Wyndham Hotel Group Regional Vice President, Middle East and Africa Ignace Bauwens talks about the group’s performance in 2016 and the challenges ahead.
What were the hotel group’s key achievements and milestones in 2016?
We introduced our Wyndham brand to the UAE in 2016 with the opening of the luxurious Wyndham Dubai Marina. Situated in a key location offering stunning views of the Gulf and Dubai Marina, the new hotel offers guests premium accommodation in its 486 rooms, alongside extensive F&B facilities including two restaurants and a poolside bar. Business and leisure guests can also take advantage of Wyndham Dubai Marina’s high-end spa, gym and pool as well as extensive meeting facilities. The first Wyndham branded hotel to open in the UAE, we’re looking forward to building the brand’s footprint further across the region.
What have been the key challenges facing a) your hotel group b) the hospitality sector in general and how have you met these challenges?
There is no doubt that 2016 was challenging for the hospitality industry, not only in our region, but globally. However, travel trends are cyclical and at Wyndham Hotel Group we believe in the long-term potential of the region, and we’re certainly optimistic about the opportunities in 2017. We’re working hand in hand with the tourist boards and authorities in the various countries to promote their destination to different types of traveller to help boost visitors to the region as a whole. By developing calendars of the major events in the cities, we can attract guests from all backgrounds, all of whom will be looking for different types of accommodation, which our portfolio is best placed to provide. We’re also expecting to see an increase in visitors to the region as a direct result of our regional marketing campaigns around Wyndham Hotel Group branded hotels and their destinations.
What are the hotel group’s key goals for the end of 2016 into 2017 (for its activities in the MENA region) and why?
2016 was a busy year in the region, and 2017 is set to be even bigger. We have a number of new hotels set to open across MEA, including TRYP by Wyndham Dubai, Wyndham Grand Manama and Wyndham Garden Manama, as well as three new openings in Saudi Arabia including Wyndham Garden Dammam. Looking further ahead, we are planning to open an additional 15 properties between 2018 and 2020, and are, of course, always working closely with local teams to identify more opportunities to bring our iconic brands to both emerging and established destinations.
Despite all the challenges of the last few years, political as well as economic, the MEA region has proven its resilience in many ways. The region remains dynamic with many opportunities for growth. Dubai has certainly taken the lead in the hospitality industry within the MEA region, however there are many other countries and cities with vast opportunities.
The lower oil prices in GCC countries over the past year have also presented many opportunities. Owners and developers have seen the value and prospects of (upper) midscale hotels as well as those at the budget end of the scale. The evolving budgets of both leisure and business guests, together with an improved midscale and budget hotel offering, have created a lot of opportunity in the region. For owners and investors the financial returns of these hotel investments are also more attractive compared to the luxury offering.
The increased number of people travelling to the MEA region (due to cheaper airfares and the growing connectivity of budget airlines to this region) means that, although we are still seeing healthy growth within the luxury market, the real opportunity lies in midscale and budget developments. Therefore the introduction of the Wyndham Garden, TRYP by Wyndham, Super 8 and Days Inn brands to the MEA market are aimed specifically at this growing market.
How is technology dictating the way you run your business and liaise with customers (from bookings and social media to in-room technology)?
There’s no doubt that technology has, and is, changing the way we interact with our guests in order to give them the best possible experience. We’re the first global hospitality company of our scale to roll out a cloud-based central reservations and property management system, helping economy and midscale hoteliers more effectively and efficiently manage daily pricing and inventory. Our chosen software is the most stable in the industry and evolves as technology progresses, meaning our hotels will always have access to the most current technology.
In 2016 we also launched new, responsive websites, meaning that across all of our brands and our loyalty programme, Wyndham Rewards, our customers can engage with us whenever and wherever, and using whichever device, they want. We also launched a new app for Wyndham Rewards, giving our most loyal customers an extra mobile touchpoint.