In an exclusive interview, we at Destination had the pleasure of speaking with a seasoned hospitality professional, Mahmoud Omar GM of The Courtyard by Marriott, Northern Ring Road in Riyadh, who shares his journey and experiences in the industry. As a passionate advocate for making guests happy and being part of their memorable experiences, the commitment to the hospitality field led him to open a Marriott property amidst the challenging backdrop of the pandemic. Take a deeper look into the challenges faced, strategies employed, and their vision for the future.
- Can you tell us more about what started your passion to pursue this career path and how the journey was?
When I first joined the hotel industry in Sharm El Sheikh after completing my university studies, I viewed it as a simple job to begin with. However, as time went on, I discovered that bringing happiness to guests, creating lasting memories, and being a part of their cherished holidays or trips brought me a sense of fulfillment. It was at that moment that I realized hospitality was my true calling. The journey along this career path has been both thrilling and challenging. I have encountered various obstacles along the way, but my passion for what I do has made it all worthwhile.
- Can you let us in on what prompted you to open a hotel amidst the pandemic? And what was the reason behind it? How was the process going through it?
During the pandemic, which brought about a sense of hopelessness worldwide, I made a commitment to focus on the bright side. As a new entrant to the role, I encountered numerous challenges, as the business world came to a standstill. Despite this, I sought ways to keep the hospitality industry afloat and decided to open a Marriott property. The process was not easy, but with strong support from Marriott senior leaders, business stakeholders, and a committed team, we successfully opened the Courtyard by Marriott Northern Ring Road on June 1st.
- Can you tell us about the challenges you faced in opening Courtyard by Marriott during the Covid-19 crisis? How did you overcome these challenges?
Opening the Courtyard by Marriott during the Covid-19 crisis presented challenges in terms of supply chain and logistics, recruitment, and overall project management due to the pandemic’s impact on movement. However, with careful planning and a backup plan, plan B, in place, we were able to overcome these obstacles. Additionally, this period provided an opportunity to discover local talents, focus on the local market, and establish new relationships such as with local suppliers.
- As an experienced hospitality professional, what management strategies have you found to be most effective in ensuring the success of a hotel? Can you share specific examples of how you have implemented these strategies in your role as GM?
One of the most essential strategies to me, for ensuring the success of a hotel, is hiring the right team and providing them with clear goals and expectations. Open communication of the hotel strategy and involving the team in the planning process are also crucial. I take pride in our strong team, which comprises experienced and new hoteliers. In fact, the Courtyard by Marriott Northern Ring Road was honored with the prestigious Hotel of The Year award in the premium and select category in the Middle East and Africa. Celebrating each milestone with the team and thorough communication are also key to achieving success.
- How do you foster a positive work culture and motivate your team members to consistently perform at their best? Can you share any specific initiatives or practices that have been successful in boosting employee morale and engagement?
Fostering a positive work culture involves setting stretch goals that allow team members to unleash their skills. Providing opportunities for growth, involving the team in decision-making, empowering them, and celebrating with them are essential for motivation. Another successful initiative we participated in is the Marriott International Tahseen program, which focuses on fast-tracking the development of next-generation Saudi leaders. Three young Saudis from our property completed the program and are now flourishing in their respective departments.
- The hospitality industry is constantly evolving. What current industry trends do you find most impactful for hotels, and how do you adapt your strategies to stay ahead of the competition?
Continuous market research and a focus on guest satisfaction are key to staying ahead in the evolving hospitality industry. It is crucial to be aware of the latest trends, engage with customers daily, and gather ideas from both guests and team members. Maintaining good relationships with competitors also provides valuable insights into applicable strategies.
- Looking ahead, what plans do you have for the future, for the hotel? Where do you see it in 5 to 10 years?
Currently, our property competes strongly in the upper midscale and premium category hotels. Our plan is to maintain this level of competition and consistency. Whenever an opportunity arises to compete in higher categories for specific events, we will embrace it confidently, relying on our skilled team and exceptional product.
- As a leader in the hospitality industry, what advice would you give to aspiring professionals who are looking to build a career in this field? What key skills and qualities do you believe are essential for success in this industry?
My advice to aspiring professionals in the hospitality industry is to gain hands-on experience by working in various roles within a hotel. This provides a deep understanding of operations, guest interactions, and team dynamics, laying a strong foundation for leadership roles. Developing resilience and adaptability to navigate the industry’s challenges is crucial. Lastly, pursuing what you love, maintaining a positive mindset, and focusing on continuous learning are essential. Approach tasks with honesty, strive for excellence from the start, and be open to acquiring new skills.