The world’s largest hotel franchising company continues to open new hotels across the region and beyond, ArabiaTravelNews.com speaks to Panos Loupasis, Vice President Development, Middle East, Eurasia and Africa, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts EMEA, about new brands, getting tech savvy and staying relevant as travelers make a comeback.
What was the impact of Covid-19 on business globally at Wyndham Hotels?
Despite the challenges brought about by Covid-19, we continue to remain steadfast in our commitment to continued global growth and expanding Wyndham across Europe, Middle East, Eurasia and Africa (EMEA). While these are extraordinary times, we remain confident in the strength and resiliency of our industry with Mena already showcasing positive signs of recovery. In August, our properties in the UAE achieved its the fourth consecutive month of positive occupancy versus 2019. We also saw some positive revenue per room performance between May and August, achieved through both occupancy and average daily rate growth. The Dubai Expo has also played a role in the resiliency of the region and supported in steady booking increases.
What is the size of the company’s regional portfolio today, and what are your growth plans for the region ?
Our current regional portfolio includes 64 operational hotels and over 11,000 rooms with a development plan that reaffirms our commitment to delivering strong growth in key destinations. We are looking forward to bringing 22 additional hotels and over 3,000 rooms to the Mena region and providing accommodation that suits every type of traveler’s needs.
When we think about our opportunities for growth, our highest potential markets are a mixture of places where we already have an established and strong presence, as well as up-and-coming destinations.
Wyndham recently announced the Wyndham Alltra. Is there space in the market for another all-inclusive resort brand?
Wyndham Alltra is designed to make it easier for the everyday traveler to find truly outstanding all-inclusive hotel experiences outside of the current upscale and luxury options. This will provide an opportunity for hotel developers, owners, and investors to welcome new customers to all-inclusive hotels with unmatched support from Wyndham. The brand invites hoteliers to take advantage of Wyndham’s scale, distribution, services and loyalty program through this new all-inclusive brand.
Wyndham Alltra creates an all-inclusive resort experience that is distinct to the upper-midscale segment, offering upscale food and beverage, services, amenities and activities with an expressive local flavor. The brand will feature both family-friendly locations as well as adults only resorts. We believe there could be opportunities for an Alltra in the Mena region too.
We have successfully launched a few brands in some markets in the region over the last couple of years, including La Quinta by Wyndham, Days Hotel by Wyndham as well as Super 8 by Wyndham, highlighting there is space and demand for new brands at various price points, in the market.
What other brands are you keen to expand ?
We are keen to expand our brands where we know travelers want to be as well as in destinations where we already have a strong and established presence. With our strong global portfolio of 22 brands, and the growing tourism demand in Mena, we see many opportunities to continue to grow our economy, midscale and upscale offerings across the region.
Expanding our brand offering is an important part of our growth ambition for the EMEA region, and especially for the Middle East. This year we have already launched the first La Quinta by Wyndham in Dubai as well as Days Hotel by Wyndham Dubai Deira. These openings marked the entry of these brands in the UAE, complementing the launch of Wyndham Dubai Deira and Super 8 by Wyndham Dubai Deira, which both opened in late 2020.
These openings continue to cement our international presence and help us in our mission of making travel possible for all.
In an (almost) overcrowded market, how can you ensure each of Wyndham’s brands (existing and new) retain its positioning and concept?
With approximately 9,000 hotels in nearly 95 countries on six continents, our hotel brands offer a wide range of compelling experiences and price points for guests and strong opportunities for our franchisees, developers and partners. We take an owner-first approach to business and utilize our size and scale to offer resources, support and new opportunities to our owners, as well as offer some of the most flexible booking policies in the industry for guests. We also have the world’s most generous rewards program in the industry, Wyndham Rewards, which has 89 million enrolled members and provides them the opportunity to redeem points at thousands of hotels, vacation club resorts and vacation rentals globally.
Tell us about the shift in guest expectations and demands that you see today?
We have seen an uptick in demand for more contactless solutions, increased booking and flexibility, as well as enhanced hygiene and safety protocols and more sustainable accommodation offerings. At Wyndham we remain focused on the health, safety and well-being of our guests, team members and partners and have implemented a number of new initiatives to support these new demands and this evolving era of travel.
Some of these initiatives include the implementation of Count on Us, our long-term hygiene programme, which focuses on further enhancing our broad range of health and safety protocols across hotels in the EMEA region. We have also adopted new digital solutions including the roll out of our new Wyndham mobile app, which prioritizes low contact, in-stay features and our Wyndham hybrid meeting solution which combines live-streaming and in-person participation to meet the new demand for more agile meeting offerings.
Wyndham Green is our global sustainability program, a five-level certification program to help hotels improve energy efficiency, reduce emissions, conserve water and reduce waste. From the first level of this program, hotels must demonstrate commitment to key principles of Sustainable Hospitality. This program is gaining strong traction across Europe, Middle East, Eurasia and Africa and supporting guests’ increasing demand for more sustainable accommodation offerings and amenities.
To also meet the increasing demand for bleisure travel, we have also introduced a selection of work from Wyndham packages here in EMEA, which offers longer-stay options for those looking to combine their remote working capabilities with their leisure travel.
Have booking habits changed? Are you seeing more reliance on agents from customers looking for a hotel room now?
Guests are looking for more flexibility in the booking process, with evolving guidelines and travel restrictions, our flexible booking and cancellation policies have supported in rebuilding consumer confidence and ensuring they feel safe and comfortable when staying with us.
We encourage direct bookings through a variety of promotions as well as through our award-winning Wyndham Rewards Loyalty program, where guests can earn and redeem points and save on future stays. While direct channels enable valuable guest engagement features, we also recognize the importance of 3rd party booking channels that extend brand visibility and audience reach. We work with global Travel Management Companies (TMC), Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and Wholesalers, and ensure our mutual customers are well informed of our hygiene initiatives and guest offerings and to capture revenue for our hotels wherever travelers wish to book.
How long before you expect to see pre-pandemic occupancy levels again?
It is difficult to say when we will see global recovery as each country and region is and has been on a different trajectory since the beginning of the pandemic. As history has shown, the hospitality industry is notoriously resilient, and we feel confident that it will eventually rebound.
At Wyndham we have seen that travel is resuming, and our select-service business has surpassed 2019 levels and domestic leisure trips are leading the recovery. As the largest hotel franchiser in the world with approximately 9,000 hotels this is validation of our strong, stable, asset light business model.
Tell us about the new tech enhancements at Wyndham. How are you positioned to cater to the tech-savvy new normal?
Technology was already playing a key role in our industry, but Covid-19 has further accelerated the pace of digital adoption. Our focus on digital has become even more important in this context. Our new Wyndham mobile app has enhanced the guest experience with low-contact and in-stay functionality. It simplifies the hotel booking process and brings a more personalized user experience that adapts to users’ real-time needs based on where they are and what they want to do.
We recently announced the roll-out of a new suite of revenue management tools in EMEA as part of Wyndham’s long-standing partnership with OTA Insight, a leading cloud-based data intelligence platform. This will equip participating hotels with stronger and enhanced visualization of revenue performance metrics to support the rebound.
What role does technology play in improving the guest experience, especially in a post-Covid environment?
Technology has been playing a key role in enhancing guest experiences since pre-Covid-19 but as we navigate this new era of travel, digital adoption is being utilized to provide more contactless solutions to enhance the health, safety and well-being of guests, team members and partners. Some of these digital advances include the use of QR codes for F&B services, contactless check-in and check-out, as well as hybrid meeting solutions for business and corporate travelers to host meetings and events by combining the best of both in-person and virtual components.
How have guest expectations evolved? How do you ensure the highest standard of service ?
Guests’ expectations have evolved with the changing hospitality landscape, higher demand for more enhanced hygiene and safety protocols, more flexible booking policies and a stronger desire to book with brands they know they can trust.
At Wyndham we offer some of the most flexible booking policies in the industry, an enhanced hygiene and safety protocol program, Count on Us, where we also encourage our properties to nominate a “Hygiene Hero” to champion these enhanced protocols at the hotel-level. In support of our partners and to ensure they are providing guests with the highest standard of service, we’ve hosted numerous webinars with detailed guidelines for enhancing hygiene and operational standards, shared various hotel communications and checklists to support with the recovery process. We continue to closely monitor the situation and adapt our policies and our guidance accordingly.
What are your key focus areas to bring back profitability for the group? Will this be different for the region as compared to the rest of the world?
We continue to remain focused on the health, safety and well-being of our guests, team members and partners as we support the overall recovery of our business and industry. As each region and country has been on a different trajectory since the beginning of the pandemic, we remain focused on supporting our hotel partners by highlighting best commercial practices, marketing tools and resources for navigating through the recovery and beyond.
Has your vision for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts changed in the last year?
Throughout these challenging times, our focus at Wyndham has been on the health, safety and well-being of our guests, team members and partners and we remain committed to this as we continue to navigate the new normal. We are beginning to see positive signs of recovery across many corners of the globe and look forward to continuing our mission to make travel possible for all by offering accommodation options for every type of traveler.