Putting up a hotel from a ‘china storeroom’

STEPHAN KILLINGER, opening general manager at the Four Seasons Alexandria continues his Alexandria Diary for TTN in this second part
Building, block by block

THERE’S an air of expectancy as we get closer to opening date and one by one, our Planning Committee has come on board.

Ashraf Elmanawaty joined me in August as director of marketing. He’s the lucky one, moving from one beautiful coastline of Egypt [in his previous capacity at the Four Seasons Resort Sharm El Sheik] to another! Our director of engineering Robert Scoon transferred from our sister resort in Nevis, West Indies, in mid-August – and the other members of this very important team so far are director of finance Walid Kahil, our chief engineer Adel Galal, director of HR Rafaat Abu El Magd and director of security Ashraf Nofal.
Indeed, as I write, from the temporary pre-opening office before we move in a short time to the actual pre-opening premises, I feel like I’m in a china shop. We are still awaiting the arrival of our F&B director and until then, my office is being used as a make-shift china storeroom, with floor to ceiling shelves stacked high with fine china, glassware, silverware and more! It’s all very exciting – I’m watching a hotel take shape before my eyes and it’s like watching a child being born: there’s pride and trepidation mixed up in one. Every general manager who has been in my position will know what I mean – there is always something arriving or ‘happening’ that it’s like a great big jigsaw waiting for the final piece to be put in place! There are constant meetings with the team – both as a group and one-to-ones as we work through the ‘to do’ list which seems never to get any shorter.
News of Four Seasons’ impending opening is spreading like wildfire and each day brings another batch of letters with resumes attached. The letters are not only from potential employees from Alexandria, they’re coming from all over Egypt. The Four Seasons name is highly recognised in this country. We’ll be holding recruitment interviews soon and this will be an on-going procedure for our HR team and heads of various departments over the coming months. Training progr-ammes will soon be implemented.
We are getting tremendous support from the hotel’s owner who travels weekly from Cairo to Alexandria for meetings and to follow up on the project progress. It’s crucial that we meet and also that he supports us, and as an Owner of the fourth Four Seasons property in Egypt, we want to make sure that we will give him a hotel to make him proud, for this property is in his home town of Alexandria and extremely close to his heart.
We’ve managed to get two rooms mocked up and photography for collateral has taken place with images arriving within the next month. This means we are able to prepare pre-opening material for the local market, to give people in Alexandria an idea of what’s to come. We’ll then be concentrating on collateral for the wider market – rack materials and the web site are priorities.
Alexandria is recognised as one of the most notable summer resorts in Egypt, with white sands and magnificent scenery stretching for 140 kilometres along the coastline from Alamein in the east to Sidi Abdul Rahman in the west. But overall, the beaches are overcrowded, although some of the more affluent have built their own cabanas. Having seen what is available outside, I know that the European-style private beach – a focal point of the leisure offerings at Four Seasons – will be unique and, along with our marina, a fabulous asset because people won’t have to drive miles for seaside privacy.
Our spa plans are also attracting a lot of attention. The spa will be an integral part of our facilities and it’s interesting watching it grow and being involved in the meetings to discuss even the tiniest detail of its construct-ion. Likewise, being involved with the planning of the health centre with its cardiovascular emphasis. People here go to gyms but the equipment we want to bring in will be very different – very sophisticated and state-of-the-art.
On the domestic side, my family and I are very settled in our new home which my wife has arranged beautifully. Socially we have been enjoying meeting new friends and discovering that – at the moment at least – entertaining at home is more the norm than eating out. I’m sure Four Seasons will change that when it opens!
More from me next month!
…from Stephan in San Stefano, September 2006