EXCLUSIVE: Wyndham Hotel Group\ s Bani Haddad Q&A [HotelierMiddleEast.com]
(HotelierMiddleEast.com Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) In an exclusive Q&A with Hotelier, Wyndham regional VP, Bani Haddad discusses how to attract new markets, mobile booking services and his 2014 hero hotel opening.
1.Which hotels do you expect to open in the Middle East in 2014?
We have four Ramada hotels in our confirmed pipeline for 2014:
• The 195-room Ramada Encore Tangier - the first select-service Ramada Encore hotel in Morocco
• The 238-room Ramada Abu Dhabi Corniche and the 120-room Ramada Abu Dhabi, Al Moroor, which will be our first Ramada hotels in the capital
• The 792-room new build Ramada Plaza Makkah in KSA. In addition we are evaluating several other developments – watch this space!
2. In total, how many rooms to these comprise?
3. What is your hero hotel opening in 2014 and why?
Some of our most architecturally iconic openings in the region are anticipated for 2015, such as the Wyndham Grand Manama which, with its twisted glass structure, will be a real landmark in the city's skyline. In terms of our confirmed pipeline for 2014, each planned opening plays a very important role in the continued growth of our established Ramada brand across the region. As a business we are focused on the strategic growth of our brands where we feel they will add value for both the guest and for the investor. This means growing existing brands in existingmarkets and also introducing new brands or brand tiers into new markets where we believe that a demand exists for the product. To that end, introducing Ramada Encore, the select service tier of the Ramada brand, into Morocco is very exciting.
4. How can the hotel industry best entice new, young talent?
We have to understand who we are dealing with to better attract them. The needs of Generation Y and (soon) Generation Z are centered on work/life balance, flexibility, social connections and a strong desire for recognition. That presents opportunities in the communication channels we utilise to reach new talent and also in the messaging. Social media is increasingly important – and not only the more obvious channels such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter – we're receiving feedback which suggests that gaming forums are a really valuable route to market when it comes to reaching the younger generations. The industry's message should be more focused around the exceptional career growth that is offered by our industry as well as geographical mobility. I also think we have to allow more flexibility within the working environment to offer new talent a better work/life balance.
Generally speaking, there are very few industries which offer such amazing growth opportunities… our President and CEO, Eric Danziger, and our Managing Director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Rui Barros, both rose through the ranks having started their careers as a bellman and front desk associate respectively!
5. What do you think are the main challenges hotel GMs will face in 2014?
Depending on the city and country they are in, these will vary. Some will have to deal with the effects of social and political instability, others with rate pressure due to market oversupply. In general terms, I think attracting talent and managing ever increasing operating costs will be the main challenges for the coming year.
6. What are the key travel trends you are seeing emerge?
We are obviously seeing more and more of our guests booking online and increasingly using mobile devices to do so. Guests are also extremely savvy, using comparison sites and reviewing feedback posted on social media before making their purchase decision. It was statistics around the importance of independent guest feedback which led us to roll out TripAdvisor ratings and reviews across all of our brand websites. This allows us to provide our guests with the information they want, to facilitate a smooth and simple booking experience.
We are also witnessing a phenomenal increase in inbound tourism from China in cities such as Dubai where, according to DTCM figures, the number of Chinese guests staying at hotels in Dubai was multiplied by 10 between 2003 and 2012. 7. What are you doing to target new markets such as the BRIC market and Generation Y travellers?
Without doubt, one of the biggest advantages of Wyndham Hotel Group and a major driver behind our significant growth is our flexibility and willingness to adapt our brands to the market needs rather than rigidly applying one set of standards the world over. Our emphasis is on maintaining a consistent brand essence and focusing on the elements which truly add value to the guest.
In addition to a relevant product, our initiatives range from global and targeted marketing campaigns, multilingual websites, social media initiatives and free wi-fi in many of our hotels around the world.
8. With smartphones and tablets becoming key customer service tools, what mobile services are you providing for guests?
During the course of the past couple of years we have developed and launched state of the art mobile websites as well as mobile applications available on both the Apple and Android platform.
We have also launched two industry leading initiatives: Express Book and the integration of TripAdvisor ratings and reviews onto our brand websites. Express Book was developed in direct response to consumer behaviour which showed that a high proportion of mobile bookers were looking for same day reservations. Express Book is a simplified booking path available on our mobile platforms, with far fewer fields that require completion than you would find on a traditional website. This includes the user not having to input a credit card number. Despite the rise of online shopping, there can still be some reluctance to input credit card details onto a mobile phone and the smaller screen size and keyboard can make typing longer entries quite cumbersome. Express Book results in a booking path which is far more consumer friendly.
The inclusion of TripAdvisor ratings and reviews on our brand websites gives our guests the transparency and information they are looking for without having to leave our site.
9. Where in the GCC do you see scope for diversification of the market and how are you targeting price-conscious customers?
There are still fantastic opportunities in almost every country of the GCC. From a product stand point, in Dubai for example it would be great to see midscale resort/beach front properties; the supply in Muscat has been dominated by the five-star segment and would benefit tremendously from more midscale and budget hotels. The branded extended stay segment also offers tremendous opportunities in all countries.
From a segmentation stand point, the Asian market, and China in particular, is still relatively untapped despite being on the rise. The Middle East also doesn't receive many guests from Latin America. The phenomenal growth of the region's airlines has made the GCC a major hub for West/East connections so we see a lot of opportunities in that regards.
10. What is your vision for 2014?
To continue to be the company to be with and stay with. We are anticipating 2014 will be another great year for Wyndham Hotel Group in terms of growth and performance. We already have a strong confirmed pipeline and anticipate growing this further throughout the year. The GCC will continue to benefit from the recovery of the global economy and we are bracing ourselves for an amazing time ahead!
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