoy??? Good grief. Fire the titanium thinkers quickly.

  12. Love how long time Marriott Rewards members are complaining about the merger and the new programs benefits – Most of the new benefits came from the SPG side.

  13. RE: his recession comment – as the CEO of a major corporation he should probably not speak so colloquially about that (maybe he truly is clueless?) but if you are deep in the financial world right now you can certainly understand the sentiment. All conversation about short/medium term planning is just smothered by the topic of “we’re at a peak, business cycle has topped out, etc” so some people are welcoming a recession just so everyone will shut up about it and they can get back to basics.

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