Posted in People on 27 February, 2017

Olivier Chavy is the man behind one of the best-known hotel brands in the business. Less than a year into his new role, he tells Can Faik about his plans for moving Mövenpick ever forward…

Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts is an international upscale hotel management company represented in 25 countries with 83 hotels, resorts and Nile cruisers currently in operation. Around 20 properties are planned or under construction in countries including Thailand, Nairobi and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts specialises in business and conference hotels, as well as holiday resorts, all reflecting a sense of place and respect for their local communities. Of Swiss heritage, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts is passionate about delivering premium service and culinary enjoyment – all with a personal touch. Committed to supporting sustainable environments, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts is the most Green Globe-certified hotel company in the world.

What was your background in hospitality prior to working for Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts?

I joined Mövenpick in September 2016 from leading global interior designers Wilson Associates, where I was CEO. I have a true passion for hospitality, developed at an early age – I became General Manager of the iconic Hotel Normandie in Deauville, France at just 27! I then moved on to hold a range of high-profile industry roles with Lucien Barrière and Hilton.

Where are you based?

I am based in Dubai but I am also regularly in our Corporate office in Baar, Switzerland.

What does your current position involve?

I was extremely pleased to be offered the position at Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts as Mövenpick is a fantastic brand with a great Swiss heritage and a long history. As the new CEO, I am proud to have the opportunity to lead it into the future. Hospitality is in my DNA – I have been privileged to work with some of the key players in the hotel business.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Mentoring and allowing people to grow and expand their responsibilities. It is very rewarding for the company (and me) to see people climbing the ladder and gaining more and more significant responsibilities. I love it when people behave in their role and career like entrepreneurs. They bring initiatives, new ideas and concepts, for the benefit of the organisation. Definitely the most exciting.

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?

Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts is a hotel management company that operates an asset-light business model. That means we do not own hotels ourselves but operate them on behalf of our partners. At our corporate and regional offices, we have centres of expertise in the key commercial areas like sales, marketing, distribution, finance and legal. Our hotel General Managers leverage this expertise to ensure their hotels maximise their performance.

What does Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts have to do to stay one step ahead of its competition?

Today’s hotel business is more competitive than ever, and brands that are able to adapt to change and constantly reinvent themselves will be the winners of tomorrow. That means we have to recruit and train the right staff to deliver warm and genuine service to our guests – it is about the simple touches that transform a hotel stay into a true experience. As our founder Ueli Prager once said, we do not do extraordinary things, we do ordinary things in an extraordinary way.

In order to face these challenges, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts needs to be creative and constantly reinvent itself. We are able to do this because we have a solid brand based on our inherent Swissness, our 65+ years heritage in food and hospitality and the commitment of our 16,000+ employees.

What are Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts Unique Selling Points?

At present, we enjoy the advantages of being a unified, upscale, Swiss brand. Swissness is at the heart of our brand. It is about quality – as we are passionate about what we do and we continually strive to improve in order to achieve higher levels of excellence. It is about reliability – we are accountable for our actions and deliver on our promises. And it is about care – we are devoted to nurturing genuine relationships with one another and we embrace our communities, the environment, our partners and guests, and all with a personal touch. Just like our guests, we are unique individuals. We make a difference by acting on our intuition and daring to be ourselves.

We are currently in the process of launching a new visual identity and, early next year, a new upscale brand positioning. In the meantime, we’re working on different innovative projects, including the guest experience.

With a number of new Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts opening across the world over the next few years, which one in particular are you most excited about?

I am excited about all the new properties we will open this year, for example: Jimbaran (Bali), Nairobi (Kenya), Les Berges du Lac (Tunisia), Cox’s Bazar and Dhaka (Bangladesh), Chifeng City (Inner Mongolia), Colombo (Sri Lanka) and Phuket (Thailand).

What is your plan for the Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts in Europe and the UAE?

Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts has a solid presence across the Middle East, where it currently operates 30 hotels, with significant presence in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan.

Mövenpick has a firm presence in the UAE, managing five hotels located in important locations across Dubai, and as part of our expansion plan in the country, we have three hotels in the pipeline: Mövenpick Hotel Apartments Downtown Dubai, Mövenpick Hotel Dubai Media City, and Mövenpick Hotel Apartments Al Burj Business Bay, which will raise the number of our properties in Dubai to eight by 2018. We are also looking at Abu Dhabi, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah for further expansion.

Europe remains central to our future development plans as a brand. Both Switzerland and Germany are key markets so it makes sense to expand into such important business centres. Basel, where we will open in 2019, is at the forefront of the luxury goods market with its famous Baselworld event.

What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion?

Passion – without forgetting that developing a hotel is a business … and not an ego trip. If you build it right, design it right, respect some basics, it’s a fantastic journey and investment.

Have you noticed any particular trends in hotels in Europe compared to US and Asia?

Hotels in Europe have fewer rooms and smaller public spaces and often less food and beverage outlets. You see more and more boutique hotels in Europe than in the US. Design in Europe is more international, whereas it is more local or themed in Asia. In the US, a lot of hotels are big boxes, offering the same design style.

Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?

I have noticed a greater use of sustainable and green materials, offering more flexibility for designers, and enabling clients to choose the required level of service and comfort. I see much more flexible and expandable space incorporating movable fittings and furniture – design shouldn’t be fixed or frozen in time … Generally I see an increase in the use of lean and light design, with less furniture  and more neutral colour palettes. And, to create a particular theme in public spaces, you’ll often find signature artwork or furnishings.

With your experience as the former President and Chief Executive Officer of Wilson Associates, a leading global interior architectural design firm, will you still be heavily involved in hotel design in your new role?

I had three great years at Wilson, and I will never forget my time at the luxury interior design firm. Designers and principals are amazingly talented and creative – I would say insanely creative. And of course design is part of my role at Mövenpick too – hospitality needs to reinvent itself and Wilson Associates is actively playing a role in this process.

How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?

Very important – in fact I always felt at Wilson we did not emphasise enough the real contribution great design can make to return on investment. It is difficult to put a precise value on the contribution of great design versus poor design, but I can confirm that iconic properties designed by Wilson Associates have enjoyed tremendous commercial success year upon year.

What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?

My house in Florida is of course my favorite – but when it comes to hotels: the Conrad Koh Samui, designed by Wilson, has to be on my list, and the Mövenpick Hotel Marrakech, opened late last year, an amazing resort incorporating the Marrakech Palais des Congrès and the ideally situated close to the Madinah.

Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?

I’ve always loved South East Asia for its culture, diversity and history. But because travelling is part of my job (I’m away more than 250 days a year) I would say going back home (to Brittany or to Florida) remains a must.

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?

It’s all driven by passion. People around me know that I’m at my happiest when I live my passion to the full. I don’t look at things in terms of working for living versus living for working. I do not allow myself (or my loved ones) to have any regrets in life. Of course, I do try to fit some me time and family time into my busy schedule, but I can’t complain. I am simply living my passion.

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