In a series of interviews highlighting hoteliers and their developments in the MENA, HN spoke with David Todd, head of operations, Middle East and Africa, at IHG to unveil the highly acclaimed operator’s plans and preparations for the upcoming phase.
- How do you describe the way the MENA hospitality industry dealt with COVID-19 pandemic?
This is an incredibly difficult time for us all, with the outbreak of COVID-19 impacting the everyday lives of billions of people around the world. From a global hospitality perspective, our industry faces the biggest challenge in its history, with global travel restrictions and social distancing measures having severely reduced demand in many of our markets. The MENA region is not unique to this scenario. The hospitality industry is all about people. It is built on the foundation of human connection and care for each other. During this difficult time, at IHG, we have ensured we support our communities as much as possible and play our part in relief efforts around the world, including markets across MENA. We know our peers have done the same. The resilience the industry has shown and the community contributions made during this crisis have exemplified the strength of the sector.
- How do you think the hotel chain’s legacy plays a major role in making it overcome difficult times? and how did IHG sustain?
While IHG has a clear strategy, well-loved brands and a robust business model, we are not immune to a crisis of this magnitude. During this challenging time, we have stayed focused on Being there for our guests:
Flexibility is high on customer priorities at such an uncertain time, which is why we moved quickly at the onset of this crisis to waive cancellation fees. We’ve followed this up with a Book Now, Pay Later offer for the rest of 2020, which makes travel planning commitment free, with no deposit required, and cancellation possible up to 24 hours before a stay for direct bookings. We have also launched an enhanced cleaning standard to make sure our guests feel confident in staying with us, whenever they are ready to travel.
Being there for our hotel teams and owners: As a company, we stand beside all our owners. We are deeply committed to doing all we can to quickly reopen closed hotels and offer the flexibility, support and expertise they all need to protect their businesses, reinvigorate travel and bring guests through their doors as demand recovers. IHG and corporate colleagues: We continue to try to deal with this crisis in a way that ensures we make responsible choices for both today and the long term, in the interests of all stakeholders and very mindful of the personal impact on our colleagues, whose dedication and commitment to IHG is admired and deeply valued.
Bringing True Hospitality to one another and our communities: Having a positive impact on the thousands of communities our hotels and offices are a part of around the world means so much to everyone at IHG, and we know that our care and support has never been needed more than it is right now. From food deliveries, providing hotel rooms for frontline workers, participating in relief efforts, to supporting charity partners, we are stepping up in many ways.
- On a global level, many hotel chains initiated funds and programs to help its operation sustain. Tell us more about IHG’s take
Faced with the most challenging environment we’ve ever seen, we have had to make some difficult choices to reduce costs and protect our business for the long-term. These have been some of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make, such as changing working arrangements for many corporate colleagues through reduced hours or furloughing, reducing salaries and cancelling our 2019 final dividend to shareholders for the first time in our history. We have also significantly reduced costs and re-prioritized resources to focus only on what is needed to prepare for and drive recovery.
- How do you think the hospitality industry in the MENA will pivot post COVID-19?
The impact of this crisis on our travel and hospitality industry cannot be underestimated – but we passionately believe it will recover in time. People will always want to explore the world, relax or reconnect with friends and family, the wheels of business must turn, and events still need to be run. The hospitality industry across some markets in MENA has already started to see some early signs of recovery. As we expected, domestic leisure travel is returning first as restrictions are eased across many markets in the region. Business and international travel could take more time to recover as international borders are expected to open gradually. MENA is a dynamic region and has a lot to offer in terms of tourism and hospitality. Be it domestic travel, events, conferences, leisure stays or business trips – people travel to this part of the world for a lot of reasons and enjoy the warm hospitality that is a part of the culture here.
- Do you believe we will witness new trends? what are they?
As has been the case in previous downturns, we expect domestic mainstream leisure travel to return first, with business and international travel taking more time. While globetrotting isn’t an option, many still dream of escaping their homes for less distant destinations. Road trips will be at the heart of an initial recovery, with people likely to choose their cars over flights for the time being and head to accessible resorts and comfortable, safe and affordable accommodation they can trust.
- Will the concept of hospitality shift and be disrupted by new models?
The biggest change guests will see in hotels is a very visible approach to safety, cleanliness and social distancing but, fundamentally, the hotel experience won’t change – it might look a little different, but it will feel just as special as it always did.
- What did you learn as a leader?
The importance of communication and working as one team across functions has been critical to navigate through the crisis. As the situation evolves, I believe it is important to take time to listen to our hotel leaders, owners and teams, understand their needs and adapt quickly to support them in the best way possible.
- What are IHG’s upcoming business plans?
At this time, we are focused on every aspect of making the customer journey a great and safe experience so that they feel comfortable in staying with us. As local restrictions across markets are lifted or eased, domestic tourism is returning gradually. Therefore, we are focused on this segment for immediate recovery. Once the situation stabilizes further across markets, borders are opened and consumer confidence improves, the industry is also expecting to see signs of recovery in international tourism. We’ll be ready for all of these stages of recovery, whenever and however they take shape in each market within MENA.
- Will you put on hold some projects?
Given the current situation, in some cases, there could be temporary delays in projects. It will also depend on the stage of the project. Projects very early in the development cycle or very late in the cycle are expected to continue at their normal pace. We are working with and supporting individual owners as needed, ensuring that we have the best way forward for every hotel opening.
- Do you think business owners will be more demanding after this crisis? and how will you be handling new management agreements?
Our owners and partners recognize that hospitality is a great industry to invest in. The current situation is challenging for the sector, however, owners who believe we will come out the other sides are willing to invest now to reap mid to long term benefits of the industry. Reflecting our industry’s longer-term growth prospects and the confidence owners have in our business and brands, we have continued to sign and open new hotels under all our brands in these anything but normal times. Where there is a need, we work with our owners to value engineer the product and customize it for specific markets, while maintaining the brand standards as our guests expect a certain experience from our distinct brands.
- Which markets will be more interesting to you in the near future and why?
As before the crisis, the majority of our growth in the MENA region will continue to be driven predominantly by the UAE and KSA. We also opportunities more broadly across the region, particularly in Oman and Egypt. We are also working on a number of projects in Africa, both new builds and conversion in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Kenya, Cameroon and Morocco.
- Where do you see the brand in the next five years?
The pandemic has proven to be extremely challenging for the hospitality industry, however, we know that the MENA region is a prime business hub and consists of a vast number of popular tourist destinations. We are therefore committed to accelerating growth and expanding our presence across key markets in the long run.Add to Favorites