DANIEL RUFF, PRESIDENT AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, EUROPE, MIDDLE EAST, EURASIA AND AFRICA FOR Wyndham HOTEL GROUP
Can Faik meets Wyndham Hotel Group’s Daniel Ruff, President & Managing Director of EMEA, to discover what the future holds for one of the biggest companies in the global hospitality market…
Wyndham Hotel Group is one of the world’s largest hospitality companies, spanning six continents. It offers individual consumers and business customers a broad array of hospitality products and services, as well as various accommodation alternatives and price ranges through its premier portfolio of world-renowned brands.
What was your background in hospitality prior to working for Wyndham Hotel Group?
I really enjoy building businesses, and my career in hospitality has been focused on just that. I started my hotel career in the US, as part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ M&A team. I followed the acquisition of Le Méridien to Europe, where I spent more than a decade building and growing functions and businesses across EMEA.
What does your current position involve?
In my role as President & Managing Director of Europe, Middle East, Eurasia, and Africa, I am responsible for Wyndham Hotel Group’s business in the region. It is my job to ensure that wherever our guests want to travel that they can choose from our portfolio of 16 iconic hotel brands.
Where are you based in the world?
With a region that stretches from Sri Lanka to Iceland, Russia to South Africa, it’s safe to say that I spend a great amount of time travelling and speaking with guests and owners all over the world. We know that to best serve our guests and partners we need to be as close to our hotels as possible, so we have established regional offices in Dubai, Delhi, and Istanbul. Our EMEA headquarters are in London, and that’s where I call home.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I love the challenge of translating the power of the world’s largest hotel company to reflect the local needs and customs of our guests and partners across EMEA. How will Turkish guests use our industry-changing Wyndham Rewards program? How can we best support Indian owners with their domestic sales needs? How will Brexit impact the number of British visitors to our Spanish hotels? I find it exciting to flex our business across different markets and rewarding to be able to react to global events in a way that grows the loyalty of our guests and partners.
What are the complexities of meeting the demands of shareholders, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values to the guests?
Wyndham Hotel Group has grown faster organically than any other hotel company, and this growth has created great opportunities for our guests and partners. Our largest challenge has been to maintain our great growth, and at the same time continue to improve the quality of our service delivery to our guests. I’m very proud of what we’ve done – our global and EMEA portfolio has never been stronger, and our guest engagement and satisfaction scores continue to break records.
In the past year, Dubai has seen more hotel openings, with a number of new hotels due to open in the next two years. What will Wyndham Hotel Group have to do to stay one step ahead of its competition?
2016 was the start of Wyndham Hotel Group’s rapid expansion in Dubai. With the launch of the Wyndham Dubai Marina earlier this year, we opened our ninth hotel in the city. And we’re only getting started. A few new hotels are competing to be our tenth – one of which is the Tryp by Wyndham Dubai, which will open in early 2017. With almost 700 rooms, it will be the largest Tryp by Wyndham in the world, and no better place to be the biggest than in Dubai!
What are Wyndham Hotel Group’s unique selling points?
At Wyndham Hotel Group we want to provide our guests with great accommodation, wherever and however they want to stay. This means that we believe in bringing the power of our global powerhouse brands to large and small destinations around the world. We know that to provide great guest experiences locally, we need to have great partners around the world, and this is why we have such close relationships with our owners and management partners across EMEA, who help us deliver world-class guest experiences with local flavour.
What is your plan for the Wyndham Hotel Group in Europe?
We believe that some markets are under-represented in economy brands, and you’ll see us rolling out our Days Inn and Super 8 brands in these locations. Other markets have big midscale opportunities, and we have great brands in this segment for different types of travellers, including Tryp by Wyndham, Ramada Hotels & Resorts, and Hawthorn Suites. Dolce is an industry leader in the luxury meetings space, and there is certainly a growth opportunity to create new meeting destinations across Europe. And finally our namesake brands, Wyndham and Wyndham Grand, will continue to grow in capital cities and resort destinations across the continent, starting with the Wyndham Grand Athens which will open later this year.
With a number of new Wyndham Hotel Group openings across the world next year, which one in particular are you most excited about?
It’s so hard to pick a favourite, so I’ll mention a few across EMEA which I think illustrate the diversity of our brands. From an architectural perspective, it is going to be hard to top the Wyndham Grand Manama, which will be the tallest twisted glass structure in the world. In Germany we are going to further expand the Super 8 brand, following the opening of two hotels in Munich this year, with the Super 8 Freiburg. Last but not least, I cannot wait to join the Greek celebrations when we open the Wyndham Grand Athens.
What is your plan for the Wyndham Hotel Group in Europe and the UAE?
With almost 20 hotels in the UAE, we have built a solid foundation for growth, and most importantly, have built great relationships with local owners and management companies with whom we will continue to expand our relationships.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
Our guests are telling us that when they travel around the world, they want to feel that they are staying with a global brand without losing the local colour and essence of the city or country that they are visiting. Our design ethos mirrors this desire. Our more upscale brands like Dolce, Wyndham and Wyndham Grand are always designed to represent the local market, but what makes us unique is that we believe that all of our brands should do the same.
What kind of equity will be available to finance all of these new builds and acquisitions?
Our global business model is management and franchise, and we do not own hotels. From an M&A perspective, we are always on the lookout for brands that would complement our portfolio
What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion?
Our business is a very personal one. The happiest hotel owners I know are entrepreneurs who love the business of hospitality, and enjoy watching Wyndham’s global guests visit their creations from near and far.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotels in Europe compared to the US?
For years, many European brand hoteliers believed that management contracts were the only way forward. Wyndham Hotel Group ran against that current, and built a world-class franchise organisation in Europe while others were focused on management. Now, more than a decade after the franchise business took over US hospitality, we are seeing the same trend in Europe, and we are very happy that we were there first.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
Design of a hotel is incredibly important. We make sure that each hotel has a local feel without losing the global brand identity.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I love my job. I get to plunge into the details of one hotel’s operations, and then zoom out to consider the macro effects of global challenges on our different markets. But more than anything, I love that I get to travel around the world to our beautiful hotels, and meet with incredibly interesting and diverse business owners, entrepreneurs and travellers.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
That’s a tough one! So that I don’t have to pick any favourites among our almost 450 hotels in the region, I’ll stick with ‘places’ rather than hotels. For work, I’m always energised by trips to Dubai. I think as a hotelier, it is hard not to get excited by what has been and will be created there. If I speak personally, while my three year-old daughter would choose a theme park, I think Spain always shines as a family destination. When my daughter is a little older, we really want to take her on a safari in Kenya, Tanzania or South Africa.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
I have three giant holes on my travel wish list. Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
When my wife, daughter and I moved from Brussels to London, we knew that I would have long hours and a lot of travel. We took a map of London, drew a circle around Wyndham’s office and Heathrow Airport, and decided that we’d live somewhere in that circle. Now, when I am in the UK, I try to make it home for family dinner, and always make it home for story time with my daughter.
My wife is amazingly understanding and supportive, and makes the stresses of my work life melt away when I walk through our front door. My daughter gives me one of her dolls to take with me on each of my work trips. This can lead to funny discussions at airport security…