Taking the lead: 12 inspirational hoteliers

Taking the lead: 12 inspirational hoteliers

Hospitality is one of the most rewarding industries out there, which is why so many professionals dedicate their lives to the business. We checked in with 12 hoteliers to hear how their careers began, the lessons they’ve learned and shared since joining the profession and what the next chapter of the industry’s growth story looks like.

Three key words
Transparency, empowerment and trust are my key words when it comes to how I lead a team. I always ensure that these three words guide our interaction and the way we manage the region. I hope my legacy includes these important elements, as well as trying to be innovative by bringing change to the industry. At Accor, we are currently doing this by introducing new lifestyle brands into the market. In addition, we also recently launched an all-inclusive platform which, alongside our all-inclusive brand Rixos, will give our partners and guests a much wider selection of other premium and luxury brands within our portfolio, such as Fairmont, Sofitel, Swissotel and Movenpick.

When building your team, make sure you are not the smartest person in the room. Hire experts in each domain whom you can rely on and get the support you need. Of course, you also need to ensure communication channels remain open and transparent for your team to be innovative and come up with new ideas and concepts which you may not have thought of.

Redefining luxury
We are bringing a number of new lifestyle brands to the region, including SLS and 25 Hours, which have so far proven to be successful. Not only are we showcasing these new brands to the market, we also recently launched our all-inclusive platform. Of course, our loyalty program ALL- Accor Live Limitless, is also redefining the loyalty space, as it boasts a wide range of benefits and exclusive access to events and activities beyond our hotels and restaurants.

New hotel projects in MENA
Recent openings:
Movenpick Resort Al Marjan Island Ras Al Khaimah (UAE)
Pullman Doha (Qatar)
Queen Elizabeth 2 Dubai (UAE)
Movenpick Dubai Jumeirah Village Triangle (UAE)
Ibis Styles Dubai Deira (UAE)
Upcoming hotels
Raffles Doha (Qatar)
Fairmont Tangier Tazi Palace (Morocco)
Rixos Doha (Qatar)
Aparthotel Adagio Doha C-Ring Road (Qatar)
Ibis Doha C-Ring Road (Qatar)
Banyan Tree AlUla Resort (KSA)
Swissotel Living Jeddah (KSA)
Novotel Thakher City Makkah (KSA)
Ibis Styles Ras Al Khaimah (UAE)
Mercure Palas Des Congres, Ain Benian
Swissotel Namaa Bay, Sharm Al Shaikh (Egypt)
Fairmont La Marina, Rabat Sale (Morocco)
Movenpick Living Istanbul Camlivadi (Turkey)

Movenpick Hotel & Apartments Azaiba
Muscat (Oman)
Sofitel Doha West Bay (Qatar)
Rixos Qetaifan Island Doha (Qatar)
Swissotel Doha Corniche Park Towers (Qatar)
Novotel Doha West Bay (Qatar)
Raffles Jeddah (KSA)
Fairmont Ramla Serviced Residences Riyadh (KSA)
Sofitel Riyadh (KSA)
Movenpick Waad Al Shamal – Turaif (KSA)
Novotel Thakher City Makkah (KSA)
Novotel Riyadh, Olaya Street (KSA)
Mercure Jeddah Madinah Road (KSA)
Mercure Dubai Deira (UAE)
Mercure Skikda (Algeria)
Sofitel Agadir Royal Bay Resort (Morocco)
Rixos Golden Horn Istanbul (Turkey)
Swissotel Bursa Uludag Mountain (Turkey)
Swissotel Residences Cesme (Turkey)
Swissotel Bodrum Hill (Turkey)
Swissotel Residences Bodrum Heights (Turkey)
Movenpick Istanbul West Zeytinburnu (Turkey)
Movenpick Living Istanbul Saklivadi (Turkey)
Novotel Istanbul Bomonti (Turkey)
Ibis Istanbul Airport (Turkey)
Ibis Styles Ankara (Turkey)
Ibis Styles Aliaga (Turkey)

As Saudi Arabia sets its sights on becoming a leading tourism destination in the coming years, I have had the privilege of being a part of this immense transformation within the hospitality industry that will surely reshape the sector in the future.
I consider my legacy to be founded in the openings of internationally recognized branded hotels, such as the Marriott DQ, The Holiday Inn & Suites in Al Jubail and Tabuk, as well as our home-grown executive apartments, Dara Al Rayan, adding to a remarkable portfolio in strategic locations within the Kingdom. I also oversaw the opening of Dur’s high-end residential compound, Dur Al Wadi, and headed the commencement of the Darraq Alhada project, which further enriches the housing market. Along with that, I managed renovations of Makarem Ajyad Makkah Hotel. Additionally, I played a key role in securing a partnership with Awqaf to develop five-star properties that enrich the religious experiences of guests and is also the first project for Dur Hospitality entering the Medina market. Under my leadership, we have also signed with Accor to add the first Rixos Jeddah Resort to Dur’s luxury portfolio, which is now in the pipeline.

I firmly believe that “hospitality is about treating others well, whenever or wherever.” That mantra has served me favorably in my career in terms of my interactions with my team, our clients and our partners. Regardless of cultural or religious backgrounds or nationality, treating others with kindness and respect at every available moment has a positive ripple effect in all things.
When anyone enters a Dur property, I want them to feel welcome and at home. All touchpoints will be personalized and immersive, and they will want to return repeatedly to visit and do business with us: to experience authentic Saudi hospitality at its best. I am confident that embedding this motto into my personal and professional development is responsible for many of my accomplishments.

A new level of luxury
Dur Hospitality is a pioneer in the industry and in the development of the hospitality sector in the kingdom. We have intertwined our extensive past experiences and expertise and infused it with sustainability, technological advances and modern-day amenities based on international standards. The result is that we have been rapidly expanding and adapting our offering to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers and guests in anticipation of their varying needs and current market trends.

The expansion of our chain is purposeful, seeking out partnerships that create perfect combinations and complement our aspirations to be more agile, resilient and smart. Sustainability has become a central focus and is embedded in our operation and brand management. Dur is investing in the future by using ecofriendly technology and best practices to conserve energy, reduce consumption and waste, and increase efficiency. We are also encouraging local talents and sharing our specialist knowledge with our team through the Dur academy, ensuring that we provide lifelong learning opportunities and help them realize their full potential. Combining these high standards in hospitality, together with a holistic approach toward sustainability, we aim to solidify Dur Hospitality’s vision for inclusive and sustainable growth, maintaining our leading role in the sector and redefining the industry.

New hotel projects in MENA
Makarem Madinah (opening 2024), Madinah (KSA)
Rixos Jeddah Resort (opening 2023), Jeddah (KSA)

Thinking about the future
We have a responsibility toward our children to leave the planet in a better shape than how it was given to us by our parents. Unfortunately, this has not been happening. Our natural habitat has been deteriorating every year, and little has been done to protect it. The pandemic provided us with a wake-up call. Now we are seeing serious efforts from hoteliers to slow down our industry’s negative impact, to even stop it, but we need to do more. A critical part of sustainability is to regenerate the environment, and this is what ENVI Lodges is focusing on. Travel and tourism can only flourish if there are places left to visit. What would our lodges be without the beach or the mountain, the forest or the desert? How can we provide authentic experiences without local communities? We have a duty to protect the entire ecosystem and every action matters. I found this quote from Robert Swan very powerful: “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” We must take matters into our own hands. We need to be drivers of change; that’s what I hope to leave as a legacy.

Leading by example
My motto is to lead by example. On a personal level, I apply this by being the best version of myself for my daughter. You cannot tell your kids one thing and do the opposite; you must follow the same rules you set for them. On a professional level, I hope to inspire people to follow the steps that my co-founder, Noelle, and I took to create a business that put as much importance on doing good as on being profitable. Finding that balance is not easy; it’s a constant battle between economic realities and a genuine desire from investors to be responsible. We lead ENVI while believing that this balance can be achieved. We try to push boundaries, to challenge the status quo, which requires concrete actions that are monitored and communicated so that we inspire our team to do good, encourage our lodge owners to continue investing in ESG projects and hopefully have a positive impact on the behavior of our guests beyond their stay at an ENVI lodge.

Experiential hospitality
ENVI Lodges was based on three main principles: people are happier and healthier when in nature, so it’s all about outdoor hospitality for us; the definition of luxury has changed — it’s less to do with the material aspects and more to do with how you live, what you eat and what you experience; and sustainability guides everything we do, be it the way we build our lodges, the way we operate them, how we regenerate the environment around us, protect heritage and support the locals that welcome us on their land. Thankfully, we are not the only ones doing it. We have been inspired by some amazing hospitality brands that came before us and redefined hospitality in their region, be it in Africa or South America, and we hope to do the same in our region, the Middle East, before we expand our portfolio globally.

New hotel project in MENA
ENVI Lodge Red Sea Coast, (opening Q4 2023) (KSA)

Humanistic approach
Four Seasons’ guiding principle is the Golden Rule – to treat others as one would wish to be treated themselves. It is this foundational principle that guides the way we at Four Seasons treat our employees, guests, residents and the communities in which we operate. Throughout my career with Four Seasons, I have used this universal principle to guide me when facing new challenges, celebrating success or supporting the growth and development of my teams across the EMEA region, encouraging them to reach their full potential, be themselves, achieve their goals and grow into our industry’s future leaders.

In hospitality, people drive the quantum leap from “good to great”. Nurturing an environment within our hotels that allows each employee to thrive is critical; and therein lies the duty of any true leader: to drive and inspire people to be the very best version of themselves. People ultimately remember how you made them feel, so, to sum it up, be aspirational and be kind.

Setting the standards
The story of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is a tale of continuous innovation, remarkable expansion and a single-minded dedication to the highest of standards. We are constantly evolving to meet the changing needs and desires of our guests, residents and employees. We also continue to grow our portfolio to welcome guests in the markets that matter to them most. We are experiencing incredible momentum, especially in the MENA region, with upcoming hotel and residential projects in: Diriyah, Saudi Arabia; Doha, at The Pearl-Qatar development; Muscat, Oman; and a new standalone private residence in Dubai. We also have a few exciting announcements to make concerning Egypt, including news about our beloved Resort in Sharm El Sheikh. The Middle East continues to be of great importance to Four Seasons, and we look forward to introducing new opportunities for guests and residents to experience Four Seasons’ exceptional luxury lifestyle offerings in these dynamic destinations.

New hotel projects in MENA
Four Seasons Resort Sharm El Sheikh (Egypt) expansion completed March 2022
Four Seasons Hotel Diriyah (KSA)
Four Seasons at The Pearl, Doha (Qatar)
Four Seasons Resort and Private Residences Muscat (Oman)
Four Seasons Private Residences Dubai at Jumeirah (UAE) slated for 2022

I have been privileged to work in several different countries, including Spain, Canada, the UK, Lebanon, KSA and Bahrain at a number of chains, such as Melia, IHG, Habtoor Hospitality, Accor and Gulf Hotels Group. For the past 15 years, Bahrain has been my home, and it is here that I first joined the Gulf Hotel Bahrain, before moving for the opening of Sofitel Bahrain. I further pursued my career with Accor, moving to Sofitel Al Khobar before returning to Gulf Hotels Group in 2018. I have learned a great deal over the years, spending time in different countries among a variety of communities and cultures. However, the experience I have gained with the Gulf Hotels Group has been unparalleled. As an owner-operator, the group’s work is extensive, and I have personally been involved in a number of projects, from acquisition to rebranding, management contracts, renovation, concept creation and concept designs. It’s been an incredible journey.

Hard work pays off
There is no secret to success; it is the result of hard work and looking for opportunity in any difficulty you face.

We present ourselves as a local Bahraini hotel group with multinational standards. Our focus is our team — our most important asset — and of course we capitalize on our legacy, being the first five-star property in Bahrain. Our genuine Bahraini hospitality, complemented by quality products and dedicated service, has helped to elevate our reputation over the last 53 years while maintaining our position in the market despite multinational brands entering Bahrain’s hospitality space.

Plans in Saudi Arabia
IHG is working with the Ministry of Human Capital development to develop the hospitality talent pool in the kingdom and ensure they have the right talent to cater to the expected future demand. IHG has a long-standing history of operating in Saudi Arabia, and we have been a firm partner and contributor to Saudi ambitions in tourism and hospitality.
The company is complementing its KSA plans with a strong talent agenda, with a keen eye on hiring and developing Saudi talent to ensure that the company delivers authentic Saudi guest experiences and upskills the communities it operates in, especially in secondary and tertiary cities. Our growth over the last year is a testament to our commitment to investing in the hospitality sector and developing local talent to showcase true Saudi hospitality to guests from around the world. In line with the Tourism Development Strategy, we will continue to bring our brands to various locations within the country, as we commit to introducing new hospitality experiences and further cementing our role as a member of the Saudi community. With Saudi Arabia moving at a fast pace to achieve its Vision 2030 goals, developing its much-anticipated giga and megaprojects, we are working to roll out our full portfolio in destinations ranging from global metropolitan hubs, such as Riyadh, Jeddah and Makkah, to emerging destinations, such as Al Khobar, Abha and Dammam.

People culture
The hospitality industry landscape has evolved considerably in recent decades, yet there is one constant; it is a people’s business. This, to me, is our most important resource. Since the beginning of my journey in hospitality, I have always been concerned with people’s wellbeing, and I strived to create the right environment with hard-working team members, because I truly believe that professionalism, passion and the right culture is what fuels a company’s key competitive edge in today’s market. Throughout my career, I was fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful mentors, who inspired me to share my knowledge and empowered me to support young talents in reaching their full potential.

The best version of yourself
Eleanor Roosevelt, once said: “True hospitality consists of giving the best of yourself to your guests.” This quote has always inspired me. Our guests and colleagues are constantly redefining the future of our industry. Carefully anticipating the evolving needs and priorities of our guests is key. At Kempinski Hotels, we craft beautiful performances, and we build loyalty with our guests, employees and business partners. It’s about personal fulfillment and self-satisfaction.

Environmental awareness
We have a responsibility toward the environment, and our approach to sustainability is embedded within the company values. Our aim is to deliver bespoke guest journeys and luxurious yet sustainable experiences while minimizing environmental and social impact. Similarly, we are committed to building long-term partnerships to achieve common goals, and we collaborate with partners that share our ethics, values and sustainability vision to enhance our responsible business practices. A priority in our business model is our ecological footprint. To reach our goals, we have partnered with the award-winning EarthCheck sustainability certification program across all our hotels worldwide. Also, enhancing people’s health and wellbeing is at the heart of our business. Kempinski is one of the founders of BE Health Association with a commitment to preventing diseases and caring for people’s health from the workplace to the local community by establishing individual hotel health prevention programs under the name of BE Health.

Career path
I began my career in 2001 in Chicago. After graduating with an economics degree, I never thought I would pursue a career in hospitality. I was unexpectedly drawn to the hotel business after meeting some of the most passionate hoteliers. More than 20 years later, after living on four continents and working for leading hotel brands, I enjoy sharing my experiences and drive with young graduates and professionals. Discussing their aspirations and dreams reminds me of my beginnings, 20 years ago, and I always tell them to believe in themselves and to do everything with passion and determination.

New hotel projects in MENA

Kempinski Hotel & Resort Yanbu (KSA)

Kempinski Residences The Creek, Dubai (UAE)
Kempinski Hotel Al Madinah (KSA)

Kempinski Floating Palace Dubai (UAE)
Kempinski Hotel Makkah (KSA)
Kempinski Al Queshan Hotel Riyadh (KSA)

Investing in others
Passing on wisdom, knowledge, experience and integrity to others is fundamental. My professional life has been marked by these actions and achievements. I have always tried to invest in human capital and support young talents develop and grow.

What matters?
I believe in integrity, respect, perseverance, enthusiasm, positivity and passion. The sky is the limit. It is not only in the knowing; it is also in the doing.

Doing things differently
Travel today is very different to what we have experienced in the past. Technology is far more advanced, with online support, services and dynamic central sales and marketing complemented by operational excellence. Our hotel group is motivated and devoted to building the future of hospitality and providing owners and guests with innovative solutions. We have introduced a new brand in the extended stay category: Tulip Residences brand.
Entrepreneurial spirit and agility are in our DNA. We rely on this more than ever to build long-term partnerships. Delivering more sustainable products is a priority, and we are committed to implementing energy-saving measures. Human capital remains an important issue. We provide training at all levels to ensure our team members are always improving and growing.

Inspiring others
From the start of my career, I have been fortunate to be empowered by brilliant leaders and inspirational mentors. Today, it is my responsibility to do the same for my associates: to support their growth and together make a difference in the work we do. Through my journey, I hope to instill an optimistic and people-first approach.

Work ethic
I am someone who sees the glass half full. Every situation can be viewed from different perspectives. As a diehard optimist, I believe that positivity brings out the best in every situation.
Furthermore, I view every problem as an opportunity to grow. This is one of Mr. Marriott’s rules of success and resonates with me after having experienced a number of uncertainties and using those adversities to propel me further. Growth is never linear; approaching challenges with tenacity leads to success.

What really excites me is the opportunity to develop the future leaders of this region’s industry. Our commitment to nurturing local talent is incomparable. One of the ways we empower youth is through our Tahseen program.

In Saudi Arabia, we launched Tahseen in 2018, and we have seen over 110 students graduate since then. To date, more than 75 percent of the graduates in Saudi Arabia remain employed at a Marriott International hotel and have progressed in their careers. We also launched the program in Egypt in 2018 as a four-year bachelor’s degree, in partnership with Helawan University, and look forward to celebrating our first graduating class in September. Furthermore, we expanded our Female Leadership Initiative across the region, with the program’s launch in Egypt and Turkey. The initiative is designed to provide high potential female leaders with a personal development programme to prepare them for the next level in their career.

International experience
My hospitality career began with Oberoi hotels, where I served as a butler. I joined Marriott International as EAM of F&B in Sharm El Sheikh with The Ritz-Carlton, after which I worked in different parts of the world. Following my appointment as GM of The Ritz-Carlton, Moscow, I took on the role of area VP luxury brands for Western Europe before being promoted to area VP for the UAE. I have held the position of COO for the Middle East since mid-2021.

New hotel projects in MENA
Nujuma, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Red Sea (KSA)
The St. Regis Red Sea Resort, Red Sea (KSA)
Place Vendome, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Doha (Qatar)

Supporting others
Seeing people succeed and grow is one of the key reasons I work in hospitality, and I’m delighted that my current role allows me to continue to do that. This industry is all about people, from our teams to our guests. So whether you’re a concierge, or a kitchen porter working behind the scenes, or even if you’re involved in the management, this is a people business and it’s about making our guests happy and that’s what we need to focus on.

There’s no “I” in “team.” Recognize and understand that success is no longer ‘yours,’ but derived from the success of your people.

The right vision
I personally believe that when an organization, regardless of which industry, wants to achieve its goals, it needs a vision. But a vision does not belong only to a leader; it’s about the ability to recognize and outline those goals and inspire others to follow. The hospitality industry is a people’s industry and I like to think our team members feel like they’re part of a family when they join. We create a culture of belongingness and growth by developing our team members into leaders and empowering them. The greatest asset of any hotel chain is the team and empowering and growing them is key to success.

As we build on our expansion plans in the region, our strategic goal is to further grow our portfolio in North Africa. We look forward to delivering an unparalleled experience by providing our guests with “Treasured Time.” Two properties have already been signed under the brand, 328 keys in Dubai and a further 268 keys in Istanbul, and we are looking forward to growing the brand across the region and beyond. Rotana currently operates 71 hotels in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and Turkey, serving more than 6 million guests per year, including an impressive 10,012 keys across 36 hotels in the UAE alone. With an immediate pipeline of four hotels scheduled to open before the end of 2022, the stage is set for the company’s continued and tenacious expansion. The future pipeline consists of 48 upcoming projects, including 10 that will deliver more than 3,000 keys in the next three years. Significant hotel signings and new agreements will take place in Manama, Bahrain and Jubail in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, alongside further expansion in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey. In Qatar, Rotana has recently signed a new project that includes the management of Residences by Rotana, a 503-key property. Additionally, Rotana continues to strengthen its presence in Egypt as the group marks its debut in the capital with the signing of a management agreement for a 500-key Rotana hotel in New Cairo, along with a 180-key Rotana hotel in Alamein on the North Coast.

New hotel projects in MENA
Dana Rayhaan by Rotana, Dammam (KSA)
Bin Al Sheikh Residences by Rotana, Doha (Qatar)
Al Reem Rayhaan by Rotana, Jubail (KSA)

Al Mouj Rayhaan by Rotana, Muscat (Oman)
Bloom Arjaan by Rotana, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi (UAE)

During the course of my career, I have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed success across various segments of our industry, but my proudest achievement – and, hopefully, my legacy – is having co-founded TIME Hotels Management (TIME Hotels). Established in 2012, TIME Hotels has grown immensely over the course of the past decade. I have had the joy of watching the business expand to encompass more than 17 properties, comprising a total of 1,946 keys across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. I am also immensely proud to have supported the development of our four sub-brands, which include TIME Hotels & Resorts, TIME Hotel Apartments, TIME Express Hotels and TIME Residence Properties. It has been my privilege to lead TIME Hotels for the past 10 years as Chief Executive Officer. While overseeing brand development and ensuring that it is well positioned in the market, I have witnessed TIME Hotels’ transition into a Middle East success story first-hand. I am also confident that this legacy will continue, thanks to the expansion and diversification of our brand portfolio. We feel now is the time to pursue further growth – both regionally and internationally – in order to secure the company’s long-term success.

I have identified four core values by which I live my life, and which I encourage others to embody at every level of our organization. Firstly, I have a passion for results. I show pride, enthusiasm and dedication in everything that I do and commit to. Secondly, I believe in teamwork. I invest in my team members because they are the most valuable assets of any organization. Thirdly, I always show respect. My colleagues and I treat our team members, guests, partners and suppliers with mutual respect, recognizing the vital role that diversity has played in TIME Hotels’ success. Finally, I strive to remain positive and, most of all, grateful.

The guest comes first
TIME Hotels is built on a philosophy that puts the guest experience front and center. Our corporate motto, “You Really Matter,” reflects the fact that each of our customers is important to our management company, from our owners and executive team to our front-of-house colleagues. I call this relationship the “triangle of success.” By taking care of our owners’ assets and investing in our talented employees, we are better able to assist and attend to our customers’ requirements and deliver a truly memorable guest experience.

New hotel projects in MENA
TIME Express Al Olaya, Riyadh (KSA)
TIME Marina Hotel & Convention Centre, North Coast (Egypt)
TIME Ahlan Hotel Apartments, Khartoum (Sudan)
TIME Nakheel Deluxe Apartments, New Administrative Capital (Egypt)

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About author

Rita Ghantous

Rita Ghantous is a hospitality aficionado and a passionate writer with over 9 years’ experience in journalism and 5 years experience in the hospitality sector. Her passion for the performance arts and writing, started early. At 10 years old she was praised for her solo performance of the Beatles song “All My Love” accompanied by a guitarist, and was approached by a French talent scout during her school play. However, her love for writing was stronger. Fresh out of school, she became a freelance journalist for Noun Magazine and was awarded the Silver Award Cup for Outstanding Poetry, by The International Library of Poetry (Washington DC). She studied Business Management and earned a Masters degree from Saint Joseph University (USJ), her thesis was published in the Proche-Orient, Études en Management book. She then pursued a career in the hospitality industry but didn’t give up writing, that is why she launched the Four Points by Sheraton Le Verdun Newsletter. Her love for the industry and journalism led her to Hospitality Services - the organizers of the HORECA trade show in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan, as well as Salon Du Chocolat, Beirut Cooking Festival, Whisky Live and other regional shows. She is currently the Publications Executive of Hospitality News Middle East, Taste & Flavors and Lebanon Traveler. It is with ultimate devotion for her magazines that she demonstrates her hospitality savoir-faire.

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