Were you always planning on pursuing a career in hotel management? What were some early influences?
My family and I would travel extensively, so I was intrigued by hotels from a very young age. Even in London, we would go out for Sunday brunches at different hotels. I was fascinated by the ambiance, the environment, the service. By the time I was about to graduate from high school I really did know which career path I wanted for myself so I decided to take a business studies course with an emphasis on International Hospitality. So, that’s when I decided to take up Hotel Management.
You have over 24 years of experience in the hospitality industry. Tell us about your journey to General Manager – how did it all begin?
My first job was working at a hotel bar. When I was in university, it was a four year sandwich course and the third year was about working in a hotel. I joined a hotel up in the North of England and worked in almost every single department. I worked in portering, the kitchen, house cleaning, restaurants, and finance, but my goal was to work in sales. I spent the first 15 years of my career in sales and marketing and then transferred to operations, where I have been working for about ten years now.
I’ve been in Marriott International for the last seven years. I graduated from the University of North London in International Hospitality Management. I’ve spent the first 14 years of my life working in London out of the 25 years I’ve been in the industry. For the last ten years, I have traveled to four different countries. I was in Saudi Arabia, after which I went to UAE and spent some time in Abu Dhabi. I moved to Eastern Europe where I worked at Marriott in Moscow for over three years and prior to coming here, I was in Kazakhstan. I’ve been with Marriott International for the past seven years, and the General Manager of Le Meridien Dhaka for eight months now.
What are some of the fundamental traits that you instill in your staff as a manager? Could you tell us the necessity for each of these traits in the context of the hospitality industry?
What I’ve tried to instill in our colleagues and associates is that they have to understand and anticipate our clients’ every need. We are working in the people’s industry so it’s vital to have that relationship with the guests. Boutique hotels nowadays have excellent products and are known for their architecture and interior design. One of the key differentiators we have is the service. My main focus for the first six to eight months that I’ve been here was to deliver a world-class customer experience. We have made a lot of progress but we still have the scope to elevate the service further. One thing that makes me proud is when we fine-tune the guest experience. I believe we have one of the best service cultures in the country here. Every day brings us new challenges. Every person, every occasion and every day is different. You need people on your team that has the skills to adapt to the clients’ needs. We must tailor fit our service based on what the guests want.
What is your opinion about the current hospitality industry in Bangladesh? How can we further improve the tourism industry in the local context? Could you cite an example that we could learn and implement from?
I think it’s an absolutely exciting time to be in Bangladesh from the hospitality point of view. We have three hotels under development. Potentially we’ll be announcing more hotels this year as Marriott International. I believe if you have a great product, a great location and great service you have nothing to worry about. We, as a hotel, are very much focusing on guest experience. In the world of social media, it’s all about communicating with the people. We are living in a digital, fast-moving environment and we have to adapt and communicate through various marketing initiatives we have, through social, digital, as well as print media.
It takes a very long time for countries to become famous tourist destinations. The key essential is to have a long-term vision which requires a variety of stakeholders from the government, organizations, and clients. I believe the right way to do it is to have a long-term vision with everybody around you having a part to play. A very good example is if you take Bangkok or Vietnam and where their tourism industry was 20 years ago. Dubai can be another example. 20 years ago it was just another small fishing port in the middle of the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula but look at it today. I think with a strong commitment and the right leadership it can and will happen.
The hotel is located in the central business district and Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. In what aspects can this be beneficial?
I think one of the greatest advantages that our clients keep telling us about is the proximity to the airport. Another factor that comes to play in terms of location is that the city is moving. I’ve only been here for eight months but I understand that in 20 to 40 years, this area will be the hub. Business is moving in the same direction. I think we have a lot to gain from our location and as the road network expands, we will only shorten the time of our guests coming to the hotel.
What are Le Meridien’s vision and expectation from the market in terms of business growth potential?
We have had a phenomenal two years. The growth we have seen is unprecedented in such scenarios. The marketing department continues to work extremely hard to position the hotel as number one in Dhaka, not just as a hotel but also in terms of fine dining, casual dining as well as a catering destination. I think the way we’ll accomplish this is by re-inventing ourselves. We are constantly looking for ways to improve our food and beverage concepts, giving guests what they want and giving them something new. I think the combination of all those factors will always help keep us in the top slot.
You mentioned that the hospitality industry is constantly growing. In regards to that, what do you think sets Le Meridien apart from the other contenders in the industry? How do you establish yourself as a unique hotel in Dhaka?
I think our product is way above everybody else’s. The variety of products we have in terms of dining options, spa area, pool area, conference, and events are some of the largest and diverse spaces here. We have recently opened the infinity open-air deck on the 17th floor, which has become another option for our guests and clients to visit and utilize. Above all, the combination of product, service, location is very important, and as long as we keep reinventing ourselves and evolving, it’s a never-ending story.
What are some of the achievements of Le Meridien Dhaka in terms of society, economy, and the hospitality business?
We have won six awards since 2015 and we are going to hopefully win more in terms of positioning this hotel as number one in Dhaka. We value our CSR program and activities a lot. We have donated to charities and organized a cloth bank drop-off for some schools in Dhaka. Our target for this year is to participate in CSR activities every quarter. My team and I are working on an initiative for the first quarter of next month. We want to do something for the local community and give something back from the success that we had. We want to give back as much as we can. So we will actively organize at least four activities in terms of corporate social responsibility.
Le Meridien is one of our flagship hotels in South Asia. We currently have four flagship hotels in Dhaka – Le Meridien, The Westin Dhaka and Four Points by Sheraton Dhaka. We currently have three other flagship hotels in the pipeline. We have the JW Marriott, The Sheraton Banani, and we also have Courtyard by Marriott coming up. We want to increase the market share of our company within Bangladesh. We are also looking at other projects outside of Dhaka.
What are your expectations from the market based on your experience and expertise? Do you have any advice on improving the industry?
Our expectation is very positive. We have forecasted and budgeted good growth and we believe the economy is growing at a rapid pace. We are very confident that the economy will continue to grow in the next two to three years. However, there are elections this year and that’s what is in the back of our minds. If things continue the way they are in terms of security, political stability, and the economy, the indicators from all the key sectors are positive.