I had the pleasure to meet Tarek during his first tenure at Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Bosphorus, one of the world’s finest luxury hotels, a true architectural marvel located meters from the Bosphorus. I followed Tarek during his next tenure at a new hotel which took the first spot in performance among all luxury Istanbul Hotels
Tarek’s first Four Seasons tenure dates back since 1999, now since 2016. His first Four Seasons appointment was at Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at The First Residence which is not only the first Four Seasons to open in the Middle East but is also a ‘incubator’ of talent, Egyptian being known for their innate (one might say genetic) genuine passion to service, from the heart. It is not only the high standard of service but also the effortless approach.
The secret to his continued success is the leadership of his team which he has been achieving in the most natural way. Discovering and nurturing talent is yet another angle to Tarek’s success. Tarek is very much down to earth and ‘on the floor’, still a rare approach of many GMs. Although he would not be at the property he is always connected and has always impressed me with his speed of reaction and most importantly that comes from his respect. Another ‘secret’ is his continuous strive to stay positive and take joy in the smallest of achievements – it takes a positive and happy team to deliver results. He hates ‘stagnation’ and loves action.
Then, there is his innovative spirit, last Summer creating a Turkish pop-up restaurant on the deck in front of the hotel, while in December he opened a skating rink and 10 glass enclosed heated luxury cabanas – all open till March. And his quest for success is relentless. During the entire year the hotel is proud to welcome local patrons who may visit for a coffee, a Spa treatment or a swim – choice of indoor heated and outdoor.
Istanbul just keeps getting better and better for Tarek Mourad. So, too, does his Four Seasons career. Initially appointed to manage Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet back in 2007, Mourad served close to four years before moving on to open Four Seasons Hotel Baku in 2011. Three years following that success, he departed the company to play opening and pre-opening roles for other international hotel groups: the first for an address in Istanbul, the second for one in Amman.
Now Mourad is back with Four Seasons in the historic gateway between Europe and Asia again, excited to be dual General Manager with responsibility for the Sultanahmet property as well as for Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus.
The city and the country around it have come a long way for travellers since Mourad’s earlier Istanbul posting. “I can feel and sense the evolution of modern Turkey over the course of the decade in between,” he says, detailing the “amazing quality” of new shopping opportunities, particularly for the fashion minded; the “uniqueness” of new culinary offerings at a growing number of restaurants and lounges; the “beautiful recreational opportunities” on the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara and even nearby skiing; impressive upgrades to local infrastructure; and more. All of this creates a perfect mix of “East and West,” “Yesterday and Tomorrow,” and “Modern and Traditional,” adding to the rich historic layers that make the city unique, he says. “People don’t realise all that is new here activity-wise. Istanbul presents culture and nature in an amazing manner.”
Concurrent growth of luxury hotels within the city has increased competition for Four Seasons, not least from the property Mourad opened for another hotel group. He’s not worried. “I always see competition as a great plus,” he says, explaining that increased offerings for travellers mean increased opportunity to impress them. “Every property is after its own share of the cake. But as the cake becomes bigger, shares of growth become more profitable.” Meantime, Mourad sees competition for the Hotels’ restaurants and lounges as “the push we need become even more creative and continue to evolve.”
Key to that evolution, Mourad says, is the remarkable service culture that has gotten Four Seasons where it is today. “As at any of our hotels, the Istanbul properties need to present the very best guest experiences to the world while maintaining the intangibles that make them unique,” he explains. “The goal is to always be one step ahead so that we can continue to satisfy our guests’ hunger for things that touch the heart and the soul.”
Mourad calls managing the two Hotels “quite fascinating, because they represent the best of what Turkey offers from so many angles.” Notably, he points to location: with its setting within the city’s oldest district near cultural landmarks such as St. Sophia, Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque, the Sultanahmet hotel lies “at the heart of the real fantasy of any visitor coming to Istanbul,” he says. Meanwhile, the Bosphorus property, located in one of the city’s trendiest neighbourhoods and with an endless terrace for dining and social events overlooking the glorious seafront where East meets West “represents Istanbul at its most contemporary, fashionable, and happening today.”
Hospitality runs in Mourad’s blood. His mother worked in communications for hotels in his native Cairo, and two of his close uncles were general managers. Growing up in the early 1970s, luxury hotels were places to be for high society in his hometown and local kids from English language schools signed on for summer training.
Mourad got his start as a liftboy and a page when he was 14 before getting sidetracked by the Egyptian national youth football team. When he returned to hotel work at age 20, a “beautiful Nubian concierge with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen” inspired him to throw himself whole-heartedly into the job. “I did,” he remembers, “and I’ve never looked back.” He joined the pre-opening team of Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at The First Residence in 1999.
“Our industry is the simplest in the world: do what it takes for the guest to have exceptional experience. And for that,” he says, “you need passion.” Combine passion with consistency, he continues, “and you’ll be miles and miles ahead.”
With the Sultanahmet property celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2016 and the Bosphorus approaching its 10th anniversary in 2018, Mourad returned to Istanbul in time to oversee renovations to each. The focus is on “injecting new excitement into our food and beverage concepts,” he says, adding, “Many of those who come to our Hotels don’t want to go anywhere else. If they trust us that much, we need to give him more variety.” Whatever the result, all work will be done nimbly, as Four Seasons does, with the Hotels still under operation. “Our guests would never forgive us if we closed,” he says with a laugh. The renovations plans with culminate with the addition of a brand new restaurant at Bosphorus.
Whatever is on his agenda managing two Four Seasons properties at once, one thing is certain: Mourad always gets home in time for supper. “I spend very little time at work,” he says slyly, noting that he has always held it as imperative to finish each day on time. “Working late will only result in less innovation, less sociability, and a less healthy person all around.” And that just wouldn’t do in a city like Istanbul.
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