Tasked with handling Emaar’s aggressive hospitality expansion plans, Chris Newman, chief operating officer, Emaar Hospitality Group, tells Sophia Soltani why tomorrow’s leaders shouldn’t stop learning at the university gates and how the hospitality division of Emaar is turning current challenges seen in the industry into their successes.
Dubai-based Emaar Hospitality Group manages a variety of hospitality and leisure projects across the region, including hotels, serviced residences, golf retreats and clubs. Its portfolio includes world-class hotel brands, The Address Hotels + Resorts, Vida Hotels and Resorts and the newly launched Rove Hotels. Steering the ship of success is renowned, global hotelier Chris Newman the hospitality group’s chief operating officer. Boasting a career spanning more than 30 years lo Newman is mandated with driving the strategic growth of the organisation through new ventures, expansion, and partnerships across the brand’s various touch-points. Newman is responsible for the tactical operations of all three hotel brands including The Address Hotels and Resorts, Vida Hotels and Resorts and the Rove Hotels together with Emaar Hospitality Group’s Leisure Clubs and Lifestyle Dining Division. Tasked with driving the growth of the company into new markets across the Middle East, his proven skills in visionary and macro thinking, strategy development, commercial and relationship management will no doubt see the veteran take the hospitality division of the group flourish.
“We developed Rove Hotels with a very distinct brand identity that will appeal to the next generation of travellers, regardless of age who seek a strong lifestyle experience”
Prior to joining Emaar almost two years ago, Newman has well and truly earnt his global hospitality stripes, having previously worked on large-scale hospitality projects for leading international brands in several global markets including Egypt, Nigeria, The Gambia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Malawi, Guyana in South America, West Indies, Bahamas, Greece, London and Switzerland. Yet having seen so much of the world, Newman remains humble to his astonishing achievements as he explains: “My greatest achievement has been elevating the lives of talented, young, industry professionals and being able to take credit for a small part in the success of what these leaders of tomorrow have achieved. As a very wise previous boss recently shared with me: You’re not a great leader until you have developed another great leader who has developed yet another great leader.”
It is no secret that the hospitality industry is one rife with competition and as an enormous number of hotels come under construction in the Middle East, the demand for qualified hospitality professionals is on the rise. Coupled with gaining as much experience as possible, Newman insists that education is key to a successful career within the hospitality industry. True to form, he holds a Higher National Diploma in Hotel, Catering and Institutional Management from the Westminster School of Catering, London, a Certification in Hotel Real Estate Investments and Asset Management from Cornell University, New York alongside a number of industry certificates in group training techniques, managing sales platforms, management communication skills and high performance financial management for hotels to name a few. Revealing the essential skills required to succeed in the hospitality industry for the next generation of young hoteliers, he says: “Take your education and qualifications to your personal best. Invest in learning new languages. Experience different cultures. Keep your mind and body sharp. Believe in yourself. Learn something new every day and persevere with passion. I cannot stress how important education and qualifications are. They are critical when trying to enter the industry today. Then next set of leaders need to keep on reading, stay connected, learn about themselves and develop their emotional intelligence. They need to choose the company carefully and who they work for. It is so important to read about great people to look up to.”
As the landscape of the industry grows in tandem with new trends and developments, Newman has seen his fair share of shifting hospitality dynamics. When asked about what he predicted for the state of the industry across the Middle East, he insisted, “transparency is what has become the name of the game and will outlast any trend to come and go.” Alike many developments worldwide, technology is now redefining the way the hospitality industry conducts business as Newman adds: “With any industry, the hospitality sector has become accustomed to newer technologies. Technology has dramatically changed the industry. We now have integrated software solutions that allow us to monitor revenue trends, occupancy levels and revenue streams from our F&B outlets. We have already taken the lead in both, highlighted by iGENIE, an advanced in-room automation service that enables guests to access all amenities through in-room iPads, and the launch of Rove Hotels, a contemporary new midscale hotel and residences brand.”
But Newman argues that technological innovations aren’t the be all and end all of the industry, adding: “There is still a need to build the next generation of leaders for the industry. The newest advances in technology will continue to define the hospitality experience of the future but also needs to be a greater focus on expanding hotel offerings to cater for all cross-sections of travellers alongside a younger workforce.”
As the industry moves towards experiences aimed at the next generation of travellers and Gen-Y guests, Emaar Hospitality launched its Rove Hotel in Dubai to cater to a tech-savvy, hip audience, Newman adds: “We developed Rove Hotels with a very distinct brand identity that will appeal to our target audience of the new generation of travellers regardless of age who seek a strong lifestyle experience. There is strong demand for value hotels in the region and Europe, especially from young families and Gen-Y travellers. The business and Mice sector is also important as they want new experiences in new destinations at affordable prices. Frequent travellers also tend to look for hotels that have something unique or novel to offer at a reasonable price.”
It is no secret that hotels across the Middle East have been experiencing a downturn in performance and overall profitability correlating with fluctuating oil prices and political instability seen in neigbouring countries, but Emaar could be forgiven for not feeling the direct impact of these challenges, as Newman argues: “Revenue streams into our properties are driven by a combination of having world-class assets in unique, unparalleled locations that are managed by some of the best talent in the market. Our teams work within a culture of performance, quality and innovation.
“We operate on long-term plans that are broken down into yearly strategies which are then reviewed and revised on a quarterly basis as a team, in line with the ever-changing market dynamics. Staying ahead means constantly innovating, pushing the limits, taking risks and remaining agile; qualities which are at the heart of Emaar’s DNA.”
Adding that “economies are cyclical”, Newman continues: “As a group, we believe that it is important to adapt to what is happening around us by having the right strategy, being able to react accordingly and embracing innovation.
“Despite the volatilities, Dubai recorded robust growth in 2015: GDP grew by 4.5% and the tourism sector by more than 7% over 2014 as visitor numbers increased to over 14.
Keeping Dubai at the forefront of his strategy and as a prime investment market, Newman stresses that “all the indices strongly point to the resilience of Dubai’s diversified economy and we believe there are strong prospects for the hospitality sector. We will continue to grow by expanding into new markets, creating new partnerships and diversifying our offering when we identify commercial opportunities or gaps in the market – as we have done with the launch of Rove Hotels.”