Joining Wyndham Hotels & Resorts in April 2018 as President and Managing Director for Europe, Middle East, Eurasia and Africa, Dimitris Manikis has spent the last year overseeing the development of all the group’s brands in the EMEA region. He sat down with Sleeper in Berlin at the International Hotel Investment Conference 2019 to discuss the issues facing hoteliers in the year ahead, the power of diversity and what guests can expect from Wyndham this year.
You joined Wyndham Hotel Group nearly a year ago now; what have been the main developments in that year for you and the brand?
It’s been a rollercoaster for me, and an amazing year for Wyndham. We went public when we span off from Wyndham Hotels & Resorts in June which was a big step; we opened up new markets; created more and more opportunities for our brands; and, technology-wise, we connected more people, hotels and properties through our systems and interface. We launched Ramada Encore following a redesign and revamp, and improved our presence in emerging countries like Cyrpus and Georgia. In Greece growth has been especially fast, with 10 new openings and pipeline projects. I’ve also seen a lot of young talent coming through the business, which is incredible to see. In our London office there are 14 different languages spoken, and for me this is the beauty of hospitality, an inclusive landscape where we’re all united by one concept.
Has this culture of diversity benefited the brand?
Absolutely, it helps enormously; all the different perspectives benefit our work immeasurably. I find the inclusive aspect of hospitality fascinating, and when I arrived at Wyndham this diverse structure was already in place, so it was a perfect foundation to build from. We’ve hired more people from India to Turkey to Hammersmith, and all the different ideas I’ve heard as a result have been incredible.
Are there any specific goals you have for Wyndham Worldwide?
I need to build certainty and stability for the team, and create the best possible roadmap for them to follow. We have a mix of field-based and office-based staff working for us, so some people often don’t get a chance to connect properly with the rest of the group. For me it’s important that those far from the mothership are engaged, and understand the principles that make Wyndham Hotels what it is. We have a great culture, but I’m looking to communicate more, and get out there in the field to make sure the common goals and objectives. Personal development is also important – it’s vital to create a job and atmosphere that people love coming to.
How do you think it’s best to achieve this?
I think a very interesting approach is actually the one taken by Ole Gunnar Solskjær at Manchester United. He walks in and says to the team: I haven’t got much to tell you, just go out there and do your best. And what happens? They get 13 consecutive wins. He’s not a huge managerial name, but he understands that allowing his team to express themselves – and encouraging them to have fun whilst doing this – will result in success for both the team and the individual. One of the brand’s key values is exactly this: have fun doing it.
Wyndham Grand has quite a few openings planned for this year, how have you chosen the locations?
In some cases the locations chose us thanks to the quality of the property, and our partners have come up with some great products too. Wyndham Grand Kayseri in Turkey and Wyndham Grand Crete Mirabello Bay – set to open in May – felt perfect, and were brought into the fold because we felt that a Wyndham Grand could do real justice to these properties. The Wyndham Grand in Tblisi, Georgia, is another stunning hotel. It’s about how the product fits both the surroundings and our values. Georgia, for example, is becoming one of the leading tourist destinations in Europe, and we’re there with four properties already. The quest for something different has driven a lot of millennials especially to finding these previously overlooked locations, and the cheaper flights help too.
Are there any big innovations or changes planned for the year ahead?
We’re looking at the guestrooms and lobbies of certain properties ahead of possible revamps, but I think you need to be careful with innovation and change. If you try to shift drastically and radically change a business the scale of ours you can find that you hit a wall. There will always be guests who want the consistency of a brand, and who know what to expect. Whether it be a branded hotel in Greece or Turkey our guests expect certain elements, and even if the design differs slightly to immerse it in the local culture, the brand standards will remain the same. I love design-led hotels, and projects that make sure they stand out from anything else with their design, but design isn’t all about creating something brand new; not everyone is looking for a disruptor. That’s why some of those brands have 20 hotels and we have over 9,000. It’s not a competition, just different perspectives.
What do you think are the biggest challenges the industry will face?
Labour shortages seem to be the main issue we’re facing. A lot of people I talk to are very worried about this. To address this we need to be attractive again as an industry, we need to draw new talent in, and for those we bring in we need to show them that hospitality can be a career, not just something you do for 6 months. Wyndham partners with multiple universities and hospitality schools for this purpose. Young people need to be aware of this. I also think the acquisitions market could potentially stagnate due to what seems like a constant search for that holy grail of the most exciting new brand or design element. With so many brands launching all the time, the consumer might tire and lose interest. In hospitality we have to be very careful of this, it could create confusion and guests might lose sight of who we are and what we do.
What can guests expect from Wyndham this year?
We’re going into some new markets that are very exciting for us, whilst continuing to work with our key partners. It’s always great to welcome new partners, but for me a longstanding relationship with a partner means trust and belief in who we are. I’m going to be very interested to see how the La Quinta brand is received when we bring it to Europe, and we’re also going to be exploring several opportunities in Africa. We have a few projects here and there in the region, but Africa is still a real unknown for us at the moment, which we hope to change. Lastly, and most importantly, we’re going to have some fun along the way.