Originally from Greece, and now residing in London, we could easily classify Dimitris Manikis, President, EMEA, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts as a globetrotter who is passionate about travel and tourism. We were pleased to interview him at the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) in Riyadh to discuss the hospitality industry in Saudi Arabia as well as globally.
Born in the beautiful city of Athens, Dimitris spent his childhood within the country’s capital city. He then moved to the United Kingdom to pursue his studies and began his journey in tourism. “Yes. I’m a Globetrotter.”, he says regarding his frequent commutes between Athens and London.
Being away from Riyadh for 10 years, Dimitris Manikis expressed the changes that he has perceived after landing back in the city years later saying, “I didn’t expect a transformation of society to the extent that I have seen. And remember, I’ve only been here for two days.” The notable change has created a positive shock to him especially within the development of infrastructure. “What has been a huge surprise to me is the impressive infrastructure development. It is just unbelievable to witness the progress of the Kingdom’s infrastructure.”
Dimitris continued to discuss the change and growth within Saudi by talking about the different and large changes the country has gone through, stating “I think the narrative of the story has changed. Suddenly, you see Saudi being a key part of everything. You walk into the big international exhibitions now, tourism exhibitions, and Saudi has this phenomenal, humongous presence. So what I see and what is important for Wyndham hotels and resorts as well, is that the narrative is changing.”
He went on to compliment the pride and generosity that is highlighted within Saudis, “I see a lot of pride in Saudi nationals. I see how proud they are and the way they welcome you, the way they greet you, how proud they are of hosting so many hospitality leaders from across the world.”
Our one-on-one conversation with Dimtris was loaded with multiple influential topics, but one that stuck with us is his story of Sarah. “Sarah is a 21 year old Saudi national,” he said. Working as a receptionist at the newly opened Ramada by Wyndham Riyadh King Fahd Road, Sarah speaks four languages including Arabic, English, Japanese, and Chinese. Through his eyes, “That’s the future of Saudi Arabia.”, foreseeing Saudi’s huge opportunity in the realm of tourism.
“Wyndham is the world’s biggest hotel group by number of hotels. We’ve got 9,100 hotels across over 95 countries.” The hotel is slowly becoming a global company expanding throughout Europe, Middle East, Eurasia, and Africa.
Now, Wyndham hotels and resorts has a new program called ‘Wyndham Green’. The hotel is committed to adding a helping hand to sustainability, helping the environment, and reducing its environmental footprint.
Their goal is for Wyndham’s presence in Saudi to expand larger than it already has with 13 hotels already opened and with aims for more to come. Through his words, Dimitris believes that tourism in Saudi has an enormous potential going forward. One thing he mentioned that resonates is the fact that hospitality is not solely about the luxury segment and the brands, but it is about the economy and the budget.
Dimitris says that it is not just limited to NEOM and AlUla, but more so for other cities as well. Many cities have enormous potential in the country to be part of Saudi’s story of growth. Dimitris goes on to say “We’ve already got 13 hotels here, and as I said sky’s the limit. We believe that with the investment in new airlines, new airports, and new infrastructure, the sky is literally the limit.”
What is Wyndham Hotels & Resorts trying to achieve with its presence here in Saudi?
“Like any other company, we want to grow, we wanna be part of a success story, right?” Dimitris goes on to explain the key values within hospitality; having a successful journey links with transforming your existing infrastructure to serve every traveler and guest. He continued to describe the scale of travelers being that luxury travelers do not exceed 5% whereas the average, more casual travelers make up 95%, which are the target audience of Wyndham’s brand.
In conversation about the upcoming King Salman airport, Dimitris said “You see, hospitality is not just about hotels, it’s about the airlift. Because Saudi, like my own country, Greece, we’re not a drive-to destination. If you want to go to Santorini, you either take a ferry or you take a plane, you cannot swim, obviously.”
Wyndham’s mission through hospitality is to make travel accessible and easy to all which is why they are opening new destinations in different countries and locations. “That’s called hospitality.”
Earlier before our conversation, the Wyndham team had a meeting with the ministry and Dimitris said, “When you are successful, five years from today in another conference, five people are gonna be sitting around the room and somebody’s gonna say, we need to do it ‘like the Saudis’. That means you did something there.” How’s that for confidence?
The Future of Wyndham
The first step is to hire an official local country director in the beginning of 2023, who will be managing the franchise from the city of Riyadh. The Saudi director will be the link to create growth for Wyndham in the country.
The second step is to maintain the growth in existing countries and expand in new destinations including Kazakhstan and Pakistan. They are also in the process of opening their new markets in Africa in a sustainable and balanced way.
Get ready for Dimitris’s influential advice
“You gotta do what you love. I had this conversation with my kids when they were growing up.” He also says, The societal concept of success was very simple. Corner office, leather chair, company car, credit card, 1 million miles. Even 35 years later, I have no office. I have no company car. I don’t have a credit card.” Dimitris’s response made us realize that life is much bigger than expected with unlimited options to success. “You have to do what you love. Because if you’re not doing something that you love, then there’ll be no passion in it. You gotta do what you love.”
Based on Dimitris’s views and level of interest, Wyndham will be very present in Saudi’s Vision 2030 plans.
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