We interview David Allan, cluster general manager at Radisson Hotel Group, Odile A. De Groot, hotel manager at Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Canal View and Anni Timonen, hotel manager at Radisson Blu Dubai Waterfront for a look into the magnificent world of Radisson, one of the world’s largest chains.
What has the cluster GM role added to your career progression?
I would say that, in terms of broadening my horizons as a GM and exposing me to a scale of operation(s) bigger than I’ve experienced previously, it’s proving to be a great challenge. I trust that it will set me up for further growth once we have all three hotels ramped-up and operating successfully.
How has your background in F&B helped you across the years as you climbed the hospitality ladder? I think F&B gives you a grounding that other departments don’t always offer. This isn’t a snobbery thing, it’s simply that F&B has so many facets to it and, at its core, offers opportunities for success and progression for those who are willing to get stuck-in and work hard.
As with a multitude of others, I’m used to working long hours, difficult shifts and forgoing the usual time off on weekends and over holiday periods: that gives you empathy for others that continually do the same. It’s so important to recognise that people in our industry make sacrifices in order to make our guests happy every day.
Tell us a bit more about the awards and recognition you’ve acquired, and which ones are the closest to your heart.
I’d be clear in saying that I’ve been ludicrously fortunate to work with outstanding teams and individuals in my career both in hotels and at an area level. The level of support afforded to me by Radisson Hotel Group is exceptional. Being named GM of the Year on two separate occasions (once for Park Inn by Radisson and once for Radisson Blu), fills me with satisfaction and reminds me of all the help I’ve had along the way.
What would you say are a few of your most significant career accomplishments so far?
Our biggest, without hesitation, is the successful opening of Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Waterfront and its positioning as the Friendliest Five Star Hotel in Dubai. As with any opening, it involved masses of hard work by everyone involved, but in positioning ourselves this way we gave ourselves another challenge and additional pressure on how we could actually deliver against such a bold statement.
The hotel and our culture have garnered so many positives from our guests, owners and press that it makes me very proud of all our team, and it’s a joy to see so many of them develop themselves in their own careers while retaining the Friendly element to all that they do.
I’m also extremely proud to have two highly accomplished female hotel managers who support me tremendously and drive our hotels forward.
What new initiatives or programmes have you introduced as a cluster GM?
We’ve broken down barriers on clustering the less traditional roles such as those involved in operations. We’ve challenged and reduced the traditional number of FTE’s required to properly run five star hotels in Dubai without impacting our service levels (quite the opposite). We’ve also been able to introduce new selling/incentive schemes which benefit each of the hotels and our employees alike.
What are some industry challenges you foresee, and the opportunities that arise from them?
The biggest challenge will always be service delivery and maintaining this at the level our guests expect, while being mindful of costs and pressure on revenues. We’re constantly looking at how we can best balance the complexities and I’m happy to say that we’re doing so.
Odile A. De Groot
You went from working at a brasserie while studying, to eventually being a director of food and beverage. Tell us more about the dynamism of this industry and how dreamers can make it big.
First of all, you have to love and be passionate about your job, especially in the hospitality industry where long hours are the norm and you need to talk to all kinds of people all the time; you need to enjoy what you’re doing and I’m happy to see more young women joining the field.
Whether it’s in Africa, Europe or the Middle East, the part of my job that I like the most is seeing talent grow and develop, bearing in mind their attributes as well as challenges. In Nairobi, 50 percent of the F&B team were female and more than half of them were single mothers.
What motivated you to go into the hotel industry?
Firstly, being able to work and engage with so many different people. Secondly, to be able to work in different countries and really understand the culture and reasons why certain things are done in a specific way. And last but not least, the suspense – you never know what can happen within the next few hours and that always keeps you on your toes.
It’s also a very dynamic industry – you constantly have to be innovating, in order to stay ahead of your competitors.
What prompted you to work for Radisson?
The restaurant I was working in, while studying, was located right next to the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel, Brussels (it was still SAS at that time and not yet Blu). Some of the heads of departments used to come in and they were a very diverse and dynamic group.
I’ve been with the Radisson Hotel Group ever since as it’s a young, fast-moving and fast-developing company. Working in a hotel has multiple aspects and it’s up to each individual to take on maximum opportunities to learn new things and grow.
What are the most challenging issues you think you’ll face in your upcoming position?
The supply of guest rooms, meeting venues and outlets is definitely increasing in Dubai. The key is to create a team that will work together, not only when challenges arise, but every single day. Returning guests and positive word-of-mouth are the best marketing any hotel could ask for.
In 2017, you joined the “friendliest five-star hotel in Dubai”, tell us more about what a label like this entails.
From the initial interview, we explained to candidates what we wanted to achieve. Personality was the key decision factor when making the final selection. In an operational hotel, equipment and service flows have been tried and tested, over time, in order to get as close to maximum efficiency as possible.
In an opening hotel, where everything is new and shiny, not everything goes as planned – it’s up to people (employees) to try their very best to make a wrong situation right and even turn it into a positive memory. Being friendly means having the confidence to take ownership of making sure that as many guests as possible leave the hotel happy.
Tell us more about your plans for the upcoming hotel, and what makes this property unique.
Our aim is to become Dubai’s new, distinctive and design-led hotel, one which offers delightful service. The development of the Business Bay area is moving at a very rapid pace. This adds to the distinctiveness of the hotel’s location, which is close to Dubai Mall, Al Khail road and Dubai Design District.
One example of why our hotel is design-led is that we’re one of only a few hotels with parquet flooring in our rooms. We hope that as many people as possible walk through our doors once we open and see for themselves the other reasons why our hotel is design-led.
Last, but definitely not least, carrying on from the “friendliest five-star hotel in Dubai” philosophy, we aim to offer delightful service at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Canal View. This may sound cliché, but we aim to offer good service with a smile and not try to be overly pretentious in what we do.
Tell us a bit more about your career journey and what sparked your passion for the industry.
My first full-time job was as in the housekeeping department. I knew I would not be cleaning the rooms for the rest of my days, but also immediately felt at home in the international environment of the hotel. I was quickly promoted to minibar, from there to breakfast as a buffet attendant, and after a few months I moved on to meetings and events as a hostess and eventually to front office.
This was the beginning of my journey 20 years ago, which has given me the confidence and passion to operate a large-scale international hotel.
Having had the support and opportunity to undergo and graduate from the Mentee Program by RHG, which develops future GMs, I have the faith that one day I’ll become a GM.
What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far, and how did you find a solution?
My biggest challenge is the most recent one that probably most working mums in Dubai can relate to, the way to balance between a healthy family and work life and at the same time keep up with exercise to stay healthy. Guilt shadows me daily, leaving my daughter for long days and, at the same time, leaving work early at times to care for the family.
The solution for me is to try to stick to a routine so that everyone around me knows when to expect me to be there for them and empower the people in my team to lead tasks and projects when I’m not at the hotel. Also, I’ve realized that when I exercise and keep myself in shape I’m far more productive and efficient.
At the same time, I would not be able to do what I do without the support I’ve received from Radisson Hotel Group and my GM both during my extended maternity leave and in my current role. Our company offers fantastic flexibility and support, and focuses on the results rather than attendance.
How do you see the hotel industry in the next five years, and in light of Expo 2020?
I’m foreseeing a dynamic and diverse future, where we gain from looking into more efficient, sustainable and smart ways to operate. A sustainable way of living and operating businesses is slowly, but surely making its way to Dubai, coming from Finland where sustainability is integral part of everyday life: this is something that I’m keen on enforcing in my hotel.
Expo 2020 will bring the eyes of the world on Dubai and us working and living here, and it’s a fantastic opportunity to both pick up ideas, trends and solutions from around the world and convert those into initiatives that create memorable stays for our guests.
In your opinion, what’s the single best quality your employees can possess?
We want to position ourselves as the friendliest 5-star hotel in Dubai, therefore friendliness is the key to deliver memorable moments to our guests.
How important is a hotel manager to their frontline employees?
My job is to shine the light on the path the teams are to follow. I see my job as partially strategic, where I push my teams to a certain direction. At the same time, I need to remain operationally involved by jumping in to help out when the hotel gets busy.
I need to make sure the teams have the means to do their jobs in the best possible way, and that while working for us they can develop and reach their full potential.
What’s next for Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Waterfront?
We’re only on the second year of operation after opening and have already shown tremendous growth in standards and service delivery since. Yet, we have so many great ideas left to implement.
One of my objectives is to unleash the power of my team, to fully maximise their potential as we have many brilliant minds working for us who can deliver a brilliant future for our hotel.