Federico J. González, President & CEO, Radisson Hospitality AB
Can Faik meets Radisson’s President and CEO, Federico J. González, to discover what the future holds for one of the biggest companies in the global hospitality market…
Radisson Hotel Group is one of the world’s largest hotel groups with seven distinctive hotel brands, and more than 1,400 hotels in operation and under development around the world. Radisson Hotel Group portfolio includes Radisson Collection, Radisson Blu, Radisson, Radisson RED, Park Plaza, Park Inn by Radisson and Country Inn & Suites by Radisson.
What was your background in hospitality prior to working for Radisson Hospitality AB?
I feel privileged to have been a part of the tourism and hospitality industry for many years. Before joining Radisson Hospitality AB, I was the Chief Executive Officer for Radisson Hospitality Inc. in the US and, prior to that, I was the Chief Executive Officer of NH Hotel Group – where I led a major transformation process that made NH one of the top-performing hotel companies. I was also previously the Deputy General Manager at Disneyland Paris and spent 16 years in senior management positions at Procter & Gamble. I have enjoyed and gained experience within the world of hospitality, travel, tourism and consumer goods.
What does your current position involve?
In my current position, I am responsible for delivering on our vision and ambition to become one of the top hotel groups in the world – while making sure our teams are delivering the behaviors and values that allow our group to stand out from our competitors.
We want to be one of the top names in the minds of guests, owners, talent and investors whenever they think of the hotel industry. This means being able to create memorable moments for all our stakeholders across our entire portfolio. We want everyone who interacts with us to receive an exceptional experience, wherever they are in the world.
To achieve this, we put together our five-year operating plan that will see us become a top-of-mind hotel operator. Along with the rest of the Radisson Hotel Group’s Global Steering Committee, we are working to deliver this strategy. The initial results have been immensely promising, and we will continue to drive growth across the group in the coming years.
Now, as we have become part of Jin Jiang, we are members of the second-largest hotel group in the world. We are working with the Jin Jiang global committee to make sure we contribute to the group ambitions in the best possible way. This opens up an immense number of opportunities for our company.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
There are actually two things that I enjoy most about my role. One element is about people. I enjoy interacting with and learning from so many different people – from investors and shareholders to the key people running our hotels and delivering great service. It is always fascinating to hear their stories.
The second element is the diversity of the work. In this business, you have to handle finance, real estate, marketing, consumers, investors… Every day, and every week, is full of diverse activities that are hugely enriching.
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?
Regarding shareholders, as you know, we are now part of Jin Jiang International. They are a serious and professional group, and they have a set of values and ambitions that we share. We will work together to make the Radisson brands strong performers in China and around the world. Our two companies share a passion for hospitality, and we will make sure our hotels are attracting the increasing numbers of Chinese tourists travelling internationally.
Regarding our management teams, the key is to make sure we give them the growth opportunities they deserve and can attain. The complexity comes from the ability to match needs and opportunities, but our five-year plan, along with the fact that we belong to Jin Jiang, will open significant new opportunities.
When it comes to delivering the best possible guest experience, the complexity is linked to the quality of people. We are fortunate to have the best employees in the industry, incredibly good training programmes and highly engaged human resources teams that follow the progress of our people carefully.
What will Radisson Hospitality AB have to do to stay one step ahead of its competition?
We have to be the first hotel group guests think of when booking or when owners look to build a partnership. I have always said that our aim to be one of the world’s top hotel groups is not simply about scale or the number of hotels we have globally; it has to be about presence – how we are perceived by guests, owners and talent. We want to be the first name they think of, and that is exactly what our five-year operating plan is directed towards.
We have redefined all our brands. Each has a very clear selling line, as well as a brand and operational promise behind them. And we have redefined the experience in every country around the world. We have invested a significant amount of money into delivering this experience, while closely monitoring the quality through consumer feedback. Our hotels have quality ratings well ahead of our competitors.
How will the recent launch of your first co-branded Radisson Blu hotel change how guests experience your hotels?
We are delighted to have been working together with Jin Jiang International on our new co-branding initiative. As you know, we are looking to realise the true potential of the Chinese travel market – already the largest group of travellers in the world, and one that is now turning its attention to destinations across EMEA.
What we have focused on throughout this project is the guest experience – and how to exceed the expectations of Chinese-speaking visitors. One major change within our co-branded hotels (of which we are looking to launch more than 30) is the addition of new features designed and curated to make sure each guest feels right at home. This includes menus available in Chinese, guest rooms featuring Chinese tea and kettle, Chinese channels available on TVs, access to Chinese newspapers via the Radisson Blu app and the ability to pay through UnionPay. Every small touch makes a big difference.
Another initiative we have run with huge success is our talent exchange programme. This saw teams from our Frankfurt and Brussels hotels spend time in Shanghai to better understand Chinese culture and bring back with them the true Chinese hospitality experience. We also welcomed a group of Chinese employees to Brussels and Paris as part of a pilot programme that saw them working with colleagues in Europe. So, while many of our hotel design features may stay the same, our co-branded hotels will offer an exemplary stay for Chinese-speaking guests through added services and tailored service from our teams.
What is next for Radisson Hospitality AB as in new openings?
We have a range of new (or refurbished) hotels arriving in our development pipeline, including recently opened properties in Istanbul, Warsaw and the historic Tsinandali Estate in Georgia. We are especially keen to develop Radisson Collection, adding hotels in Moscow and London (with Paris on the way). Radisson RED, with a new flagship property in Madrid and Glasgow, will reach 18 hotels very soon, and Radisson, which saw its first EMEA hotel open in Gdansk this year, will also grow significantly.
Everything we are doing involves building on Radisson Blu’s leading position as the largest upper upscale hotel brand in Europe. While adding a number of exciting new Radisson Blu properties in places like Poland, Italy and Turkey, we are using the name recognition to generate brand awareness and appeal across the other market segments.
Can you tell me about your latest brand to launch and where in your portfolio do you feel the Radisson Collection will fit in?
We launched Radisson Collection as part of the new brand architecture introduced with the new Radisson Hotel Group name last year. As our premium lifestyle brand that delivers affordable luxury, the concept is to bring together iconic properties in unique locations that can deliver a truly exceptional hotel experience. We are proud to already have 31 Radisson Collection properties open or in development around the world – including landmarks like the Ukraina Hotel in Moscow or the world’s first design hotel, the Radisson Royal in Copenhagen. We will continue to add further properties to the brand’s portfolio, both upgrading our best Radisson Blu hotels and adding new and unique locations for guests to visit – including Seville, Bilbao, Milan, Rome and Paris.
Is Radisson Hospitality AB looking at any countries in particular for new openings?
Within EMEA, we are currently focusing on the markets in the UK, Germany and France, while building on our leading positions in countries like Russia and Poland. We are also putting in place an extensive expansion plan for Southern Europe: Spain (where we are aiming to open 20 new hotels in the next three years) and Italy (where we are building on the existing presence of Radisson Collection and Radisson Blu). It will be a challenge but will be a major boost to our portfolio in this region.
With a number of new properties opening across the world, which one in particular are you most excited about?
I could not name just one. Hotels are much like children; you love them all the same. There are plenty of exciting developments taking place around the world. For instance, our teams in the US recently announced the signing of six new hotels in the Americas.
There are a number of key properties arriving in EMEA as well. We are delighted to have recently opened two Radisson Collection properties in Russia and one in London – with the grand opening of the Radisson Collection Hotel, Tsinandali Estate Georgia gaining plenty of attention. We have also opened Europe’s first Radisson-branded hotel in Gdansk, Poland, and have several Radisson RED hotels in the pipeline – including the first one to arrive in Spain. There are plenty of other properties on the horizon as well, following the signings of two Radisson Collection hotels in Spain (Seville and Bilbao), two in Milan, one in Budapest and another one to open very soon in Warsaw. As for our growth in Asia Pacific (APAC), we have developed many key opportunities for us in the region. For instance, we recently opened a new Radisson Blu urban resort in Shanghai – continuing our expansion within China. We also signed our first Radisson Collection in APAC, which will open in Australia.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotels in Europe compared to the US and Asia?
One of the key trends taking place in Europe is the rate of growth in international visitors despite the continent being home to many mature markets. Countries like the UK, France, Italy and Spain are seeing continual growth and interest. Also, there are huge opportunities to be leveraged in emerging markets like Eastern Europe. The challenge, as ever, is finding the supply to meet demand.
A major element in Europe’s tourism growth is the booming numbers of arrivals from China. This is why we are hugely excited to be working with Jin Jiang to make sure our hotels are the first choice for Chinese travellers looking to plan their trip abroad.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
Nowadays, we are seeing many new hotel brands and boutique hotels that feature custom-made designs to reflect the local flavour. This comes from the aim of making guests feel at home, while escaping the traditional design style to create unique experiences for each guest that you would like to take home with you.
Another major trend that is driving the way forward is that hotel restaurants and bars are attracting locals and visitors alike. This is why lifestyle hotels have quickly become reference points and popular meeting places within their cities. They are seen as the places to be.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
Design has become an integral part of launching any new hotel. Through a hotel’s design, we look to create 360-degree experiences where spaces provide lively environments, but always with a relaxed and elegant atmosphere. The whole idea is to provide the backdrop for people to share good times – and to achieve this, spaces have to be vibrant and cheerful. With regards to the technical elements involved in this, we use natural tones combined with warm materials. This provides an air of sophistication while creating a cosy feel that allows guests to truly relax and make the most of their stay. In this sense, design is the tool we use to create memorable moments.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
Wherever I go, and for however long, there will always be one place that remains right at the top of my travel wish list – home. I travel a lot for business, so the highest rank will always be the place I return or travel to where I can spend time with my family.
Let’s finish with the issue of work-life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
I believe that finding the right work-life balance is a must for everyone. Even though I travel extensively within my role during the week, I always make time for my family at the weekends, on holidays and at any opportunity we have. Thankfully, technology has proven to be a useful way to reduce any distance between us, so we use it a lot, both at work and particularly with my family.