INTERVIEW: Regional VP – MEA, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Ignace Bauwens

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts

Hospitality powerhouse, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, is proudly raising its flag across the Middle East and the rest of the world. The brand’s regional vice president – Middle East, Eurasia and Africa (MEA), Ignace Bauwens shares the latest plans and strategies with Aleksandra Wood

 

TTG: Can you share some of the latest news from the Wyndham brand?
In April, the Wyndham Hotels & Resorts global conference took place in Vegas, led by the brand’s president and CEO, Geoff Ballotti. All subsidiary brands will now be endorsed by Wyndham and will adopt the ‘by Wyndham’ suffix.The endorsement of all our brands, inclusive of midscale and economy, will bring them under one family name, and secondly, will tie up with our loyalty programme, which has 55 million members.
Thirdly, conducted research has shown that by adding the ‘by Wyndham’ suffix and uniting all our brands, guests feel secure knowing the parent company of each of the hotels is a world-renowned brand such as Wyndham.
All of the above factors contributed to our final decision to adopt the ‘by Wyndham’ suffix and this is by far our biggest news yet.
Regionally speaking (Middle East, Africa and Eurasia), at the end of 2017 we introduced our Wyndham Garden brand to the region, which is our upper midscale brand, inclusive of the largest Wyndham Garden globally – Wyndham Garden Manama – as well as the largest Tryp by Wyndham in Dubai.
Wyndham Garden is steadily rolling out in the region, as we have further plans to expand in Ajman, the UAE, and Dammam, Saudi Arabia, in Q3, and I think we are gaining fantastic momentum with this brand.
All this is part of our plan to expand in the region, and we currently have 8,400 hotels in operation – 20 brands across 80 countries.
We recently acquired the La Quinta brand in the US, and upon finalising the integration, we expect our portfolio to bypass 9,000 hotels, giving us a great advantage over our competitors size-wise. And as Ballotti stresses, in today’s hospitality environment, size does matter.

THE HOTEL SHOW DUBAI 2019

TTG: Talk to me about the process of choosing a location when opening a new property.
It’s a combination of factors. First of all, we always look at partnerships, because there is always an owner who wants to build a hotel or open a hotel, so that is the first thing. The second thing is we conduct a lot of thorough research, because the key to the success of a hotel is the right brand in the right place at the right time. For example, bringing Tryp by Wyndham to Dubai was necessary because Dubai needs this midscale lifestyle hotel. Dubai’s vision is to reach 20 million visitors by 2020, so the city requires more midscale rooms, and Wyndham is a leading global hospitality player in the midscale market.
So, there is an owner, a market we study and within that market, we study what the right brand for it is. For example, an owner may want to build a Wyndham Grand hotel, whereupon we will conduct research to narrow down certain locations, which we believe will be more successful as a return in investment. This is always a discussion and ultimately, a unified agreement.
Location-wise, we look at demographics, we look at source markets, as well as the size of the property and the brand that will support this visionary.
From the economy brands to the upper upscale brands, Wyndham has a whole palette for the everyday traveller.

TTG: What sets Wyndham apart from today’s fierce competition?
As the region continues to transform and the market matures, the preference and profile of visitors are changing too. This is where it will be crucial for the hospitality industry to bridge the gap in the current hotel supply to cater to a more diverse traveller. Our footprint in the MEA region is growing exponentially and we want to be the region’s leading player in the mid-market hotel segment and are striving to elevate the experience of the everyday traveller. What sets us apart is the diversity of our brand offering. Our iconic hotel brands range from economy to upper-upscale, meaning we have options to suit all kinds of travellers, wherever in the world they want to go and regardless of how they want to stay. With a growing and diverse portfolio of 40 midscale hotels in the MEA region, we are confident that Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is strongly positioned to meet this objective.

TTG: What effect has the recent movement in technology in the hospitality industry had on loyalty programmes? How is Wyndham keeping on top of this trend?
One of our brand’s three key pillars is technology. To date, 14 of our 20 brands have moved to a cloud-based SynXis Central Reservation System, which makes us the first global hospitality company to have everything stored on the cloud. This was an extremely important long-term decision, because in the future, everything will be cloud-based, as this is a more secure method. This directly affects our loyalty programme, for which we also have a Wyndham Rewards app.
In the US, we are currently testing out a new feature on our app at a small selection of our hotels, which allows guests to check-in and check-out via their mobile.
We have also recently launched a new rate perspective, from which Wyndham Rewards members can get an added 10 per cent discount on the Best Available Rate (BAR).

TTG: What were some of the biggest challenges for Wyndham this year? What are some challenges you foresee?
Specifically speaking about the Middle East, it is the only region globally which has seen a REVPAR decline in the past year. After an era of double-digit growth year after year, it has been quite challenging to see this two-, three-year decline. Visitor numbers are surging and so are room numbers, however, not at the same pace. This puts great pressure on rates. If the hotel’s rates go down, it automatically impacts P&L, as well as the hotel’s overall performance.
At some point, this has to balance out and stabilise, because in the first quarter of 2018 we see brands stagnating in occupancy but still dropping in rates, so in the future we want to see the REVPAR rise again. I predict that by 2020, the region will overcome this challenge. The private sectors and the public sectors of the country need to unite to overcome this problem, especially in Dubai, by finding ways to drive more visitors to the destination.
Dubai has evolved its leisure and corporate hospitality segment dramatically to now represent a full destination – to which Dubai Parks & Resorts has made an outstanding contribution – Bahrain is building a new convention centre and expanding its airport, while Muscat is also expanding its hub. The hotels are there, but ultimately, it’s a boost in numbers that we need.