June 27, 2018

Coffee Chat: Emaar Hospitality Group & HEBS Digital

HEBS Digital’s Executive Vice President Jason Price connected with Emaar Hospitality Group’s CEO Olivier Harnisch, who is based out of the United Arab Emirates, to discuss his career and Emaar Hospitality.


Jason: What was the path that led you not only into the hospitality industry but also the career you have now? 

Olivier: It was a combination of hard work, passion, and luck. I started as a waiter in 1986 in the south of France and worked in service for eight years. I wanted to grow professionally so I took my first management position as an assistant bar manager. I then realized I needed additional schooling because a high school degree and an apprenticeship—which is common in Europe—would not be enough. So I went to management school and then to university and got an MBA, as well as a second degree in organizational behavior, a Master of Science.

I continued to work and traveled to many countries, including Madagascar, the US, Algeria, Indonesia, France, Germany, and Switzerland. I became a GM in 1999 at age 32, then a VP for Hilton in central Europe in 2008, and four years later became COO of Carlson Rezidor group in Brussels in 2012. I started at Emaar in 2016. This is a very different world because we are in Dubai, building the brand of a small company and expanding it internationally. From 23 hotels in operation and development, we now have 54, and the ambition is to reach 150 by 2022. We have great brands and I love it.


J: How would you describe your career in three words?

O: Hard work, passion, and luck.


J: What are some of the highs and lows of your current role?

O: The highs are the people I deal with every day. I love this aspect of the business most. I am surrounded by a terrific team. There are no real lows—it is a highly demanding and highly rewarding role because there is so much we can do to improve the guest experience. Sometimes it feels a bit lonely at the top as CEO but I am surrounded by a great team. I am really passionate about making Emaar the most innovative hospitality company in the Middle East, and I have a clear definition of that.

I want to be the hotel company that best marries technology with the human touch. I believe that technology is the best enabler when it comes to the guest experience. Through automation supplemented by great people, we can remove many pain points in the guest journey, thus improving the entire guest experience. I feel that since we are a relatively small player in the market we are better positioned to do that because we don’t have 5,000 hotels to worry about.


J: What is one of the tools you are using to enhance the guest experience? How does this influence your digital strategy?

O: We are using NFC Amenity Management to adapt the room to guest preferences and profiles. We are trying to automate all functions that require constant updates based on the next user. If we can automate many of these to the guest preference then we can increase efficiencies and be more responsive to guest needs. All the things you have to do over and over again—like resetting the TV or updating preferences in the gym—will be eliminated.

One of the most frustrating things for a restaurant guest is that when they’ve finished dining, they must call the waiter for the check, and then wait for them to take the payment. This process can be eliminated with a running tab on the phone. You press pay and it goes to the room bill. By mapping the whole guest journey, we’ve identified hundreds of touch points that can be automated. These touch points have been categorized by ease of elimination and value to the guest. All this connects to the CRM because we are collecting guest data and individualizing the guest experience. It is fascinating and the beauty of it is that this is not rocket science. This technology already existed for years—it’s just new to the hotel industry because we face legacy systems and aversions to investing in the technologies. This will be rolled out to all brands across the portfolio.

The other project is to make services in the hotel ubiquitous. Today you have to go to a specific location for a service. For example, if you want to check in or out of the hotel you have to go to the reception. We are looking at making these services mobile rather than stationary. In theory, if you are parking in the garage upon arrival, the garage attendant could check you in. Or if you are in your room and you want to check out, the room attendant could assist. When services become mobile it could have huge implications at the hotel, such as eliminating the reception desk. This, in turn, will impact how you design the hotel—the lobby can have more couches and be more social. In addition, it impacts training because job roles merge. Rather than being specialized in one role, team members become guest ambassadors.

Another task is to remove all the clutter from the hotel. There is so much stuff that collects dust, like the remote control for the TV, the telephone in the room, and the guest directory. These can be removed by making the hotel more digitized, which is ultimately more appealing.


J: What is a key differentiator from some of your competitors?

O: We have powerful brands that stand for something, which is a great thing and a major reason why I joined Emaar Hospitality. Our brands have sharp profiles and in hospitality, you recognize this. It is not about changing the logo on the roof to create a different hotel. It sounds like a cliché but it’s not; we have an incredible passion for our hotels and incredible people really making a difference.

With 600 hotels, Dubai is one of the most competitive markets in the world, and we have three hotels in the top 20 on TripAdvisor. All of our hotels are #1 in their comp set with a few exceptions where they are #2 competing against the big brands. We are in a virtuous spiral of delivering high quality and being able to charge higher than market rates because the guest is willing to pay it.


J: What are you most proud of? Is there a success story you’d like to share?

O: At Emaar Hospitality we are looking for the world’s greatest hospitality talent. The application period ended May 31 and we have received over 4,000 applications from all over the world. We asked everyone to apply with a two-minute video in which they convey their passion for the hotel industry. We will invite the eight best applicants in July for a full recasting and to compete on projects such as presenting in front of an audience at the Dubai opera, and putting together a business plan in half a day with a budget. At the end of the week, we will select the world’s greatest hospitality talent and that person will be developed in three years to become either a corporate director or a GM depending on their preference. This is a real success we are really proud of it. We got tremendous echo from throughout the world from it and it propelled our hotel company as a great employer that is preparing for a younger generation of people who want to in the hotel business.

Our expansion is another success story. We have a hotel opening in the sub-Sahara Africa. We have already signed eight management agreements this year and have another four coming, so we are speeding ahead.


About Emaar Hospitality Group:

Emaar Hospitality Group LLC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Emaar Properties PJSC, the Dubai-based global property developer, and manages Emaar’s hospitality and leisure projects globally. Defining its competency in managing mixed-use property developments, Emaar Hospitality Group owns and manages a diversified portfolio of assets including hotels, serviced residences, golf clubs, polo club, marina and lifestyle dining restaurants.

Emaar Hospitality Group has defined its credentials in the hotel industry with the launch of three brands, each with a distinct niche—Address Hotels + Resorts, Vida Hotels and Resorts and Rove Hotels.

Address Hotels + Resorts has brought a fresh identity to the global hospitality and service sector by setting new benchmarks with its gracious hospitality and exceptional service standards. Address offers a more personal and engaging experience to guests in a premium lifestyle environment, enriching the lives of its guests with luxury, style and elegance. Address Hotels + Resorts is set to operate hotels and serviced residences in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Bahrain, Maldives and other key markets in the region as well as in Dubai.

An upscale lifestyle hotel and residences brand, Vida Hotels and Resorts is for the new generation of business executives, entrepreneurs and leisure travelers. Positioned as a lively and vibrant hub where inspiring minds can create, connect and come alive, Vida hotels are a stimulating environment where style meets convenience and interactivity. Vida Hotels and Resorts has two properties in Dubai and is set to operate hotels and serviced residences in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and other key markets in the region as well as in Dubai.

Rove Hotels is a contemporary midscale hotel and residences brand, and a joint venture of Emaar Properties and Meraas Holding. Designed for the new generation traveler and highly mobile socially connected global nomads who recognize value, stays connected through technology and gravitate towards culturally-inspired surroundings, Rove Hotels are reliable, modern, fuss-free and super-efficient. Rove Hotels has five properties in well-connected locations across Dubai and is set to operate further properties in the city. The leisure assets of Emaar Hospitality Group include Arabian Ranches Golf Club, Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club and Dubai Marina Yacht Club. www.emaar.com

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About HEBS Digital:

Founded in 2001, the firm is headquartered in New York City and has global offices in Las Vegas, Tallinn, Munich, and Asia-Pacific. Through its Smart Guest Acquisition Suite, including the smartCMS®, Smart Personalization Engine, Smart Data Marketing, and full-service digital consulting and marketing solutions, HEBS Digital helps hoteliers drastically boost direct bookings, lower distribution costs, and increase the lifetime value of guests. Its diverse client portfolio consists of top-tier luxury and boutique hotel chains, independent hotels, resorts and casinos, franchised properties and hotel management companies, convention centers, spas, restaurants, DMO and tourist offices.

Part of NextGuest Technologies, HEBS Digital and Serenata CRM, the most comprehensive Hotel CRM Suite today, are the creators of the hospitality industry’s first Fully-Integrated Guest Engagement & Acquisition Platform.

Contact HEBS Digital’s consultants at 1 (800) 649-5076 (North America), +64 (0) 9 889 8489 (Asia Pacific) or success@hebsdigital.com.


Editorial Contact:

Garrick Lee
Marketing Manager, HEBS Digital
Phone: (212) 752-9425
Email: garrick@hebsdigital.com