In Praise of Peres

Nov 26 • Cover Story, Highlights • 1007 Views • Comments Off on In Praise of Peres

Looking Back and Ahead Jean Gabriel Peres, President & CEO of Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts has just completed 15 years with the group. During the period he firmly established Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts in the upscale segment boosting the brand’s portfolio from 39 to 81 hotels across 25 countries. This, despite the fact that he had to let go of 25 hotels as they were not up to standard. How did he do so with a mono brand philosophy? Curiosity Middle East finds out.

Leading Swiss hospitality brand Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts is looking stronger than ever, more so in the Middle East where it currently operates 29 hotels, including nine in Saudi Arabia, six in the UAE and five in Jordan. There are plenty more on the way. Its aim is to take its current portfolio of 81 hotels to 100 hotels worldwide by 2017. Driving this extraordinary growth is Jean Gabriel Peres, President & CEO of Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts who has been at the helm for the last 15 years. The group’s asset light development has been in large part driven by its ‘cluster strategy’ that has resulted in multiple properties in a region in quick succession.

What is noteworthy is, at a time when other hotel companies have been busy floating numerous subbrands, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts continues to succeed with a mono brand philosophy. The brand’s greatest appeal, believes Peres, lies in its Swiss heritage that is all about precision, quality, reliability, efficiency and personalised care. He is visibly excited about what the future holds as he shares some of the company’s expansion plans.

You have just completed 15 wonderful years at the helm of Mövenpick . Over the period, what is the biggest change you have seen in your industry?
There has been a revolution not only an evolution of the hotel business from the time I started my career over 30 years ago. The digital world has changed many aspects of the industry. From the way guests are booking their accommodation to the arrival of OTAs, Social Media… The age of consumer-generated content has arrived. Brand websites and OTAs are currently the main generators of bookings. These changes are impacting the entire commercial environment. Today I spend 40 per cent of my time in IT related business aspects.

Another aspect is technology…. good technology in the hospitality industry is now fundamental because our guests have similar in their own homes. As hoteliers we need to match and exceed guests’ expectations with our technology service offerings. While implementing new technology though, we should never lose sight of the guests and all IT applications in hotels must be functional, simple and easy to use. We endeavour to customise our technology services so they deliver real value and service to our guests. The balance is always about striving for efficiency while keeping the human touch.

Therefore, over the years, though many changes have taken place, the soul and fundamental aspects of hospitality remain the same. At the end as hoteliers, we want to provide experiences that makes our guests happy.

Under your leadership how has Mövenpick shaped as an international brand?
When I joined Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts in 1999, the company had a portfolio of 39 hotels. We currently operate 81 hotels and have presence in 25 countries. Over 20 properties are planned or under construction across all regions. By 2017, our aim is to have 100 hotels open worldwide. During the course of the next 12 months, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts will launch seven new additions spread between Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, including the below. Many of our future openings are in countries that are new to the portfolio, including Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

1. Riyadh, KSA – marking our 10th hotel in the Kingdom
2. Jeddah Heraa, our third hotel in Jeddah
3. Kochi, our second hotel in India
4. Samui, Thailand
5. White Beach, Pattaya – Thailand
6. Istanbul, Golden Horn
7. Chiang Mai, Thailand

“Mövenpick is today the second most famous brand in the Middle East and no one believed we would manage to grow so fast in the Gulf”

When you took over you had 39 hotels in operation. Today you stand at 81 properties across 25 countries. What contributed to this massive expansion when you had to actually let go of 25 hotels over the period?
Our approach is to have an organic, sustainable growth instead of a massive expansion. Mövenpick has always believed in growth, but at a sustainable pace. In every region from Europe and Africa to the Middle East and Asia we have carefully consolidated our developments to maintain a balanced portfolio distribution that ensures decision-making is effective, resources are efficiently utilised and development is sustainable. We have very strong area teams and have a cluster approach to expansion with continuity in management. Mövenpick is today the second most famous brand in the Middle East and no one believed we would manage to grow so fast in the Gulf. Owners love our brand. We have a reputation of supporting owners in helping them grow the business. Our owners are high net worth individuals who know each other and therefore exchange a lot. We are very good at developing clusters and have close to 10 hotels in KSA. We are a leading Swiss hospitality group in the world with a very high reputation offering premium quality, be it in terms of management or culinary concepts and restaurants. We were born that way.

You are among the few hotel management companies with a mono-brand philosophy? How do you compete in a multi-brand market? Is it a strength or a hindrance in terms of development?
We believe to have a mono-brand has been a strength for us. Our company has a clear positioning in the upscale segment and we are known for our quality, reliability, care and personalised service. We are not a hotel chain, we are a collection of hotels, each representing something unique about their location i.e. the sense of place. For me general managers are not numbers, they are entrepreneurs who create a soul for the hotel they run. We believe it is confusing to have too many brands and means very little if you don’t have enough hotels. It is only after you have developed quite a number of hotels i.e. 100 to 150 that you can segment into different brands.

You position yourself as an upscale brand. But there is an enormous demand for mid-scale / budget hotels in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. How do you see yourself in that segment? We are not there and we don’t envisage to be there. Yes, there is strong demand for mid-scale hotels in many regions, but we would rather stay loyal to our DNA and not jump at the first opportunity – as this may be more harmful in the long term. At this moment, we don’t have plans to create a mid-scale brand. If this changes in the middle or long term, it would be well planned and not just a quick reaction based on the market.

What are your expansion plans for the Middle East? And how are you looking to achieve that?
This year, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts marks 20 years since its entry into the Middle East, when it opened Mövenpick Hotel Petra in 1994. The last two decades has seen steady and successful growth in the region. Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts has and continues to grow at a remarkable pace to keep up with demand.

We currently operate 29 hotels in the region, including nine in Saudi Arabia and six in the UAE, countries where we will continue to increase our portfolio. Our five properties in Jordan are very well known and we also have a good reach across the GCC and Arabian Peninsula. In terms of further expansion, we see great opportunities in Saudi Arabia, where we will be opening our 10th hotel, The MP Riyadh during the first quarter of 2015. In Dubai, we recently announced our 7th project, as we have recently signed a management agreement for MP Downtown Dubai, set to open in 2017. We have signed two projects in Dubai recently.

Our plans certainly include more hotels across the UAE and by 2020 we envision having around 15 operating hotels in the country spread over several emirates. In anticipation of Expo 2020 and the general outlook for the UAE, we are currently in negotiations with owners to make this happen. Emulating this sustainable success in Asia, where the company’s foothold will double in the next three years, is of great importance to Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts.

Talking about the UAE , how do you plan on keeping your business competitive given not only the extensive construction of hotels for EXPO 2020, but also given the popularity of other regional destinations?
Dubai’s tourism sector has been strong so far this year with a solid growth of leisure guests to the emirate, despite an increase in room supply. Comparing YTD 2013 with 2014, our occupancy has remained stable at 83%. We expect that the rest of this year will follow a similar pattern.

We currently operate six Mövenpick properties in Dubai, located across different parts of the city including Ibn Battuta near Jebel Ali, Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Jumeirah Beach on The Walk, Bur Dubai, Deira and The Square in Mamzar. It’s a good mix spread across Dubai and together they offer 1,566 rooms. We are already seeing an upward trend since winning the bid and we expect that the destination will benefit significantly from this relatively long event. Associated infrastructure developments, opening of new flight routes and additional attractions will of course assist all hotels. Expo 2020 will also expose Emiratis to new destinations and we hope they will continue to choose Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts for their stays abroad.

While business will be strong to the lead period to Expo 2020, we foresee good business beyond this major event as a result of the excellent vision of the Dubai Government, ensuring continued success and strong performance in the long term future.

As a seasoned hotelier with a flawless record of accomplishment, what advice would you give to up and coming hoteliers who wish to follow your example? What is your secret to success?
There is only one secret passion. One has to be totally passionate about the business. I am a finance MBA. Before joining Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, I was the Managing Director of a leading sales and distribution company for luxury goods, perfume and tobacco products. This background helped me to understand the complexity of business. The hotel business has become very complex today where you need to be asset manager, revenue and distribution manager as well as sales and marketing manager with a very global outlook. Over the years the most important thing I learnt is that you need to be true to people you meet. The loyalty you create among people goes a long way in garnering support when you need it. Some people that I work with today have been with me for over 25 years. Always remember, you are lucky to be surrounded by those who have the same values as you. And I am very fortunate to have people like Andreas Mattmuller, the chief operating officer for Middle East and Asia who is an entrepreneurial hotelier and has contributed immensely to the success of our group.

Who are the people who inspired you during the course of your career?
All the people who created gold out of sand. People who had the vision to be pioneers in place where there was only sand. I have a lot of respect for those people.

Apart from work, what else interests you?
Music, literature, poetry, sports, tennis and family.

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