By Lubna Hamdan
As Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts moves into the era of experiential hospitality, CEO Olivier Chavy is counting on his youngest employees to lead the way.
Olivier Chavy’s office is designed in splashes of colour. Orange, green and yellow sofa chairs are scattered near floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the Palm Jumeirah. The chief executive of Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts is happy with that view. But he has much more to be content with.
As of April this year, the Switzerland-based company, owned by Mövenpick Holding (66.7 percent) and Saudi’s Kingdom Holding Company (33.3 percent), is at a pace of signing two new deals per month. In April alone, it signed a deal in the Maldives and one in Oman. In some of its strongest markets, such as Thailand and Vietnam, it added at least three new hotels in either of the two countries.
The international upscale hotel management company, which is present in over 20 countries, is also opening in new territories. These include a hotel in Bangladesh and a second one in Pakistan, where it is planning to further grow.
While Saudi Arabia remains its biggest market in the region, the company is currently constructing three hotels in the UAE to add to its six already open in Dubai.
On top of that, Chavy revealed the company’s Dubai market saw Chinese clientele increase by 68 percent, while Russian customers almost doubled in numbers thanks to a more open visa policy in the emirate.
Casually looking out onto Palm Jumeirah, Chavy says, “I want to be ready. I don’t want to miss opportunities.”
But he does not seem to be missing a thing.
Since joining the company in September 2016, the Frenchman launched a 2017 transformation plan comprising 45 initiatives aimed at adapting the firm to new market challenges.
Of them, there is one he is particularly passionate about: millennials.
Having started in hospitality at a young age himself, Chavy is counting on the next generation to take the company to the next level; so much so that he set up a Millennial Executive Committee.
“I think the millennial generation is key. They will, if not point us in the right direction, for sure prevent us from making mistakes. By 2020, [millennials] will be 50 percent of the workforce. So you better understand the expectation and how to lead and manage them and grow them and make the most of them in the labour force," says the 53-year-old.
“Most of them would be leading the company sooner than later. And it is my job to think about succession and the future and be ahead of everybody. Our industry will evolve a huge evolution, if not revolution. If I would have told you five years ago about Airbnb, Uber or the Amazons and Ali Babas of the world, or if I told you that Bentley would go into SUVs or Porsche would go into electrical cars, you would have said, ‘no way’. The world is changing at a fast pace… If you are not able to anticipate, you won’t be ready."
His French accent well into play, Chavy explains the committee will consist of 10 members aged below 32, who will shadow 10 executive members of the company, working side by side on critical topics such as guest experience, digital aspects and distribution.
“They will bring a lot. I have 26, 25 and 18-year-old kids, and today I learn as much from them as they learn from me. I have to admit it, [millennials] will help us. And there is no real hierarchy. For example, I wanted to give the millennials in the new committee business cards with their phone numbers and email addresses printed on them. They said, ‘Olivier, are you kidding? Just start a WeChat group where we can just interact’. This is the pace I will get with millennials,” he says.
Millennials, however, are not necessarily easy to work with. Staying true to a plan does not always come natural to this generation, who also become bored more easily, necessitating new assignments on a regular basis to help keep them engaged.
Still, Chavy says the positives outweigh the negatives.
“They’re very curious. They look under every single stone in the backyard, and more importantly, they are global and they are fast paced. Their backyard is a continent. It’s not a country or a city," Chavy says.
"You wouldn’t believe how much they have travelled the world and how much they understand and are fully aware of cultural differences versus other generations. Is it thanks to real life or the web or the ultra-fast communication? There are many reasons, but one of their strengths is their pace and ability to connect and understand the world. And in our business, being aware of cultural difference is key, because a millennial will understand that if you have some riots in the suburbs of Paris, they will not say, ‘Paris is burning’. They will say, ‘25 miles north of Paris, you have a hot night in the street of x city’.
"They understand micro and macro. On the other hand, you have to cope with [them] through stability, consistency and patience. But it’s a trade-off. It’s amazing how much they can bring."
A global citizen himself, Chavy reportedly travels 280 days a year, perhaps offering himself the same perspective as a millennial, revealing that he too cares about the experience more than a physical object. In fact, the chief executive says customers’ brand loyalty has almost entirely faded over the years.
“It’s a new era today and it’s more on the experience and recognition field. For example, I flew to Zurich on Monday morning. Did I fly Emirates to collect [Skyward] loyalty points or did I fly Emirates because of Terminal 3? I can tell you it’s because of Terminal 3, because Terminal 1 has nothing compared to Terminal 3. And I know Terminal 3 will take me half-an-hour less to pass through," he says.
"I know it’s recognition and it’s an experience. So I’m flying Emirates, in this case, for the experience."
And an experience is what he is looking to provide Mövenpick customers. Through a 2020 vision, Chavy plans to strengthen the brand in terms of guest experience, a succession plan and a new generation of leaders for the future that will help increase the hotelier's footprint in new and existing territories.
This includes expansion in the firm’s weakest markets, including London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Seoul, as well as resort destinations such as Africa, Seychelles, Maldives and Mauritius, in addition to Abu Dhabi.
So the chief executive’s advice for the millennial army he is building?
“Just go for it. Don’t look back. It’s okay to fail and it’s okay to make mistakes; they are part of the job. It’s like skiing. If you slow down on the slope, you will fall down. So just go.”
Looking at the speed at which Chavy is moving, we reckon the Frenchman is not falling down any slopes anytime soon.For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.