Interview

City Insider: Michael Zager, Chief Operating Officer at Hospitality Management Holding

FACT catches up with Michael Zager of Hospitality Management Holding to talk about brand expansion, new hotel openings and the impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry.

Can you please tell us a little about HMH – Hospitality Management Holding?

Hospitality Management Holding is a fully integrated pioneering hotel management company specialising in the dry sector and offers an expanding portfolio across the Middle East and North Africa. Being the largest operator in the dry sector within the region, HMH provides hotel owners and developers a broad spectrum of world-class management solutions with five distinct hotel brands that cater to all market segments from select-service to lifestyle and luxury. These include Ecos Hotels, Coral Hotels & Resorts, Corp Hotels, EWA Hotel Apartments and Bahi Hotels & Resorts.


What can guests expect from a stay at an HMH Hotel?

Our team and standards, as well as the location of our hotels, are ready to exceed our guests’ expectations with great locations in destinations that guests love. We offer elements of surprise and amenities and services that make our guests feel comfortable and welcome.


What would you say sets your hotel’s apart from their competitors?

Our team, brands, and hotels deliver the personal service that a big group very seldom consistently delivers. Our guests are looking for an experience and the HMH teams at the hotels are consistently delivering these wellbeing factors that guests are looking for.


As a Chief Operating Officer, please tell us about your day-to-day role and what keeps it challenging and exciting?

I am pleased to lead this group of hotels with a great talented team at the corporate office and the hotels. I start the day by looking at the daily reports and performance, guest comments and my schedule for the day to be well prepared. I speak a lot to my colleagues at the corporate office and make sure I can support them in their roles delivering services and support to our managed hotels. I also have many calls and video meetings with our leaders at the hotels, discussing the business, projects and initiatives with the General Managers. They are the Captains of their ships looking after our guests. Every minute invested in our associates is well invested time, supporting and empowering them to achieve and be their best self that day or week.

Every day is somewhat different and dynamic, which keeps it interesting and exciting and is why I’m in this industry – and you never stop learning – always be ready for change, adoption, and moving out of your comfort zone.


With properties in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan, Lebanon and Sudan, what’s next for HMH?

HMH is always ready to move also into another country that we might have not yet expanded to. We are looking to grow organically through contacts in the countries we are already present in and where we see great potential, like Saudi Arabia. We are also looking to expand with established investment groups with our brands to work on multiple hotel deals.

One of the focus brands is our newest lifestyle brand Ecos Hotels, with our 1st 300 room Ecos Dubai Al Furjan Hotel, to be ready for Expo 2020 in October this year.


The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the hospitality scene in the UAE. Do you think the industry is beginning to bounce back?

Yes, indeed – we are very optimistic and can see the business already picking up in all our hotels, be it KSA, UAE or Jordan. It will take still some time, probably another 18 to 24 months, to fully recover. People will always travel and want a change of scenery, especially now

that there are travel bans or restrictions. The money will be spent on travels just a bit later in the year and more next year.


What do you believe hotels have to do to stay relevant and ensure success during these unprecedented times for the industry?

Hotels and the management companies have to adapt and listen to the evolving needs and wishes of their guests and business partners – the business has changed, the needs have changed, the expectations have changed – so if you don’t adapt to this and also change, you will be left behind, won’t stay relevant and not be the preferred choice. The voice of the customer is most important and must be heard, understood and followed.


Do you believe peoples attitudes to hotel stays changed in light of the pandemic?

Yes, I think the attitude and expectations have changed since the pandemic. Guests now have higher expectations of security, cleanliness, flexibility and services. People have become more demanding and more careful and want to see the hotel as a valuable partner and provider

of all these attributes. Ensuring they are safe and their quality time while on business or holidays will not be spoiled.


Working in the industry, where do you like to stay when you have a day off? What are your favourite properties in the region?

Since I’ve worked in the Hotel industry for over 30 years, I have spent thousands of nights/days at hotels and have probably boarded the same number of flights. Honestly, when I’m off, I love staying home with the family or visiting friends or going outside to experience wildlife and nature.

I love the simplicity and am fascinated by boutique and lifestyle hotels and nice authentic five-star luxury hotels that get everything right, from service, quality, and consistency, with a nice design and excellent facilities that you don’t ever want to leave.


Could you please share with us some of your professional goals for the rest of the year?

We want to expand and continue building a high performing team at HMH Hospitality Management Holding. Opening our new Ecos Dubai Al Furjan Hotel near the Expo 2020 site successfully, expanding our reach into existing and new markets (KSA, UAE, Sudan and possible East Africa) and getting ready to prepare the teams at the hotels with the support and training needed to be ready for a brand new 2022.


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