Four Seasons Sharm El Sheikh general manager Jean Claude Wietzel discusses the challenge of operating in an area served mainly by charter flights and the new guest target markets for 2009.
How long have you worked at Four Seasons Sharm El Sheikh and where were you working before that?
I've worked for Four Seasons now for seven years. I started at the Four Seasons in New York as a hotel manager then I moved to the Four Seasons Paris after about a year and a half. I was there for four years then I went to Egypt a bit more than a year ago and started at Sharm El Sheikh.
As Sharm El Sheikh’s only luxury hotel we could do with more major airlines flying in.
What do you perceive to be the property's strengths and weaknesses in the market?
I think that the strong point for the property is the resort and property itself really. You really get a sense of the location when you arrive in Sharm El Sheikh.
The style of the architecture, the 40 acres of gardens and the beautiful view of the Red Sea all combined with the friendliness of the people are definitely what I'd consider to be the strong points of the Four Seasons Sharm El Sheikh.
As for the weaknesses, well there are always areas we can improve upon. The main one for the Four Seasons Sharm is the rooms. The property is now seven years old so it's time to do a soft refurbishment of the resort where we can renovate the rooms.
It's a great opportunity to add some improvements, even though most people are pleased with the standard of the hotel. We do have lots of guests returning and when you have people coming back then you have to constantly renovate and keep things new and novel.
What are the challenges you face at Sharm El Sheikh?
When I first arrived one of the challenges is that the property is a bit of a victim of its own success. Because it is such a popular resort we often find that we don't have enough rooms as we only have 190.
It's especially a problem with guests from the Middle East tending to book at the last minute, unlike the guests from Europe who generally reserve way ahead of their holiday, so it's all [confirmed].
But then we get guests coming from the GCC market and we cannot provide them with rooms, which is frustrating for the guests and ourselves, but this is simply the nature of the GCC market. We're planning to address this challenge by expanding the resort in the future, adding a golf course alongside another 190 rooms.
One of the current challenges, however, is the access - the air traffic. Sharm El Sheikh is still very much relying on charter flights through tour operators and travel agents. In the future the growth of Sharm depends on what flights are offered.
There are lots of properties that aren't built or finished yet, but when they are, there is a danger that there will be more on offer than the demand is asking for.
As Sharm's only top luxury hotel we could do with more major airlines flying from Europe in particular, as many of our guests don't want to fly in economy class or on charter flights.
The only direct (schedule) flight from London to Sharm is with EasyJet, which has no business class. This route from London used to be operated by GB Airways, which was good for us because they had a business class that many of our guests are looking for.
Do you think the global financial situation is going to present a major challenge to the hotel?
We may see some impact from the financial crisis. We haven't seen any impact yet, but it may come. We finished 2008 strongly, but there is a lot of uncertainty about 2009.
One of the plans for us to tackle this as it hits is to target the GCC more where they haven't, up until now, felt the crisis as much. We are also looking to tap into new markets such as the Czech Republic, Croatia, Poland and the Scandinavian countries.
Are there any trends that you are seeing currently in the local market?
Well it's not really a trend yet, but what we are seeing more of is women travelling alone.
We are finding more women coming to the resort alone, so we are trying to cater to them. To encourage women who want to travel by themselves we assign them what is called an angel.
This is someone from the hotel - a female manager - that welcomes the woman, see if she needs anything when she arrives and then keeps in contact with the guest during her stay and makes sure she is comfortable or whether she needs anything in particular, especially in terms of safety.
We have had good feedback from this so far, it is very positive because they feel very safe. This is helped by the fact the entire resort of Sharm El Sheikh is safe and also the fact that we don't allow non-residents in to the hotel.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.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.