In Mind Your Business, we speak with all the great leaders of the world. Here, we feature Seif Hamdy, general manager of the Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort, on how staff is the most crucial element to a hotel’s success
On the Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort’s website, there’s a page emphatically titled ‘Awards’. Here, you’ll find the accolades the 39-hectare property has swept over the course of its decade-long existence, accolades that justify why it can rightly and judiciously refer to itself as a “paradise” in its official releases and media collateral.
Having stayed in the resort and enjoyed how seamlessly the architect and designer Bill Bensley integrated its palatial expanse with the lush, panorama of nature it’s situated in, I can vouch that the resort is, indeed, paradise. Yet, despite the supreme tranquillity and calm the property radiates, the teeming and varied moving parts that work in symphonic unison to make it function at the level it does are also visible in plain sight.
Here, general manager Seif Hamdy, whose illustrious career in hospitality has seen him formerly preside over Raffles Hotel in Singapore as Assistant Director of Food & Beverage, chats with us about how people power the business.
How has business been since COVID-19 struck?
In a word, unpredictable. We have to be prepared for so many different scenarios. Each country has its own protocols, For us, domestic business has been extremely kind. Culturally, it has been one of our strengths. We got our backbone from working with the local market. Besides that, we’re happy to welcome markets where the confidence around travel is high, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and some European countries.
Post-COVID, the Vietnamese Tourism Board has invested heavily with India, which means we’ve been receiving a lot of guests from there as well. There’s also been a good increase of guests from Taiwan and Australia. For all those countries, we are a new destination.
Vietnam’s tourism industry welcomed 2.69 million tourists in the first quarter of 2023. That’s most certainly good news.
Oh, yes. Last year, myself and the team did not expect it to reach this level. We didn’t see any traveller confidence globally or developments in the airlines that hinted that things were going to be good. Vietnam, in general, is a very cautious country. It watched how Thailand and Bali did it, and opened stage by stage, after making sure there would be no room for error and everything could be managed properly. That has definitely inspired the high rate of travellers here.
In Q2, Vietnam moved very concertedly towards opening up more flights and attract a greater share of the market here. There has been a great growth across flights and the number of visitors to Danang City, which has out-performed all the other cities in Vietnam. This is shown in the successes of the hotel’s performance from Q2 onwards.
The resort has acquired a sterling reputation since it opened. How, if it has, has its focus and outlook changed over the years and how do you envision it growing from here?
Our holding company IHG and us have been very clear that we need to be among the top or at least top five hotels in the Asia-Pacific. That has always been the goal, which we achieve by delivering the highest possible level of personalised and intuitive service and creating the best-quality products that our guests can enjoy.
In the last two years, we’ve refreshed our property and our assets, and we can’t deny that some of what happened during the pandemic is here to stay. We’ve imposed a stringent level of cleanliness and have hand sanitiser available all around the property. These tweaks, along with training our staff at an international level, have allowed for us to uplift the hotel in both the fixed- and soft-asset aspects.
The resort has also introduced the Mi Sol Spa, its immersive wellness concept. Why do you think health and wellness cannot be separated from the luxury travel experience these days?
When we build a hotel like this, everything else has to meet the bar we set. This includes the spa. I work with incredible people in the commercial team who can see into the future. If something is happening tomorrow, we’ve done it today. That’s the purpose of the spa. Whether you’re a multi-generational family on holiday or a businessman on a work trip, we make it our responsibility to make sure the guests feel the purpose of the holiday; we help them relax and give them an incredible experience.
As a person who’s very into wellness, I believe that if something helps me, it’ll help someone else. That’s one of the reasons why we made sure that the facilities complement the rest of the hotel. It’s a total, all-around experience.
From your vantage point, how ready is Vietnam to be a destination for luxury travel in Southeast Asia?
As much as I want to say it’ll be ready tomorrow, I must be realistic and admit that it will take us some time. Vietnam is a cautious country. It likes to analyse any and every possibility of risk so it knows how to mitigate them. It also has very diverse income streams so a lot goes into ensuring that it grows correctly and that its economy is stable and sustainable. At this juncture, Vietnam is also very fortunate to have investors in the luxury space—the Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Capella and Nobu, amongst them—so as much as it’ll take some time, it’ll get there.
We need to focus on manpower and on developing a level of service that combines efficiency and passion and which reflects back on the hospitality industry.
Lastly, from your experience, what is the most crucial ingredient necessary for providing an outstanding guest experience?
Look around you. There’s not a doubt that the staff is the most important element at the property. We can have the best chandeliers, the best designs, but the hotel can’t function without them. The question is, how can we look after them? How can we provide for what’s important for them in their lives? We have staff who have been with us for more than 10 years. Their lives are evolving; we, as a hotel, have to evolve with them. A hotel’s success isn’t just about financial growth but how it looks after the training, career prospects and opportunities for its staff.