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Elie Younes Hospitality-Executive VP, Chief Development Officer, Radisson Hotel Group “A vital part of our journey towards reaching the top three has been the creation of a new brand architecture”

A Lebanese national and English citizen, Elie began his career in managerial roles in his home country before joining HVS in London in 2001. In 2007, he joined Starwood in London as Senior Director of Acquisitions and Development. His next move took him to Hilton Hotels Worldwide as Vice President Development, based in Dubai, before joining Radisson Hospitality AB (formerly Rezidor) in 2010. Elie leads Radisson Hotel Group’s expansions across Europe, the Middle East & Africa with an international team. Under his leadership, the group has launched and delivered an active asset light strategy with a solid pipeline of 120 hotels and opened over 110 hotels across EMEA. He has recently re-engineered Radisson Hotel Group’s development strategy to focus on an asset right growth and accordingly adjusted the organization and its corresponding capabilities for execution.

Since you joined, Radisson Blu has cemented its position as one the largest upper upscale brand in Europe. What was the driver for this, and how do you see the future?

What we did for the last six years was an evolution of the great achievements of our predecessors – so I first pass the credit to them.

We built on our strong roots in the Nordics region. We’re still the largest international operator in those countries, with Radisson Blu the largest international brand. We also enabled our pole position in Eastern Europe for Radisson Blu, which continues to be the largest upper upscale brand in these markets. Two other key markets for the brand are UK and Germany where we continue to have a very strong presence.

Looking forward, we’ll further strengthen this position – hence why we created our new asset-right strategy to enable growth in key cities in Western Europe (notably in Germany, the UK and parts of Southern Europe).

As the growth for the brand slowly saturates in some markets, the next phase is to leverage the brand recognition to roll out our new Radisson family brands – including Radisson, Radisson RED and Radisson Collection. This provides great opportunities for our key stakeholders: our guests and our owners.

Radisson RED Glasgow
Radisson RED Glasgow

Radisson Hotel group now has eight brands in its portfolio. Which are the more promising for Europe, and what are your targets for each?

A vital part of our journey towards reaching the top three has been the creation of a new brand architecture. It gives us better growth opportunities, all while streamlining our operations so that our hotels deliver the same high-quality experiences wherever you are in the world – with a local touch.

Under this new architecture, we’re focused on growing six of our brands that have a clear market positioning, from economy to premium lifestyle.

Starting at the top end, last year saw the launch of our Radisson Collection brand – our premium lifestyle collection of exceptional hotels located in unique locations. We’ve seen almost 20 properties sign up to it in a year, which is a remarkable achievement – and we have even more to come in 2019.

Radisson Royal Hotel Moscow
Radisson Royal Hotel Moscow

With Radisson Blu, we’re looking to maintain our position as the largest upper upscale brand in Europe, while reaching new destinations like Munich and Barcelona. Radisson, on the other hand, is a brand that we’re just introducing to new markets across Europe. This will be a key focus area for us in coming years as we look to diversify our offering in mature markets especially. We’ve already had a lot of success in adding a handful new signings to the portfolio.

Radisson Larnaca Beach Resort
Radisson Larnaca Beach Resort

We have significant plans to accelerate the growth of Radisson RED across EMEA. In 2018, the opening of our property in Glasgow (which already delivers the highest RevPAR in its market) as well as signings like Madrid and Liverpool are a great indicator of the potential of this brand. The Park Inn by Radisson journey will continue as it has done, developing properties in key locations in Europe and emerging markets.

What are the strengths of Radisson Hotel Group in Europe? Its weaknesses?

Our roots are from Europe – this helps.

Our key strength is our speed, agility, responsiveness and our pragmatic mindset. We’re creative, yet simple. We believe in long-standing relationships based on trust, responsibility and accountability – an approach that continues to serve us well.

Our operations teams have done an amazing job over the last year to put in place an efficient and sustainable operating model. We now probably deliver the highest GOP margin among the international players, which is critical to our owners.

We’re also finalizing the deployment of around €300m in our leased assets to enhance the image of our brands, which further contributes to our strength.

No one is immune from weaknesses. Ours is probably that we waited too long to leverage the Radisson name and exploit such potential globally. But this is now being addressed.

How do you analyze the transformation of the hotel product in recent years? How will the hotel of tomorrow be according to you?

Let s address the hardware and the software separately.

From a real-estate perspective, the hardware, hotels have probably become more efficient in terms of space. Financially, they become more commoditized where ownership changes more often than it did 20 years ago. The family-owned hotel has transformed into an institutionally owned asset. This will likely continue.

From a business angle, owning the access to a hotel room has become as important as owning the real estate – which gave rise to the OTA’s. I ask myself whether they’ll be replaced by another form of distribution. Sure, they will; but I don’t know whether this will be an evolution to the existing model or a disruption that brings about something completely new. Whoever gets that answer will become a billionaire.

When it comes to the software, I saw a recent advertisement showing a hotel that only had robots serving people. I hope this isn’t the future, though I know technology will significantly influence tomorrow’s hotels in all aspects. The industry will also be shaped by the needs of its consumers – localization and authenticity are another theme on this.

What are the ingredients for a successful hotel and happy employees for you?

Let s first go back to basics when it comes to successful hotels. Location is vital. But before location, I say people, as they are the ones providing the service, the experience and driving the results.

As for employees, a culture of trust, transparency, responsibility and fun is a good basis for what makes everyone happy.

Does Jin Jiang’s arriving in the group change your roadmap?

Jin Jiang is our new majority shareholder and, as a company with plenty of experience in hospitality, is a great fit for us. Overall, it is still too early to anticipate, but our hopes are high in terms of unlocking the Chinese markets and further enabling our expansion. 

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