In an exclusive Q&A with Hotelier Middle East, Mark Willis, Rezidor Group’s Area VP for the ME and Sub-Saharan Africa reveals his hero hotel opening, recruitment plans and the biggest challenges he sees for the coming year.

Hotelier Middle East: Which hotels do you expect to open in the Middle East in 2014?

Mark Willis: We have 17 hotels and 3,900 rooms under development in the MENA region over the next three years. Next year will see the opening of two new properties in Oman: Park Inn Duqm Hotel & Residence, and Radisson Blu Hotel, Sohar. We are also set to open our sixth property in Dubai: Park Inn by Radisson Residence Dubai Al Barsha and our seventh hotel in Saudi Arabia: Park Inn by Radisson Riyadh Olaya.

HME: In total, how many rooms do these hotels comprise?

Willis: There will be a further 530 rooms added to the inventory in 2014.

HME: What is your hero hotel opening in 2014 and why?

Willis: We are excited about all of our upcoming openings; however the development of upcoming Radisson Blu Hotel & Resort, Sohar shows our commitment to Oman’s potential as a sought-after tourism and business destination. With stunning natural assets, a thriving business centre and a culture steeped in tradition, Oman will continue to solidify its reputation as a highly desired tourism destination within the GCC and beyond.

HME: To meet the needs of your upcoming pipeline, how many staff will you be looking to recruit in 2014?

Willis: We will be looking to recruit around 2,000 employees in 2014, mainly in KSA and Sub Saharan Africa

HME: How can the hotel industry best entice new, young talent?

Willis: As the economy continues to recover, competition for talent is heating up and employers in the hospitality industry need to be more creative and proactive in order to attract top talent.

Well-qualified candidates always have options. With just the click of a button they can explore multiple job opportunities and respond to them all simultaneously, while texting, ‘friending’ and surfing. Social networking is most certainly the hottest new recruitment strategy right now.

Today’s savvy workers are our new consumers and they expect to be wooed. They want to know why our company is a good choice for them and what they will gain from working for us. An emphasis on strong employer branding is needed in order to attract new, young talent.

HME: What do you think are the main challenges hotel GMs will face in 2014?

Willis: One of the key challenges that general managers continue to face is the owner-operator relationship and the importance of managing the owner’s expectations. Today’s hotel owner is financially astute and focused on maximising returns to enhance the business performance and value of their property. It is, therefore, crucial that the general manager is aligned with the owner’s aspirations and is equally focused on adding long−term value to the hotel. The general manager also needs to protect our brand standards, corporate policies and practices, and achieve profitability within these parameters.

Recruitment will also continue to be a challenge in 2014 as more hotels open offering more opportunities for the workforce. We will continue to focus on employee retention and have a clear strategy in order to grow and retain our employees within the Rezidor organisation.

HME: The rejuvenation of hotel F&B has been a hot topic in 2013, with some hotels restructuring F&B management, hiring at the corporate level, etc. What is your approach to reinvigorating F&B in 2014?

Willis: We want to be seen as a market leader in the way we deliver food and drink to the customer. Just as we now refer to conference and banqueting as meetings and events, we have also replaced the term ‘food and beverage’ with the ‘food and drink’.

We have recruited at a senior corporate level with food and drink as well as focussed on increasing skills at property level. This along with our new food and drink concepts currently in planning see us in a really strong position within food and drink.

HME: What is your vision for 2014?

Willis: A key priority for us in 2014 is to exceed owner expectations. Along with this we will also be driving forward our 4D strategy. The 4D Strategy provides a simple framework, but invites us to go beyond the obvious while focusing our attention on the core components of our business which include: Develop Our Talent; Delight Our Guests; Drive the Business and Deliver Results.

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