‘Business is booming’

President and CEO Paul McManus, The Leading Hotels of the World, talks to Keith J Fernandez about the company’s plans and more
McManus … ‘We can facilitate the placement of qualified graduates and interns within member hotels’

The luxury hospitality organisation, The Leading Hotels of the World, opened a regional office at Knowledge Village in Dubai last month, the group’s 24th regional office worldwide.

The new office will offer an enhanced range of services to both member hotels and potential customers, including a new dedicated central reservations office, providing easy access to more than 420 hotels worldwide, as well as providing a base for its joint venture companies, The Leading Hotel Schools of the World and Leading Quality Assurance.
The organisation, which was established in 1928 with 38 member hotels, among them Hotel Negresco in Nice and the Mena House in Cairo, today represents more than 420 of the world’s finest hotels. It has 12 hotel members in the Middle East (eight in the UAE). While it was formerly known primarily for its global distribution, reservations and marketing conduit for its member hotels, resorts and spas across 80 countries, recent initiatives have focused on both training and quality assurance programmes designed to address requirements of its members in these areas. President and CEO Paul McManus spoke to TTN. Excerpts from the interview:

Why an office in the Middle East? What will it achieve?
There is high demand for luxury hotel product in the region, both inbound and outbound. Also, we wanted to establish a presence in the financial and commercial centre of the Middle East.

What special services will you be offering Arabic guests?
Arabic-speaking staff who are sensitive to the cultural and social needs of the region. Our staff also have excellent local market contacts.

Why a focus on the school network?
The phenomenal growth of the hospitality sector in the region means there will be pressure on human resources. With constant additions to the hotel stock in every city in the region, quality standards will become a vital benchmark to enable individual properties to maintain their competitive edge – and it is here that Leading Hotel Schools of the World can help.
We can facilitate the placement of qualified graduates and interns within member hotels, provide staff training programmes; customise private-label training for hotel companies and deliver on-site, on-campus or e-learning experiences. As every hotel opens, there is continued pressure to recruit the most experienced or  qualified staff, and from our new base in Dubai, we will be able to offer a single resource for our members, giving them an added advantage in this area.

Tell us about the Leading Quality Assurance?
It’s a joint venture created to support member hotels by offering them a full-service quality inspection service aimed at improving levels of operating performance. Incognito inspectors acting as guests check out more than 1,500 points at a member hotel, from check-in, food and beverage and public areas through to room comfort and maintenance, and their reports enable management at that hotel to recognise areas that need refinement. The data means an individual property can set standards, identify training needs, improve service delivery and benchmark its operation against other luxury operators.
Many of our hotels are either independent or belong to smaller groups, such as Jumeirah International and Rotana in this region, and it is these properties in particular that are looking for assistance with the development of human resources and benchmarking assessments to ensure quality standards are met and enhanced.
As the reputation of the Middle East as a thriving commercial and tourism centre grows, it will no longer be enough to build a hotel and open the doors – the winners will be those that can offer a quality of service to match that of the architecture and décor.
What should a guest understand from The Leading Hotels of the World plaque on a property?
The Leading Hotels plaque is the internationally recognised imprimatur of quality in the hospitality industry. When guests see it, even if they are not familiar with the particular hotel, they will know that it has met our exacting standards of quality.

What factors determine a guest’s experience of a hotel?
A guest at a Leading Hotel can expect the finest in service, cuisine, accommodation, product and comfort.

If a guest feels the hotel doesn’t meet the quality promise of the plaque, what recourse is available?
The guest should first make his or her feelings known to hotel management, and if putting the issue in writing, should copy the New York office.

What are your market projections for the luxury sector?
Business is booming. Thus far this year, we are 13 per cent ahead of last year – which was the best year our company ever had – even better than 2000 – the previous best year.

What are the group’s future plans for the region?
This year we will see the completion of the opening of our three newest offices – the year of the “ai” – Mumbai, Dubai and Shanghai.  We are looking strategically at the possibilities in Qatar and Oman and other destinations in the region that represent emerging markets of and for international travellers.

What next? Are you likely to launch the Leading Spas here?
Yes. While this will be an ongoing global programme, we look forward to spas of the calibre of those at Burj Al Arab or The Jumeirah Beach Hotel applying for inspection.

How did you get into hotels?
Working in hotels over summer vacations when I was in high school and college.

Is it difficult for a bellhop to make it to the top? What qualities does he need?
Anyone with the drive and ability to develop their talents can advance in the field, through education and initiative. One needs to be knowledgeable, outgoing, committed to quality – and to understand that a career in hospitality will require more personal sacrifice – i.e. time – than careers in many other fields.

A hair-on-your-plate, inattentive service, restaurants that are not soundproofed – what lets a restaurant down in your eyes most? 
Inattentive service and insincere hospitality – the “have a nice day” mentality.

A hotel?
Inconsistent service standards among departments – offering top-notch front office service and lax housekeeping, for example.

What’s the biggest misconception people have of luxury hotels?
That they are intimidating and expensive. In fact, the true luxury hotel experience offers the best value for money – exceptional comfort, convenience and unobtrusive, sincere service.

What important lessons have you learnt on your way to the top?
To treat people well – as I would like to be treated.  And to find a little joy in everything you do.