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Thu 31 Aug 2006 08:00 PM

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Putting more dots on the map

Pascal Gauvin is the new director of operations, UAE and Qatar, InterContinental Hotels Group, as well as general manager, Crowne Plaza Dubai. Here, he talks to Hotelier Middle East about managing his time and escaping Lebanon

Before coming to Dubai, you were at the InterContinental Phoenicia in Beirut. How is that hotel coping with present events?I was director of operations for Lebanon, and left there July 8, just before the war started. However, all of that is happening in a specific sector of Lebanon, and the areas of downtown Beirut, such as Solidere and Ashrafieh were not affected. The hotel will stay open. It is a message that you are resilient. If you close you give the wrong impression.The hotel has reduced the number of rooms open and all the expatriate staff were sent back to their countries of origin.They were given a choice to go or stay, but many of them had holidays planned for the summer anyway.

You managed the Phoenicia during its restoration after the Hariri bombing. What were the challenges associated with that?
I lived in Lebanon during so many different events. In 2002, tourism really started to take off, 2003 we did good business and 2004 was a record year with one million tourists. Rates went up and it was the best year ever for the hotel.

Then, on February 14, 2005, president Hariri was assassinated outside the hotel. At that time we suffered collateral damage.When a crisis arrives you have to stand up.That is when you are most needed.You become automatic almost immediately, doing things as you have been trained to.

You want to save whatever is possible; you have 400 guests, 1000 employees and a US$100 million hotel, and you just want to preserve all of that. We were back in business within seven weeks. It was a necessity because all the other hotels were still open.Time was precious.

Now, 2006 was looking really great before the war started. But you have to be positive. Lebanon is a fantastic country

How does it feel to be in Dubai now?
I am very impressed by the diversity of client here compared to Beirut, which is much more regional. In Beirut, 80% of guests come from the Gulf countries; it is not really a destination for Europeans or Asians. The speed of business here is also much faster.

Dubai is also a big convention center, and there are big events taking place annually where all the hotels are full.There are perhaps more peaks in demand, and you have to know what Dubai is doing to maximise on this.

How will you manage to share your time between overseeing eight hotels and being a full time GM in Dubai?
It’s about leadership, and having the right people in the right places.The first role for me to concentrate on is being general manager of this hotel.

This is my base and this will take most of my time.

Yes, there are eight hotels, but there are eight general managers too, and they are all professional and accountable for their properties.My role is more to co-ordinate and assist, and to make sure that all eight hotels are taking their market share and benefiting from the synergy of the company.

So what are your plans for the Crowne Plaza as general manager? Will you be making changes?
Yes. If you don’t move you go backwards. In the first three weeks I re-organised the team to the way I like to work. I recruited an area sales and marketing manager and an area revenue manager.

Revenue management is essential today. It is the key to hotel success.

Half our business comes from F&B, as we have 10 restaurants and our banqueting business, so I am putting in place resources to produce sustainable F&B revenue.We are also refurbishing our club lounge and are also moving forward with slight renovations to the lobby and outlets.

How do the markets now under your remit, such as Al Ain, Sharjah and Doha, differ? And how do you plan to approach these challenges?
It is eight properties presenting eight challenges. We are not talking about the same market, although most hotels are located in the UAE.

Sharjah Holiday Inn has just soft opened.That is a superb product and a great opportunity for us.

The InterContinental Al Ain is doing extremely well.That is a big conference and leisure market.

We are doing renovation there now. In Abu Dhabi, the InterContinental is closed for renovation, but we are coming back with a superb product.Meanwhile, the Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi is doing great, especially while the InterContinental is closed.The two hotels complement each other.

You started your career in F&B. What made you decide to swap to operations?
After hotel school I chose F&B because I was passionate about food. It was the most attractive place to be in a hotel. I wanted to serve customers. Restaurants are fun. People come there to celebrate and you are part of the celebration.

With time, I grew in my career and took my first management position. In F&B you manage the most number of people and the most important people, so at that time the path to GM was through F&B. It has changed today; you can also get there through revenue management, front office or marketing.

Of all the destinations you have worked in, which one would you most like to go back to? And which was the most challenging?
I don’t think I would go back to any of them. I love all of them, but you are always left with great memories and if you go back you are disappointed.

The world is a big place and so I prefer to discover new destinations. I like to put a new dot on the map.There is so much to learn, and after 14 years abroad I have changed a lot.

In the Gambon we were really involved in the community.We set up a clinic at the hotel.The community is very important to us as a company.

Your role is bigger and more important when you work in developing countries.You are almost an ambassador.

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