Apr 30 • Cover Story, Hotels, News & Features • 1339 Views • Comments Off on LAURENT A. VOIVENEL The Coolest CEO


Laurent A. Voivenel belongs to the new generation of CEOs who has put HMH – Hospitality Management Holdings on a new course of success. Shortly after taking over the top post in 2013, he took some strategic decisions that have borne excellent results for the company. And key among these was the massive investment in technology that has completely revitalized HMH placing it at par with international hotel operators.

HMH – Hospitality Management Holdings is the most credible and leading chain of Halal-friendly hotels operating across the MENA region. At the helm of the group is Laurent A. Voivenel who has over 30 years of extensive hotel management experience having served in key leadership roles at some of the world’s most renowned hospitality groups such as Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Hilton Hotels & Resorts. Being based in the Middle East for the last 15 years, he has a sound understanding of the region’s culture and its unique business dynamics that is helping him to take the company to new heights.

With a towering presence and a strong personality Laurent instantly draws attention no matter where he is. His leadership style is unique just as his views are. Like him or not, there is no way to overlook him. Being a great communicator and negotiator, he compels his audiences to sit up and take note. And he is being heard in the right quarters having positioned HMH in the top league in Halal-friendly segment. Laurent joined HMH with a single mission: ‘We Say, We Do’ and lives by Honesty, Integrity and Financial Transparency.

What does it take to be a good CEO? The suave and nattily dressed charismatic French man observes, “A CEO must, first and foremost, be a leader with a strong vision of what he/she really wants to achieve. He must then outline key objectives, align people around those targets, and deliver on those goals. What gives you an edge is being passionate about what you do. One has to understand, the things that worked for us in the past are not going to work the same way going forward. Therefore, a CEO has to follow the pace of innovation that is dramatically transforming our industry”.

Laurent added, “As competitors are increasing, customers’ preferences are rapidly changing and new technologies are altering business landscapes overnight. It is very important for companies to be able to strategically adapt to these changes. People should never be afraid to change. The CEO should focus on creating an organization that can develop the speed to competitively react. In addition, to establishing global brands, a CEO should aggressively perform the role of the chief brand ambassador in order to reach out to global markets both mature and emerging”.

HMH is a fully-integrated global hotel services provider. The group offers hotel owners and developers a broad spectrum of comprehensive management solutions with five distinct, yet complementary, hotel brands catering to varied market segments from budget to luxury. These include The Ajman Palace Hotel, Coral Hotels & Resorts, Corp Hotels, EWA Hotel Apartments and ECOS Hotels.

Laurent said, “When I joined the company, we had to overcome a number of challenges while maintaining continuity. I must say it has been a gut-wrenching rollercoaster ride so far. Turning around a company is a cerebral game of chess, one that isn’t worth playing unless you have thought through how you are going to win before you even start. There is no simple or single formula”.

Laurent is leading change… by ‘glocalizing’ that is all about achieving the right balance between globalizing and localizing.

“We compete in an industry that is increasingly driven by technology, therefore, technology upgrades are a key priority for us. The more we bring in these sophisticated technologies, the higher the skills of the people needed to be able to use it. At HMH we are in a pole position with a strong, tech savvy, tech-enabled workforce, ready to make the most of the opportunities opened up by a global market place”.

HMH is a key player in the halal-friendly segment in the Middle East and is the region’s largest group to operate in the dry segment. Being a pioneer in establishing the region’s first alcohol-free chain of hotels, it continues to be the only one to follow halal-friendly policy across all its brands.

Laurent stressed, “At HMH we are uniquely positioned to capitalize on the ‘halal’ segment having been successful in penetrating it early. Over the years we have gathered an amazing experience both in terms of operations and market intelligence in the dry hotel segment that is one of our key strengths. Halal-friendly policy is part of the company’s culture and DNA and not simply a business decision. Unlike other companies whose aim is to have a share of the pie by creating stand-alone dry brands or hotels, all brands under HMH are halal-friendly no matter where we operate. Our primary objective is to offer our customers, be it corporate or leisure travellers, a safe and healthy environment”.

The company’s development was derailed by recession and Arab Spring in Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Bahrain that resulted in a major blow to its expansion. Laurent said, “When I joined HMH in 2013, the organisation had just completed ten eventful years since its formation and my challenge was to lead it into the next decade. A time when drastic advancements in technology, aviation and expanding middle class in key source markets are changing the very dynamics of our industry and business. Only companies that have the means and vision to meet and anticipate the demands of the new era will succeed and therefore my biggest priority was to put HMH on track to achieve excellence equipping it with the very best in terms of technology, talent and tools. I started with a single mission: ‘We Say, We Do’ and I must say I look back with a great sense of satisfaction”.

As part of its expansion strategy, HMH is strengthening its presence at a solid pace in the region. The group operates 17 hotels in the MENA region and aims to triple its inventory of keys by 2020. Laurent stressed, “Development is a key focus for us and we have got some very exciting projects under consideration that are at various stages of negotiation. We definitely want to capitalize on the opportunity presented by Dubai Expo 2020 and FIFA World Cup in Qatar. However, we wish to grow the path according to our strategic plan that is sustainable in a physical sense. It is not only about business opportunities out there, rather our strategy is to drive ‘Value over Volume’. The GCC, particularly the UAE and KSA, is central to our growth. By 2020 our goal is to have a hotel in every GCC country while doubling our portfolio in the UAE and to achieve it we have set in motion a strong pipeline of development. We also have a strong interest in the booming Asian markets such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China”.

With 5 new hotels due to open in 2015, HMH is in the midst of frantic activity. One of the company’s latest signings is Coral Al Madina Hotel in KSA that is an ultra-luxurious 5-star hotel superbly located just across the road overlooking the Holy Mosque. Featuring 400 plus rooms and suites, the hotel is spread over 10 floors and five basements. Included in its extensive facilities are three superb restaurants, lobby lounge, luggage room, shopping arcade, fully-equipped gym and spa, two state-of-the-art meeting rooms, business center and large parking space as well as helicopter landing site.

Laurent revealed, “Soon we will be expanding our presence in Muscat, Khartoum, Port Sudan, Beirut and Madina, with five new hotels opening in quick succession that will boost the existing HMH portfolio by 25%. The first one will be Coral Muscat Hotel & Apartments, followed by EWA Khartoum Hotel & Apartments, Ewa Port Sudan Hotel & Apartments, Coral Beirut Concorde Hotel and Coral Al Madina Hotel.”

The scale of opportunity in the region for mid-market / budget hotels is unprecedented. Expanding airline network especially low-cost carriers, increased airport capacity, growing middle class, emerging source markets, addition of new tourism and family attractions and enhancement of infrastructure are all fuelling the demand for mid-market hotels.

Laurent stressed, “We all know there is a near saturation in the market when it comes to luxury hotels. The market does not need any more luxury hotels at this point. Over supply of rooms in this segment is putting a tremendous pressure on rates that in turn is affecting ROI. However, the same is not the case with mid-market hotels. Given the demand, investors can expect double digit ROI (10 to 12 per cent every year) with the right product and the right location.Therefore, every single operator is looking at how they can attract the future market meaning the market of tomorrow i.e. the middle class. This is why at HMH we have three brands out of five targeting middle class because the middle class that today represents 2.5 billion will by 2025 represent 5 billion around the world. ECOS Hotels is a ‘no frills’ B & B brand that ties together a unique economical and ecological concept. It is a smart choice for investors offering strong investment opportunity because of lower construction and operating costs and quick and high return on investment”.

For more information about HMH visit

Development is a key focus for HMH that has got some very exciting projects under consideration that are at various stages of negotiation. The group has some superb openings in 2015.

Operating since 2003

  • 15 cities
  • 7 countries
  • 20 hotels
  • 5 brands

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