Your career spans almost 40 years, with many of the world’s luxury hotel chains and groups. What motivated your initial choice and what drives your motivation day by day?
While growing up I always wanted to be part of the hospitality industry. As a young kid I was always intrigued with hotels and restaurants. I loved skiing, football and used to play football regularly for my school and college. My time on football field taught me lessons that helps me even on the hotel floor. Whether playing sports or serving guests, everyone on the team has to come together to meet the same goal. There will always be ‘best days’ and ‘worst days,’ but success comes from learning today and working harder tomorrow.
When everything and everybody is going in the same direction, it creates magic for the guests. Creating that magic is what inspires and motivates me.
Regardless of the pandemic, what has been your approach to discovering, nurturing and motivating talent?
I like people who think out of the box and come up with ideas. I always consider the personality type and professional demeanour of any potential candidate. To create a truly effective and balanced team, it is imperative that this crucial compatibility element is prioritized. I have always maintained that the technical skills, experience and professional backgrounds which are so crucial for individual success must be balanced across the team to ensure the unity required in the strive for success.
I encourage my leadership team to enrol for Harvard and Cornell e-learning courses for their self-development. At group level, we have Accor Academy and Banyan Tree Management Academy wherein we provide learning opportunities at all levels, service culture program and leadership development programs.
Whether it is service standards or implementation of pandemic safety and hygiene measures, there are high expectations of consistency. Tell us more.
The government launched “Qatar Clean” program which was a key factor that helped the hospitality sector overcome the repercussions of the Covid-19 crisis and played an active role in pushing the country’s economy forward at a time of great uncertainty. The level of commitment shown by the Qatari government in engaging all stakeholders and ensuring the reopening of the service sector in a safe and secure manner has been inspiring.
Looking to the future, I am certain that this set of rules will benefit the economy the most if they are adopted at the global level. Our hotel has adhered to the guidelines of the “Qatar Clean” program, which imposed strict standards regarding sterilization and disinfection: to ensure the provision of a safe experience for guests.
In addition to the “Qatar Clean”, we also follow the “ALLSAFE” program which was implemented by May 2020, that has been developed and examined by Bureau Veritas company for hygiene and prevention standards, which provides assurance that these standards have been adhered to in Accor hotels as the health and safety of our guests is our absolute priority that includes the enhanced cleaning program In public places with frequent sterilization of all high touch areas, enhanced room cleaning protocols including additional disinfection of high-touch areas in the room and bathroom areas, enhanced food safety standards and new buffet protocols, training of staff teams on safety and public health.
Do you think that the ‘’new normal’’ will make hospitality fight harder to regain the trust / loyalty of the customers / guests?
No I don’t think so. Brands and hotels have worked hard to upgrade their hygiene and safety in this pandemic. And the loyal customer has more trust on the brands that they use and are confident about their hygiene. We saw most of our staycation and day cations are our loyal and repeat guests. They are coming and staying because of the confidence they have on us.
The brands that will lose on their guests are the ones who have not kept in touch or didn’t take safety and hygiene as a priority or the ones who lacked in their communication to the guests.
I would very proudly like to say that hospitality industry has worked together and build strong protocols and the most of the guests know they are more protected here even more than their homes.
Some argue that the perception of luxury by wealthy travellers has changed.
I am a firm believer that the perception of luxury hotels is constantly changing, albeit slowly. For many, luxury hotels used to be about elevating your lifestyle for a short period of time. Now the luxury traveller is more concerned with not compromising their lifestyle when they do travel. So, travellers are looking for somewhere that is in tune with them, their beliefs and their passions.
The pandemic has also made everyone more aware of spending time with family and loved ones and most importantly of all, not taking this for granted. I feel that when people travel to a luxury hotel now, they want to know that they are spending their time and money wisely and this includes staying at hotels that embrace sustainable travel, an important pillar for us as a group. Experience and discovery within a destination are more important than ever and our hotels are a great enabler of this with their individuality and authentic approach to hospitality.
Globally, the Covid-19 pandemic seems to have eased however, some challenges still remain. What about opportunities?
We are now focusing a lot on food delivery sales and takeaways. We are listed with all major food delivery apps to create awareness, visibility and generate sales.
We have been to able drive our takeaway sales by doing menu engineering. We have launched packaged catering concept which is also doing well.
Hence a new business model has come out during this period which will continue post pandemic as well.
Qatar government has also taken lots of initiatives in promoting sports tournaments especially football. Even though our industry is going through difficult times due to Covid-19 however Qatar as a market has seen a growth of business over the previous year’s driven by government initiatives and quarantine demand.
With vaccination drive in full progress, we anticipate market to recover by Q4 2021. With increased demand and less supply, our forecast for the hotel is very healthy and we anticipate the same to continue till end of FIFA World Cup 2022. “FIFA Tournament Time Demand Model (TTDM)” have forecasted 1.7 million people could visit Qatar during the FIFA dates with approximately 500,000 visitors in the country on the busiest days. So overall very healthy signs for the market.
Banyan Tree Doha is conceived as a very complex project, more like an urban resort. Tell us more.
It will be a one-stop destination comprised of luxury hotel, lavish residences, fine dining restaurants, prestigious French fashion department store Printemps, cutting ede Vox cinemas and state of the art, indoor, first ever theme park in Qatar, Quest.
It will feature the signature Banyan Tree Spa with a Rainforest hydrotherapy facility, Saffron fine-dining Thai restaurant, and Vertigo, a 28-storey rooftop bar overlooking panoramic city skyline of Doha.
For Italian food lovers, we will be having Il Galante a fine Italian dining restaurant, Qalamkarri, an Indian restaurant inspired by traditional Kalamkari art, and Panya Lounge, a patisserie with a combination of Asian and European flair.
What is the profile of the customer / guest you envisage? To what extent do you also target locals?
Local Qatari market is a big market for us in terms of staycation and dining experiences. The average spent is much higher than any other market. We have devised special packages for them for rooms, food & beverage and residences. We have devised special theme nights catering to this segment. We are also participating in “Chef’s of Qatar virtual Food Festival” organized by Qatar National Tourism Council (QNTC) in collaboration with talabat and Qatar Airways targeting local market, a clever and safe way of experiencing fine dining without leaving the home.
For Banyan Tree residences, we are also targeting international celebrities staying in Doha (footballers, coaches and luxury designers).
La Cigale is among the first property in Doha to meet international luxury standards. Are there plans for renovations?
La Cigale hotel is a winner of lots of World Travel Awards and has been recognised as Qatar’s leading Hotel by voters at the World Travel Awards in 2020. As we are one of the most popular food destination in the city, in next 8-12 months, we will do soft refurbishment of all our food & beverage outlets and will come up with exciting new concepts.
10. How important is that the two duo properties are now managed by Accor?
Accor is expanding its footprint in Doha in a big way. More and more luxury hotels are scheduled to open this year and next year. As a Cluster General Manager for both the properties, it helps me in aligning the strategies for both the hotels and helps in saving cost by having shared services.
We are able to cross sell both our properties and cater to different customer segments for both the hotels, with ultra-luxury to luxury fine dining options, rooms and residences.
Aurelio Giraudo holds a bachelor’s degree in Hotel Administration from Italian Hospitality and has completed a number of senior leadership programs at Cornell & Bocconi University.
Aurelio has 4 decades of experience with leading luxury hospitality companies including Four Seasons, Shangri-La, Preferred Hotels & Resorts, Dusit Hotels & Resorts, Marriott & Accor group. Aurelio is no stranger to Banyan Tree group as during his early years in hospitality industry he was working for them in Banyan Tree Bintan Indonesia.
In his current role, he is in charge of repositioning the La Cigale Hotel under the Accor umbrella and to ensure the successful opening of Banyan Tree Doha which will be the first co venture between Accor & Banyan Tree Group. With his extensive expertise in Sales & Marketing, Food & Beverage, Revenue Management and Finance departments, he will be responsible to achieve the commercial objectives of both the hotels and position the hotels as preferred destination for local and international travellers.
Aurelio is no stranger to Middle East market wherein he has held a senior leadership role with The Regency Hotel in Kuwait in the capacity of General Manager and Director of Business Development.
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