The modern world of luxury hotels has changed. Gone are the days where a hotel can be defined by its star rating alone. The luxury hotel guest and the investor into luxury hotels has very different expectations. To succeed in this space, a company must look at providing additional services.
In the Middle East, a key driver of this changing landscape occurred around 15 years ago as a number of countries across the Gulf changed their visa regulations, thus opening its doors to international tourism.
Running alongside this was a significant growth in the airline industry. Major global players such as Gulf Air, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways have contributed immensely to the growth of travel and tourism across the region.
For Christoph K Franzen, Area Vice President for the State of Qatar and the Sultanate of Oman for Hyatt Hotels, the influx of different cultures and nationalities over the last decade has created a more active market than ever before.
“It’s a very active market when it comes to opening hotels,” he says. “And there has been a notable shift in terms of what people and investors are looking for. Whereas before it would be a five-star hotel, now people are looking at hotels with select-service plans. Investors are looking for a vehicle that they can invest their money into.”
The company’s Middle Eastern footprint encompasses the GCC, of which Franzen is General Manager at the Grand Hyatt Doha Hotel & Villas, but also oversees operations of the hotels in Qatar and Oman where the company continues to grow and seek out further opportunities to operate.
“There are a lot of things happening in the pipeline at the moment,” he says. “It’s a large company, so we are looking to add properties in primary and secondary cities in various GCC countries. As I said before, it’s a very active market right now.”
Franzen was born into the industry, growing up in Zermatt, Switzerland, a town defined by its tourism market in the Swiss Alps at the foot of mount Matterhorn.
Fast forward to 2018, by way of working as a chef for freestanding hotels and restaurants as well as for Hilton Hotels and then joining Hyatt Hotels just over 20 years ago, Franzen has seen first-hand this change towards additional services and how the Hyatt Group can stand tall against other hotel operators.
“Anyone can open a hotel with the same marble, same furniture and the same look and feel,” he says. “But for me, the difference has always been in the personalised service that we extend to guests.”
“Every hotel can offer a clean room, quick internet and a good breakfast. So, it’s about what you do after that, that makes a difference.”
In the quest to go above and beyond expectation and provide the ultimate experience for guests, so that they ultimately continue to use the Hyatt Group as the preferred hotel group of choice, the customer has and will always be the key component in defining the direction of the company.
Franzen notes that, as the industry has changed, it has created a different kind of guest than the one of five years ago.
“People travel much more these days and in turn their expectations are completely different,” he says. “And the biggest game changers behind this are technology and not wanting to break routine.”
Franzen believes that as technology has transformed the demands and expectations of the guest, Hyatt Hotels has had to change its room design to fit around this new level of expectation.
“When people travel, each traveller has at least three things he or she has to plug in. Hotel room designs have to consider this. It may be an obvious example, but it’s an example none the less as to how the room design must change as guests change, in order to provide the service that they expect and demand.”
As Franzen noted, travellers are also heavily influenced by routine and not wanting to break that routine.
From technology habits to healthy eating, hotel providers must be in tune with what makes up the modern guest’s routine.
Hyatt Hotels offer state of the art fitness and recreation centres as well as a much more defined healthier food selection, which Franzen believes ties into the wider service offering that the hotel can provide.
“It’s about looking at your offering and understanding what it is to be innovative,” he says. “Innovation doesn’t just have to be technology oriented, it extends into what you offer to your guest as a whole.”
In order to provide a unique guest experience like no other company can provide, Franzen is all too aware of the importance of listening to guests and understanding what it is they look for in a hotel service.
To this end, Franzen recognises that as a company such as Hyatt achieves success, it is easy to fall into a trap of believing that you should not fix what isn’t broken.
“In this industry there is a habit of thinking that we know better than anyone else, including guests,” says Franzen. “But the truth is there is only ever one way to find out and that is by sitting down and talking to guests, listening and taking on board what they have to say.”
Franzen adopts a technical, analytical approach to capturing this information, but stresses the importance of remembering the human element to this approach. In speaking to the guests and gathering as much personal feedback as possible, this allows him and the company to use that information to seek out new opportunities to grow and become better.
It also allows the company to take more risks.
“The next step is of course, test it,” he says. “It won’t always be a roaring success, but you take on the feedback and you re-engineer what you’ve done through that feedback. That’s how you achieve success, because success is defined by what your guests want.”
A hotel and a service provider can only succeed and deliver on its promise through the people it employees. The staff represent the face of the organisation and are the connective tissue between talking the talk and walking it.
Recruitment is just another facet of the changing scope of the hotel and hospitality industry, and Franzen recognises that as the industry has boomed, so too has the competition for staff.
“In the good old days, it was very easy to recruit a lot of our colleagues through one or two source markets, with one or two nationalities,” he says. “Now, because there are so many hotels operating in our region there’s a much higher demand for employees. We have over 52 nationalities in our hotel alone.”
“What that means is that we have to reach out much further to find the right talent to fill the positions but also to cater to the wide variety of nationalities that work at our hotels.”
Much like the way in which the company speaks to and listens to its guests, Hyatt works closely with its employees and invests significant amounts of time on training and developing them.
Not only does this prove to be a cheaper option, in some cases grooming talent in house to become the next wave of management, it creates a culture throughout the organisation that the employees and staff feel valued.
“We believe in people and so we make a strong effort to nurture them, talk to them and provide the tools to better develop their skills. We want them to grow and to be successful and it shows in the way they approach their day to day work.”
As Franzen noted previously, the hotel industry is booming in a way that is unlike anything that’s come before it. With a large focus on the select-service space in addition to the full-service brands, this will continue to define the future direction for Hyatt and its expansion plans.
While Hyatt will continue to build four-star and five-star luxury hotels, Franzen recognises that it’s about understanding the market dynamic first and foremost.
“The big key gateway cities already have plenty of five-star hotels so, when you look towards those secondary cities you will see that there just isn’t a market for all brands there to operate,” he says.
“If you want to expand then you have to have a healthy mix; with the right product and brand fitting the location, be it full service or select service. But whatever way we look to expand we want to be the preferred brand of choice, for investors, travellers and colleagues who work in the industry.”