Fairmont’s senior VP, along with HR, marketing and F&B directors talk exclusively to Hotelier Middle East about their priorities for the year ahead.
Hotelier Middle East: Which hotels do you expect to open in the Middle East in 2014?
Sami Nasser, Senior Vice President, Operations, Middle East, Africa & India: In 2014, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts will open three properties in the Middle East: two in the UAE and one in Saudi Arabia. Fairmont Ajman is expected to open in the summer 2014, while the Fairmont Fujairah property is expected for last quarter of 2014. Our third hotel is Fairmont Riyadh, scheduled for the third quarter of 2014.
HME: In total, how many rooms do these hotels comprise?
Nasser: The total number of rooms combined for the three openings is 763, split as follows: 252 rooms and suites for Fairmont Ajman, 194 rooms and 13 villas for Fairmont Al Fujairah, and 304 rooms and suites for Fairmont Riyadh.
HME: What is your hero hotel opening in 2014 and why?
Nasser: Our flagship hotel in 2014 is Fairmont Riyadh, Business Gate in Saudi Arabia. Although FRHI already has a strong presence in the Kingdom with three properties in Makkah (Fairmont Makkah Clock Royal Tower, Raffles Makkah Palace and Swissôtel Makkah), we are not in yet in the capital or any other city in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh will definitely introduce another market segment, mainly focused on business travelers.
Located just north of the city, Fairmont Riyadh, Business Gate will be part of a new mixed-use development project comprising of the hotel, a convention center and commercial real estate space that will house multinational corporations and regional companies. Fairmont Riyadh, Business Gate will feature 287 spacious guestrooms, including Fairmont Gold. Guests will enjoy a selection of dining venues as well as spa and fitness facilities. The convention center comprises 4,000 square meters of meeting and function space.
HME: To meet the needs of your upcoming pipeline, how many staff will you be looking to recruit in 2014?
Rachel Moosa, Executive Director Human Resources, Middle East, Africa & India: The three new properties will total approximately 800 employees. In addition to that, with the new organisation change initiated globally by the Group, and to accompany our growth in the Region, we also increased our headcounts at the Dubai Regional Office. FRHI moved from a total headcount of 32 in 2012 to 50 headcounts this year. This number will reach 60 persons by the end of 2014, operating in different departments: Finance, HR, Operations, Design and Construction, Food and beverage, Development and Sales and Marketing.
HME: How can the hotel industry best entice new, young talent?
Moosa: To achieve a winning workforce, FRHI Hotels and Resorts rely on four key principles: lead with the best; train and develop; recognise and reward; and, crucial to our brands continued success, select the best. We believe to promote and develop from inside the company, and it is our responsibility to offer to our colleagues a career path within our brands. We know that our strategy works, as in 2012, approximately 65% of our management and leadership positions were filled from within the organisation.
FRHI spends a great deal of time identifying, selecting and growing top talent, and in order to do so we have developed sophisticated Human Resources tools and programmes.
Today, FRHI Hotels & Resorts are recognised as an international employer of choice, through a great number of prestigious awards.
HME: What do you think are the main challenges hotel GMs will face in 2014?
Kent Cooper, Vice President Sales & Marketing, Middle East, Africa & India: Globally, travel is no longer a luxury need. It has become a right, and everyone expects to travel at least once a year.
If we look at the Middle East figures related to the traveler’s profile, according to a recent study, 50% of the luxury purchases are from GCC customers under 30 years of age and with a strong appeal for novelty. Another feature of the GCC luxury traveller is the taste of luxury, which is a mix between the global and the local codes and lifestyle.
The biggest challenge of our hotel GMs will be to creatively address the consumer to make their stay a memorable experience.
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?
Peter Finnegan, Executive Director Food and Beverage, Middle East, Africa & India: FRHI Hotels & Resorts F&B vision is to challenge ourselves to inspire and innovate to be better than the competition; and our promise is to offer genuine connections through our F&B outlets. These connections are what we deliver against operationally to make us different than the competition.
This said, we have identified four fundamentals. Each fundamental includes specific initiatives, such as: position strong leaders, encourage initiatives, push for inspiration and creativity; create the “buzz” thanks to appropriate marketing and PR campaigns; establish strong partnerships with schools; position our F&B outlets against the best in class to compete with top recognition awards; and more.
This approach has been successful, as our F&B revenues represent approximately half of our overall revenues in the Middle East Region.
Lastly, FRHI is very excited about many of our new “concept” outlets that will soon enter the market. Stay tuned for some more interesting times from Fairmont Hotels & Resorts F&B.
HME: What are the key travel trends you are seeing emerge?
Mohamed Hussein, Director Digital Marketing, Middle East, Africa & India: The growth of online travel booking continues to outperform traditional booking channels as customers trust more in digital platforms for their research and decision making process. Today’s travellers turn to the web as a fundamental source of inspiration for new trips, especially on the leisure front.
According to a recent study by Google, 68% of travellers began researching online before they decided where or how to travel. For a hospitality corporation with a phenomenal portfolio like FRHI Hotels & Resorts, this trend represents a great opportunity to reach travellers online with a variety of inspirational content and information; either through our direct contribution or by providing guests the chance to share their own stories and self- created media.
For example, via Everyonesanoriginal.com, guests are encouraged to share their diverse experience at our hotels, their new adventures at different destinations as well as their pictures. All would serve as inspirational points for travel peers to embark on their research phase around the next trip.
HME: With smartphones and tablets becoming key customer service tools, what mobile services are you providing for guests?
Hussein: Travel services’ planning is no longer bounded by a single screen. Travellers move consecutively between desktop, mobile and tablet to do their search or book travel services. According to Nucleus, it’s expected that travel industry mobile traffic will represent 50% of all traffic in 2014. We, at FRHI in the Middle East, Africa and India, have experienced a triple digit growth in traffic to our digital platforms originating from mobile and tablet.
Across our brands, we offer our guests a diverse array of services through mobile – from research for offers and packages to booking a room and managing your reservation, from exploring different dining options to click-to-call our dining facilities and much more.
In addition to the aforementioned services, we are close to launching our breakthrough local apps. Those apps will allow our guests to book most of the hotel services that they used to book on premises, on the go. The new local apps will serve as a two-way communication channel between the hotels and our esteemed guests, and will be tailored according to the different needs of our guests at each hotel or destination.