MATTAR OF FACT
Hotelier India|October 2021
Haitham Mattar, MD-IMEA, IHG Hotels & Resorts has a straightforward plan to power through tough times – protect all stakeholders, manage stable revenues, rationalise operating costs and stay flexible
VINITA BHATIA

India has a special place in Haitham Mattar’s heart, and he can’t wait to revisit the country. During his past trips to cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, Agra, Goa and Kolkata, he was enthralled by the vibrant culture, cuisine, history and heritage each place had to offer.

But more than that, he was awed by the remarkable resilience the people displayed and the nation’s capacity to survive challenging circumstances. “I definitely plan to visit India in the next few months and look forward to meeting our team and partners in person,” Mattar animatedly revealed. This will mark his first trip to the country after taking charge as IHG Hotels & Resorts’ Managing Director for India, Middle East and Africa in April 2021.

Interestingly, this is Mattar’s second stint with IHG – an organisation he was associated with for 11 years from 2000 to 2011 in various operations, commercial, sales and marketing positions in IMEA. Returning to its fold during COVID-19 impelled him to reinvent and replace several traditional management principles with innovative practices, in an era dictated by a social-distancing crisis.

COMRADES IN ARMS

A tour of India will also present Mattar with the opportunity to meet IHG’s owner partners, many of who reposed their faith in the company, recognising the long-term prospects of the sector. Backed by their conviction, the hospitality chain could expand its portfolio in the country and now, Mattar too is looking towards recovery with confidence as the market dynamics improve further.

Hotel owners had a tough time dealing with the recent black swan event. Staring at declining revenue and gross operating profits, they were forced to take some tough calls, from pruning operational processes to reducing staffing, and even reconsidering the fees paid to hotel management companies.

In his experience of close to 25 years in the hospitality sector, Mattar does not recall witnessing such testing times. Many of IHG’s hotels globally, including India, represent small, individually owned businesses, and the low demand, temporary closures and financial pressures presented by COVID-19 created enormous challenges.

However, he emphasised that as the industry edges towards recovery, the company is working closer than ever with its owners to provide vital operational and commercial support. “The strength of our business model and the speed and effectiveness of our support has been crucial for our owners, helping deliver RevPAR and guest satisfaction ahead of the industry in key markets and segments throughout 2020 and into 2021,” he elaborated.

With a robust business model, our strategy for the country has been to respond to market needs and focus on our mainstream brands as our key growth drivers.”

SWITCHING GEARS

Knowing that recovery looks different for different markets and even hotels, IHG created tailored marketing plans that could best capture the local demand. And it did this by streamlining costs

With a robust business model, our strategy for the country has been to respond to market needs and focus on our mainstream brands as our key growth drivers.”and operations, enhancing support for business customers, and protecting its loyalty members.

“During the peak of the pandemic, owners appreciated our market-tailored fee relief packages and options to defer payments. It gave them the flexibility to use the funds in other areas that were critical to protect the business,” Mattar stated.

Globally, IHG also paused renovations and relaxed its brand standards. A key reason why it chose to be more flexible with its brand standards was to allow owners to save money. For instance, full-service properties were allowed to close buffets, reduce airport shuttle services and defer nonessential technology upgrades.

According to Mattar, taking these proactive measures was a no-brainer since IHG was clear that it would do everything in its power to help its owners control costs in a difficult trading environment. It closely collaborated with its partners in numerous ways – from providing financial and operational guidance, to establishing PPE supply chains and offsetting the increased cost of safety and cleanliness protocols with efficiency changes in other areas. This includes continuing to temporarily relax brand standards, while still maintaining quality and great guest experiences.

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