Having withstood the test of time, Guido De Wilde, senior vice president, regional director, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Middle East has been with the company for almost 30 years, climbing the ladder of success and travelling the globe in the process. A sincere gentleman with goodwill at the core of his character, De Wilde tells Sophia Soltani why after three decades, his passion for the industry never falters.
It is often said that there is no second chance to make a first impression and Guido De Wilde, senior vice president, regional director, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Middle East has most certainly made his mark on the hotel group, having worked for the company for 29 years. A Belgian national and holder of licentiate in Germanic philology from the University of Ghent in Belgium, De Wilde continued his specialisation in Norwegian language, literature and history at the University of Oslo. A man of many talents, De Wilde also holds a degree in marketing from the Institute of Social Sciences, The Hague. His love for languages and educational background makes him today a multilingual man who enjoys communicating in seven different languages, including Dutch, English, French, German, Portuguese, Swedish and Norwegian.
Having started his career with Starwood in 1983, De Wilde has since held various management positions in Bahrain, Morocco, Germany, Belgium and Portugal, not only a bilingual hotelier but a well-travelled one too. In his current role, De Wilde is responsible for the operation of all Starwood properties in the Middle East, consisting of 53 hotels and resorts and leads the development of Starwood’s brands in the rapidly expanding region.
Starwood Hotels and Resorts is blowing full steam ahead with its hotel pipeline as the group plans to target 100 hotels by 2020 all spearheaded by De Wilde. In true form to his long profession, when asked about his greatest achievement within the history of his career, De Wilde points out that the opening of new hotels and charity is at the heart of his proudest moments.
“Since arriving to the region in 2006 we have opened 23 hotels and launched brands including the St. Regis, W, Westin and Aloft in the Middle East. Today we operate 53 hotels and more than 16,000 rooms across eight of our brands and have a team over 20,000 associates in the Middle East. We are also on track to reach our milestone of 100 hotels in the region by 2020.
“Another satisfying accomplishment for me has been the Road to Awareness initiative. Back in 2007, a colleague and I launched the Starwood Road to Awareness Bike Ride in support of Unicef. The three bike ride became the anchor event of hundreds of fundraising activities in Starwood properties across Europe, Middle East and Africa to support various UNICEF projects.”
Not stopping there, De Wilde moved on to become a pioneer for the Road to Awareness campaign, adding: “Over the past nine years we mastered 50 mythic and legendary climbs of the Tour de France and the Giro d’ Italia, cycled a total distance of 3,500 kms but above all we raised over $6 million for Unicef and provided thousands of children with a better future and a better way to experience this world. This initiative is extremely close to me and it is an incredibly rewarding way to help children who really do need our support.”
Setting the standards
Having survived for almost 30 years with the same hotel group, De Wilde holds with him a wealth of experience and a bank full of industry knowledge, as he reveals: “Relationship building plays a key role in the hospitality industry. Whether it’s with our guests and loyal members or with our associates and owners, it is extremely important to be accessible and establish a culture of open dialogue. Effective communication, collaboration and alignment are vital for success.”
Imparting with some of his industry secrets to success for the next generation of hoteliers, De Wilde emphasises the need for transparency and a proactive approach, explaining: “The guest experience in hospitality has truly evolved which makes this an exciting time to be a part of the hospitality industry. My advice to the next generation would be to take a proactive approach towards their work and not shy away from expressing their opinions and ideas, after all they are the future of the industry.”
Arguing that passion is the most vital skill, he adds: “However the most important aspect of all our jobs, whether you have been in the industry for over 30 years or just starting your career, is to be passionate about our guests. Always go the extra mile to ensure the satisfaction of our guests. Guests are at the center of what we do and we need to have an ‘obsession’ for guest service excellence.”
Having worked in several countries across the Middle East for an extensive amount of time, De Wilde has witnessed the changing landscape of the hospitality industry firsthand, discussing the fads that have come and gone and the trends that are here to last, he says: “It’s fascinating to see how technology has evolved and today plays an important role in how our guests book hotels and communicate with us. The hospitality industry has always needed to provide personalised, memorable services and now technology has allowed hotels to come full circle and create meaningful, one-on-one relationships with guests on a massive scale. We are focused on using technology to transform all phases of the travel experience and on bringing a deeper level of personalisation to our hotels and that’s a trend here to stay.”
In recent months’ hotels have reported declining RevPar and room rates, but behind every successful hotelier is a string of successful hotels which can only thrive when working with the right partner De Wilde argues. “In order for us to succeed and to maintain and grow our market share, we need to continue to focus on guest satisfaction and work hard to differentiate ourselves from the competition.
“When it comes to building hotels, our mantra has always been to find the right partner with the right property in the right place. As we grow our portfolio across the region, we focus on diversifying the presence of our brands and incorporating the right brand programming across our hotels.”
On the theme of success, De Wilde adds: “The most vital aspect for success is to empower our associates who help us build strong relationships with our guests and truly bring our brands and hotels to life.”