Sami Nasser, chief operations officer (COO), AccorHotels Luxury Brands Middle East, tells Hotel News Middle East why the future is bright.
When Sami Nasser speaks, the entire hospitality sector listens. That is not surprising given the industry stature of the man who is currently chief operations officer (COO), AccorHotels Luxury Brands Middle East.
Hotel News Middle East catches up with Nasser to find out his thoughts on a wide number of issues affecting both AccorHotels and the wider industry as a whole.
One area that Nasser has been vocal about is the development of general managers, it is clear that this is not something he just pays lip service to.
“Nurturing talent and creating opportunities is something we at AccorHotels are very passionate about,” he says.
“I personally take a leading role in the development of talent within our hotels throughout the region, having mentored over 10 leaders within the group to take on key leadership roles from number two positions to general manager.
“We also invest a lot of effort in regional talent reviews, this involves our hotel leadership teams identifying and nurturing talented colleagues, then creating development and succession plans.”
AccorHotels’ aim, says Nasser, is to be an employer of choice. Another example of its commitment to its staff is its Women at AccorHotels Generation (WAAG) programme which “motivates, inspires and supports women to evolve within our organisation”.
“This year our team will be rolling out a strategic leadership development programme designed specifically for women, by facilitating the mindset and capability of our female leaders to drive for and achieve senior leadership roles,” he says.
“It allows for positive exchange and networking while supporting the development of skills such as self-leadership, the leadership of others and leading the business.”
One aspect of the industry that is vital but it is not often highlighted is the relationship between owners and operators.
“Owner operator relationships are extremely important to AccorHotels. The amount of repeat business with existing partners is testament to our relationships with our owners, and importantly, over 20% of our management contracts are with existing owners,” he says.
“Hotel owners now recognise that AccorHotels can work with a range of projects, not just economy or mid-scale. Our owners understand that we do not offer a one-size fits all approach. Each relationship is unique, it is about being transparent, ensuring consistency and maintaining clear communication at all times.”
He says that what sets AccorHotels apart is its policy of being flexible and the ability to freely discuss options with owners.
“We don’t have preconceived ideas and processes which must apply to all relationships. However, we do aim to present our experience and offer best practices,” he says.
“For example, if an owner wants a Raffles in a destination where we know there is a limit to our ability to command luxury rates, then we will advise them to look at other brands.
“We will give the complete picture when we talk about business plans and we discuss projections to ensure we don’t over-promote and under-deliver.”
Nasser is uniquely placed to offer insight into the industry here in the Middle East. He is keen to talk about the next 12-18 months and what they have instore for the region’s hospitality industry.
“As Dubai is the first city in the Middle East and North Africa to host a World Expo in 2020, there will be a huge amount of attention on the UAE and the wider GCC in the coming years,” he says.
“This is an exciting landmark occasion for the region and particularly Dubai. The UAE is set gain in terms of nation branding and financial gains, promoting its national image and demonstrating the versatility of its economy on the world stage in a six-month long memorable experience.”
He says the two markets that have seen the most growth in the region are the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
“In Saudi Arabia, AccorHotels has more than 16 luxury and upper upscale hotels in operation and pipeline which will add more than 9,000 rooms,” he says.
“We operate around 30% of the market in Makkah today through our luxury and upper upscale brands and 20% of the market in this significant city for the entire AccorHotels portfolio of brands.
“With regards to the UAE, we believe there is great potential for us. There are new districts like Dubai Islands and Meydan which are conducive to development. Interestingly Dubai is going down the route of lifestyle hotels and branded residential components more so than ever before.”
Nasser turns his attention to the challenges that the hospitality sector has to face in the Middle East region.
“With the likes of TripAdvisor, guests have an idea of what their experience will be before they check in and their expectations might be a lot higher,” he says.
“Furthermore, with the rise of social media networks such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook there are now countless ‘influencers’ who travel, making recommendations and sharing photos from their hotel stay – in that respect everyone is now a hotel critic which has pros and cons from our industry as a whole.”
Another challenge that cannot be ignored, says Nasser, is that of customisation.
“Customising the hotel experience for each individual guest requires a high degree of congruity between our guests, technology and our service providers,” he says.
“We must pay attention and track data on guest preferences, while remaining discreet, respectful or privacy and focused on the needs, comfort and ease of our guests.
“At AccorHotels we are fortunate that we can rely on the genuine warmth of our team and the sophistication of our technology to find this balance.”
Nasser is unsurprisingly eager to speak about what the company has coming up.
“We have some incredibly exciting projects in the pipeline which will come to life over the next few years,” he says.
“Firstly, the rebranding of a prominent landmark hotel in Jordan, Le Grand Amman – Managed by AccorHotels is set to become Sofitel Amman following the first phase of refurbishment towards the end of 2019. Upon completion, this will mark the debut of Sofitel Hotels & Resorts in Jordan.”
This will be followed by the opening of the largest Sofitel property in the Middle East in Dubai’s Wafi region in early 2019.
“25Hours Dubai Hotel is set to open in 2020. 25Hours Hotels is a brand of AccorHotels which offers completely unique hotel concepts – in fact nothing looks less like a 25Hours Hotel than another 25Hours Hotel,” he says.
“25Hours Hotels has an emphasis on social dining concepts, adventure and cutting-edge design, each 25hours Hotel has been shaped into a vibrant community hub and 25Hours Dubai Hotel will be no different.”
Saudi Arabia is another key market that Nasser and his team have big plans for.
“Saudi Arabia is also a key focus expansion market with the Makkah complex which features the Fairmont, Raffles, Swissôtel and Pullman brands,” he says.
“The Fairmont Riyadh Business Gate is a signature property in Riyadh and MGallery, Jeddah is in the pipeline, marking the first introduction of this upscale luxury brand to the market.”