A German national, Felix Hartmann has been working in the UAE since 2006. While he has opened several successful F&B venues, he had never opened a hotel until he joined Mövenpick and Accor in July 2018. Within the last 12 months, Hartmann has opened Grand Plaza Mövenpick Media City and Pullman Sharjah, two diverse properties across two different markets, both operated by Accor. We caught up with him to ﬁnd out more about his approach to the pre-opening process.
How do you ensure the right balance when it comes to hiring a preopening team?
I have found it very positive to have a team in place that combines a variety of skills, in contrast to a team that has only pre-opening experience. Understanding the local market, the neighbourhood and communities and the competitors is equally important as members of the team who come from respective brand backgrounds and deliver components such as technology, systems, operating standards, finance and PR & marketing.
Whereas I’ve found it also very beneficial to have talent around us with pre-opening experience, I’ve equally enjoyed learning from colleagues without hospitality experience or coming from other hotel brands to join the team.
How do you translate this into executing a successful hotel opening?
While in a very competitive market, the opening date is a goal to achieve and strive for, awareness prior and beyond that magic date is the key factor to consider. Awareness is not only achieved by your sales representation but each team member sharing, speaking and promoting the product and quality the property delivers. This starts by implementing a culture of open and transparent communication and also by believing in and fostering excellent customer service without compromising on quality. This will lead to excellent online reputation, awareness and eventually to seamless distribution.
What advice would you give to a hotelier about to embark on a preopening experience?
Begin with the end in mind and start from the procurement phase to put together all elements that are required to ultimately deliver a product to the customer – one that is true to its concept and brand promise. It is essential to have a strong local network of suppliers to ensure deadlines are met. Think innovatively, yes, but also think customer centric and eventually deliver a product your customers are looking for. But let the product stay true to the brand and adapt based on the market and the audience you are speaking to. Your guests will feel and honour a product delivered with passion. Last but not least, be patient and be prepared for challenges; they will arise and whether they are related to licensing, contractors, time or third parties, you will overcome them with your team and as a team, and never alone. Camaraderie amongst the opening team is contagious and makes someone easily eager for more openings.
What would you say are the key ingredients for a successful opening?
- Trust your team and empower them.
- Keep one eye on the commercial and the other on the operational set-up.
- Do not compromise on quality, and think “customer-centric”.
- Work hand in hand with the owner towards the achievement of his vision and investment.
- Manage your time, talent and costs sensibly.
- Dare to ask for advice, help and support – whether from your corporate ofﬁce, local authorities, sister properties or owners. Everyone is interested in the same objective.