Five-star Hoteliers: Setting The Standards

Five-star Hoteliers: Setting The Standards

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Twelve influential hoteliers in the Middle East share their experiences and tell us how they stay on top of the game.

Dr. Ghassan Aidi
President and CEO, IHRA

  1. What does the path to recovery look like, and how are you making the postpandemic experience safer for guests?
    It’s not looking promising. The recovery for five-star hotels didn’t start at all. It is only the three and four-star properties that are surviving.
  2. What changes in consumer behavior have you noticed?
    Many customers are opting for lower grade hotels given the fact that a lot of five star properties are limiting their services. Consumers are adapting to the new norms without complaining.
  1. Do you have any new projects or plans in the pipeline?
    No, we don’t for the moment.
  2. In your opinion, what qualities make an outstanding hotelier?
    It should be great service. Unfortunately the business of providing guests with an excellent service is disappearing today. You hear of guests checking into a room at midnight that costs euros 1500 asking for a steak and only being given a sandwich or salad. This is ridiculous – for what they are paying, they are entitled to a luxury service.
  3. What is your motto?
    Today we need to survive rather than make money.
  4. What advice would you give someone who is joining the industry?
    They should wait before opening. This is not a good time to open for the first time.

Simon P. Casson
President of hotel operations for EMEA, Four
Seasons Hotels and Resorts

  1. What does the path to recovery look like, and how are you making the postpandemic experience safer for guests?
    I’m optimistic about the future, as I’ve witnessed how quickly and effectively our people have adapted to recent challenges. We’re making the hotel experience safer through Lead With Care — our enhanced health and safety program that is focused on providing care, confidence and comfort to all guests, employees and residents.
  2. What changes in consumer behavior have you noticed?
    Safety, privacy and comfort have always been top priorities among hotel guests. As travel returns, we’re seeing increased interest around Four Seasons Private Retreats as guests seek out secluded stays in remote
    destinations. Four Seasons App and Chat also help limit contact while maintaining the highest levels of personal service.
  3. Do you have any new projects or plans in the pipeline?
    Our renovation project at Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh at Kingdom Centre continues to progress, transforming the property to reflect the nation’s vibrant future. Four Seasons Hotel Madrid — our first hotel in Spain — is now open and makes a spectacular addition to our portfolio.
  4. In your opinion, what qualities make an outstanding hotelier?
    Passion, vision, enthusiasm, meticulousness, tenacity, ambition, emotional intelligence, empathy, engagement and humor are all important.
  5. What is your motto?
    In a world where you can be anything, be kind.
  6. What advice would you give someone who is joining the industry?
    Choose an environment where you can grow and flourish. Be prepared to work harder than the person next to you, and share your passion.

Tim Cordon
Area senior VP for Middle East & Africa,
Radisson Hotel Group

  1. What does the path to recovery look like, and how are you making the postpandemic experience safer for guests?
    While we would all like a speedy recovery, I think the global hospitality industry will still face uncertain times until medical innovations are able to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
    Based on previous crises, leisure travel is expected to recover quicker than business travel, particularly when it comes to visiting
    friends and relatives.
    One of our highest priorities at Radisson Hotel Group is the continued health, safety and security of our guests, team members and business partners, which is why we recently launched the Radisson Hotels
    Safety Protocol, a new program of in-depth cleanliness and disinfection procedures.
    This program is in partnership with SGS, the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. These enhanced protocols, operational guidance and comprehensive health and safety
    procedures validated by SGS will be adapted based on local requirements and recommendations, to ensure guest safety and peace of mind, from the moment they check-in to when they leave. We will soon announce an extension to our brand commitment, which includes 20 steps and an additional 10-step protocol for meetings and events.
  2. What changes in consumer behavior have you noticed?
    I think the biggest priority for hospitality brands is to ensure the health and safety of guests without compromising the guest experience. While location and experiences used to be the main deciding factors,consumers also want to be reassured that hotels are taking their health and safety protocols seriously. We know that people will want to explore again, and while behavior or priorities might change, what matters is how we adapt to these changes.
  3. Do you have any new projects or plans in the pipeline?
    While these have been challenging times, we are pushing forward with our hotel plans including our development plans. Radisson Hotel Group recently announced 15 new signings in EMEA in Q2, six of which
    fall in our region. The travel industry has rebounded from numerous past crises, and we strongly believe we will all bounce back again, with a fresh and innovative perspective.
  4. In your opinion, what qualities make an outstanding hotelier?
    As hoteliers, we need to always be aware of our guests’ ever-changing needs. It is then pertinent to take this insight and adapt accordingly to cater to our guests as their expectations and needs as travelers shift.
  5. What is your motto?
    Seeing people succeed and grow are key reasons I work in hospitality, and I’m delighted that my current role allows me to continue to do that. The variety of the area also gives me a real buzz: from Dubai to Cape Town, Lagos and Marrakech, such rich cultural differences. Each place has its own incredible stories.
  6. What advice would you give someone who is joining the industry?
    This industry is all about people, from our teams to our guests. Whether you’re a concierge, a kitchen porter working behind the scenes, or even if you’re involved in the management, this is a people-oriented business. It’s about making our guests happy, and that’s what we need to focus on.

Pascal Gauvin
Former managing director for IMEA, IHG

  1. What does the path to recovery look like, and how are you making the postpandemic experience safer for guests?
    With the easing of local restrictions, we expect domestic leisure travel to return first, with business and international travel taking more time. At this time, we are focused on every aspect of making the customer journey a great and safe experience so that they feel comfortable staying with us. Leading this is our new Global Cleanliness Board, which is responsible for understanding best practice, defining solutions and implementing processes to address short-term needs that are sustainable over the long term. We are also working with a new partner, Cleveland Clinic, and long-time partners Ecolab and Diversey, to further strengthen our longstanding ‘IHG Way of Clean’ program with new science-led protocols and service measures which reflect the advice of the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and local
    public health authorities around the world.
    With these updated measures in place, we have launched our IHG Clean Promise to reassure guests that their rooms will meet our industry-leading levels of cleanliness.
  2. What changes in consumer behavior have you noticed?
    The biggest changes guests expect is approach to safety, cleanliness and social distancing. Also, as international boarders across most markets are still closed, guests are choosing domestic vacations and short getaways over international trips. Therefore, road trips are becoming popular, with people choosing their cars over flights for the time being and heading to accessible resorts and comfortable, safe and affordable accommodation they can trust.
  3. Do you have any new projects or plans in the pipeline?
    The pandemic has proven to be extremely challenging for the hospitality industry, but we are committed to accelerating our growth and meaningfully expanding our presence across key markets in the region,
    as the mid to long-term prospects for the sector are strong. We expect to open hotels across brands and across markets in the mid to long term including: Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown, the first hotel indigo in the UAE; InterContinental Ras Al Khaimah Mina Al Arab Resort, our first hotel in Ras Al Khaimah; and Crowne Plaza Jeddah al Salam and Holiday
    Inn & Suites Jubail Taibah in KSA, both due to open later this year. We are also in discussions with owners to sign more hotels in the mid to long term.
  4. In your opinion, what qualities make an outstanding hotelier?
    In these challenging times, I believe a hotelier should be people focused (towards guests, owners and colleagues), resilient, innovative, adaptable and have a great sense of humanity.
  5. What is your motto?
    Leadership has never been so necessary, so inspire, guide, and adapt.
  6. What advice would you give someone who is joining the industry?
    During a time of massive industry transformation, opportunities exist around every corner. See them, own them, and
    believe in them.

Hassan Ahdab,
President hotel operations, Dur Hospitality

  1. What does the path to recovery look like, and how are you making the postpandemic experience safer for guests?
    Recovery is a journey of adaptation rather than a turnaround point that will take us back to where we were. This adjustment can be longer or shorter depending on how ready we are to embrace it. In the MENA region, 79 percent of hotels had to close due to low occupancy in Q1 of 2020, which consequently weighed down profitability. On average, it takes about 12 to 18 months to go back to normal occupancy.
    Dur Hospitality announced its preparedness through our “Safe Stay” program, which incorporates world-class prevention measures and excellent staff training to ensure the safety of guests, providing them
    with a stress-free vacation.
  2. What changes in consumer behavior have you noticed?
    Travel restrictions and quarantine requirements for international travelers have given rise to a wave of domestic vacationing and tourism, which has been growing at a CAGR of 14 percent since 2010. In 2017, the number of domestic trips (staycations or daycations) reached 44 million. This is expected to spur more competition in the economy and the luxury hotel segment, especially around areas with more tourist attractions.
    In parallel, the post-pandemic consumer has higher expectations when it comes to safety and cleanliness, so the local hotel industry needs to step up its efforts in this direction.
  3. Do you have any new projects or plans in the pipeline?
    We are anticipating the opening of the latest addition to Dur’s portfolio, Holiday Inn & Suites Jubail Taibah, in Q4 2020. Situated in the Jubail industrial city, an hour’s drive from Damam’s King Fahad Airport and a five-minute walk from Taibah beach on the Arabian Gulf coast, it is a convenient choice for both business travelers and staycationers.
  4. In your opinion, what qualities make an outstanding hotelier?
    A good hotelier should be innovative, forward thinking, flexible and committed to excellence.
  5. What is your motto?
    Impressing our guests is good, but the real accomplishment is making them feel at home with a very personalized service.
  6. What advice would you give someone who is joining the industry?
    Hospitality is about loving people. Have the ambition to reach to the top by being honest, hardworking and persevering. When your heart’s in it, success becomes an inevitable outcome.

Guy Hutchinson
President and CEO, Rotana

  1. What does the path to recovery look like, and how are you making the postpandemic experience safer for guests?
    We remain optimistic about the months ahead and look forward to welcoming guests from around the world as people rediscover the joy of travel. Our Rotana “Safe Space” program delivers total peace of mind through a contactless guest experience and some of the industry’s most stringent cleaning and disinfection procedures.
  2. What changes in consumer behavior have you noticed?
    Guests will be more cautious in their approach until confidence in the safety of travel returns fully. We aim to make their journeys as smooth as possible by demonstrating that they are in caring and safe hands when staying at any of our properties around the world.
  3. Do you have any new projects or plans in the pipeline?
    Rotana’s pipeline remains highly active and our planned openings for these coming months are going ahead as scheduled. These include: DAMAC Arjaan by Rotana, Riyadh; Al Jaddaf Rotana, Dubai; and Centro Mada, Amman.
  4. In your opinion, what qualities make an outstanding hotelier?
    Someone who is an excellent communicator, who works hard, is a strategist and an entrepreneur. Ultimately, an outstanding
    hotelier leads by example.
  5. What is your motto?
    Mario Andretti once said: “If everything seems under control, you are not going fast enough.” I live by this mantra.
  6. What advice would you give someone who is joining the industry?
    Take the time to invest in your skill sets. Learn from others, but stay in control of your journey. Be bold, be prepared to fail, work harder and smarter than others. Always exceed expectations, and deliver on financial targets without exception.

Vincent Miccolis
Regional general manager for Middle East,
Africa, Turkey and India, The Ascott Limited

  1. What does the path to recovery look like, and how are you making the postpandemic experience safer for guests?
    We are witnessing early signs of recovery from the domestic market, and we anticipate further recovery from the international market in the coming months. Focusing on safety, we launched “Ascott Cares” to provide safe homes for our staff and guests. The comprehensive protocols are in compliance with the World Health Organization’s
    standards and local regulations.
  2. What changes in consumer behavior have you noticed?
    While international travel remains limited, staycations have grown in popularity, and guests are seeking exceptional service, care and standout amenities. We foresee domestic travel and local holidays to remain at the forefront for the immediate future. The demand from select international markets for extended stays and project-related business will resume as the restrictions are further relaxed.
  3. Do you have any new projects or plans in the pipeline?
    Ascott’s most recent acquisitions within the Middle East and Africa remain on track. Citadines Al Ghubrah Muscat (Oman) will open in Q4 2020. In addition, several openings are scheduled for 2021, including Ascott Villas Riyadh and Somerset Downtown Al Khobar (KSA); Somerset Westview Nairobi (Kenya); Somerset City Centre Atyrau (Kazakhstan); and Citadines Culture Village Dubai (UAE). Ascott will also mark its maiden venture into Morocco, introducing Citadines Racine Casablanca in H2 2021.
  4. In your opinion, what qualities make an outstanding hotelier?
    Leadership in our industry calls for passion when it comes to people and the services we offer. Growth is a result of curiosity, commitment, discipline and team building, but courage is the key to creating a niche value for oneself through continuous innovation. One ought to be the “Jack of all trades,” because the learning process for hoteliers never stops.
  5. What is your motto?
    Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, while humility is the cornerstone of leadership.
  6. What advice would you give someone who is joining the industry?
    Hospitality is an industry of people and excellence. It is an upward climb of passion and commitment to serve people and provide outstanding experiences. If you decide to take this journey, you need to embrace the responsibilities limitlessly and continuously fuel your aspirations along the way. Just remember that success is always in the details.

Amine E. Moukarzel Ph.D
President and founder, Flamingo Hospitality
Management and Louvre Hotels Group/
Golden Tulip MENA

  1. What does the path to recovery look like, and how are you making the postpandemic experience safer for guests?
    The path to recovery in our region will have a slow upward curve until the end of 2020, and we see a better pickup from Q1 2021 onwards. As for making the guest experience safer, this will be done by following the Louvre Hotels Group reopening program, with the implementation of all measures set by the company. In addition, each hotel will undergo an audit by NSF International and will be certified, which will also give assurance to our guests of the safety and the high level of hygiene in our properties.
  2. What changes in consumer behavior have you noticed?
    We have noticed that the majority of our guests, who are now mainly domestic travelers, prefer to eat in their rooms. There has been a surge in internet consumption in our business hotels as our corporate guests are working mostly from their rooms. Providing even better internet coverage and a contactless experience is what we will be working on for our clients.
  3. Do you have any new projects or plans in the pipeline?
    We continue to open hotels that were signed before the pandemic. These include:
    Campanile El Mechtel, Golden Tulip El Mechtel in Tunis, Tunisia
    Golden Tulip Riyadh, KSA Golden Tulip Umm Al Qurah Makkah, KSA
    Tulip Inn Aziziyah Makkah, KSA Campanile Mangaf, Kuwait
    Tulip Inn Dammam, KSA Golden Tulip Opera Algiers, Algeria
    Kyriad Ain Benian, Algeria Kyriad Bejaia, Algeria
    Golden Tulip Unaizah, KSA
    We also have a number of properties in
    the pipeline.
  4. In your opinion, what qualities make an outstanding hotelier?
    An outstanding hotelier must be innovative, positive, enthusiastic, detail-oriented and passionate. They must also act with integrity and humility.
  5. What is your motto?
    Success is a continuous journey and not a specific destination.
  6. What advice would you give someone who is joining the industry?
    The world of hospitality requires dedication, integrity, care for the job and people. It is the most rewarding industry.

Chris Nader
VP for development, Shaza Hotels

  1. What does the path to recovery look like, and how are you making the postpandemic experience safer for guests?
    We saw a steady demand for our leisure properties coming from the domestic market, even during the peak of the pandemic. The same thing occurred at other resorts in the region, especially those with villas and private pools. Guests know that we follow all cleaning protocols, and what they really want is privacy away from the crowds.
  2. What changes in consumer behavior have you noticed?
    There is a clear shift towards nature-centric, experiential lodging in the region. When all hotels were struggling during the lockdown, our Kingfisher Retreat in Sharjah was operating successfully. People felt safe in the privacy of their tent, in a low-density development. We had guests coming back several times between April and June.
  3. Do you have any new projects or plans in the pipeline?
    We recently secured two new projects, in Muscat and Sharjah, which we intend to announce in Q4. Both will bring a very different experience to their respective markets. We have also just signed a letter of intent for a superb project outside the MENA region that will surprise many people. I hope to be able to announce it by the end of the year.
  4. In your opinion, what qualities make an outstanding hotelier?
    Someone who can deliver an experience, not just a service.
  5. What is your motto?
    Do good, make a difference, and leave a mark.
  6. What advice would you give someone who is joining the industry?
    It’s a very traditional industry, and we need innovation. Think technology, AI, data processing; this is where you can add value.

Laurent A. Voivenel
Senior VP operations and development for
Europe, Middle East, Africa and India; Senior
VP group human resources and talent
development, Swiss-Belhotel International

  1. What does the path to recovery look like, and how are you making the postpandemic experience safer for guests?
    As the COVID-19 lockdown begins to ease in different parts of the world, we have rolled out a special initiative called “WeReassure” to welcome back guests across our hotels and resorts in Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle
    East, Africa and India. “WeReassure” promises enhanced hygiene and safety standards at all of our branded hotels. A 64-page document has been sent to the hotels, and continuous training and auditing is in place to ensure standards are maintained.
  2. What changes in consumer behavior have you noticed?
    We are witnessing massive shifts in consumer behavior. It is absolutely critical to make the guest experience safe at every step; contactless payment, digital menus, virtual meetings, higher share of domestic and
    close-to-home travel, greater flexibility in cancellation and change fee, more demand for mid-market hotels are the new norm. Consumers are more open to digital experiences and more loyal to brands they trust. Having said this, there is more room for improvisation.
  3. Do you have any new projects or plans in the pipeline?
    Just a few weeks before the pandemic, we had opened two stunning hotels: Swiss- Belboutique Bneid Al Gar Kuwait and Swiss- Belinn Muscat in Oman. These properties are now on the path to recovery. Our latest property, Swiss-Belsuites Admiral Juffair, is expected to open in December in Bahrain.
  4. In your opinion, what qualities make an outstanding hotelier?
    An outstanding leader is one who knows that success is never final but an ongoing effort. The people who succeed in our business know how to nurture relationships, and they accept and embrace different cultures.
  5. What is your motto?
    Hospitality is a people’s business, and I put people first in every action I take.
  6. What advice would you give someone who is joining the industry?
    It is important to have the mindset to embrace obstacles and face up to challenges.

Wafik Youseef
VP operations for Middle East & Africa,
Kempinski Hotels

  1. What does the path to recovery look like, and how are you making the postpandemic experience safer for guests?
    Our utmost priority has always been to ensure a healthy and safe environment for our guests and employees at all times. Therefore, we have launched the “Kempinski White Glove Services.” This initiative covers a number of measures and steps that are implemented in our hotels worldwide to ensure the comfort and safety of our customers. These extensive measures cover everything from arrival to set-up of public areas, food and beverage and housekeeping, as well as the spa and meeting facilities.
  2. What changes in consumer behavior have you noticed?
    With the current travel and border restrictions, we are witnessing an increased demand for staycations. There is an elevated demand at our hotels in Beirut, Doha, Al Khobar and three hotels in Jordan. Another emerging trend is for private stays in villas that have dedicated staff throughout a guest’s stay.
  3. Do you have any new projects or plans in the pipeline?
    We are currently preparing for the opening of Kempinski Business Bay Hotel Dubai, which is set to open in 2021. We are also continuing to focus on Saudi Arabia with our recently signed project in Makkah and new development in Madinah. As for our expansion in Africa, we currently have Kempinski Brazzaville under development in the capital of the Republic of Congo.
  4. In your opinion, what qualities make an outstanding hotelier?
    A cheerful, genuine host who is knowledgeable, honest, efficient,
    sophisticated and well-spoken.
  5. What is your motto?
    If choosing between being right or kind, always choose kind.
  6. What advice would you give someone who is joining the industry?
    Be a remarkable host to your team and guests as you would be if you were hosting guests in your own home.

Mark Willis
CEO for Middle East and Africa, Accor

  1. What does the path to recovery look like, and how are you making the postpandemic experience safer for guests?
    We are currently implementing the “ALL Safe” program throughout our region, which was developed alongside hygiene solutions specialist Bureau Veritas. Our teams are working very hard to ensure all properties
    are certified in the coming weeks (over 70 percent of our portfolio in the MEA region is now certified) to provide reassurance to our guests while they enjoy their stay.
  2. What changes in consumer behavior have you noticed?
    Some things will change; the desire to travel will continue. That being said, the focus will be on flexibility, experiential packages and of course, primarily the reassurance of safety while staying in a hotel. At Accor, we
    are aiming to cover all these requirements through our “ALL Safe” program and flexible cancellation policies, combined with our vast
    array of destinations and brands.
  3. Do you have any new projects or plans in the pipeline?
    Over the next 32 months we plan to open 65 properties in the region, which will increase our current footprint by over 16,000 rooms.
    One of the highlights we are looking forward to this year will be the Sofitel Dubai Wafi, our 46th property in the city.
  4. In your opinion, what qualities make an outstanding hotelier?
    Passion, drive and a willingness to keep learning and developing.
  5. What is your motto?
    We are in the business of making people smile!
  6. What advice would you give someone who is joining the industry?
    We are living uncertain times this year, but I have no doubt the industry will rebound, as it always does.

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