Dipl.-Kfm. (techn.) Detlef Schmidt, Stuttgart, Germany
August 18, 2021
During a one-hour phone conversation, I had the pleasure to reflect the pandemic challenges of the hospitality industry with Katrin Herz, a true global leader in hospitality. As a general manager responsible for three Marriott properties in Abu Dhabi, combined with her international track record, she is a rare expert in times of transformation.
About Katrin Herz
Katrin Herz is the multi property general manager of three Marriott properties in Abu Dhabi, including the Marriott Hotel Downtown and the Marriott Executive Apartments Downtown. Katrin Herz has an impressive international track record of more than 20 years of experience in luxury hospitality with Ritz-Carlton and other Marriott brands. Her assignments brought her to Spain, Germany, USA, Portugal, Russia, and to Oman, where she was recognized with the prestigious “General Manager of the Year Award” in 2019, fostering initiatives around next generation leadership, corporate social responsibility, and business development.
Katrin, thank you for taking the time for this conversation. A lot of things have changed in the world since we last met at the Al Bustan hotel in Oman in August 2019. In the middle of the pandemic, you started a new assignment in Abu Dhabi. What were your most urgent tasks at the beginning?
Katrin Herz: When I took over my new role in Abu Dhabi it was all about managing the pandemic situation. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Abu Dhabi has been working hard to keep its residents and locals safe: vaccination rates are one of the highest in the world, testing is being done frequently and access for foreign visitors is limited. Therefore, we had to focus on local guests and had to align our cost structure accordingly. The good thing I take away from this situation is my new team’s commitment. We instantly became an amazing team in jointly managing this extraordinary situation.
And at the moment, what is currently your biggest challenge in managing your properties?
Katrin Herz: Our biggest challenge these days is about restaffing and finding the skilled personnel needed, since our booking situation has improved. Prior to the pandemic, we hired a lot of talents from India, Pakistan, and Asia. Hiring has become very difficult because COVID- 19 and still has a huge impact on the cross-border mobility of citizens. Therefore, we have to find new solutions to attract talents to guarantee guests our promised service levels.
What emerging trends did you notice during the pandemic?
Katrin Herz: I am currently seeing an increase in leisure travel and a decrease in business travel. I am convinced that this trend will last. Especially the luxury segment will be a driver for this change. Locations like Dubai and the Maldives are currently benefiting from this trend because they have been handling the pandemic with a sense of proportion and have adapted their service offerings adequately. Giving demanding guests the opportunity to book extended stays ‘home-away-from-home’ or in a ‘work anywhere’-style will be a boost for providers of villa rentals and serviced apartments. I see a big advantage for established hotel brands in this space because they have more experience in providing and curating premium services to guests than competitors of online marketplaces for lodging and vacation rentals. Another bonus for established hotel brands is to differentiate themselves from their competitors by providing a shared infrastructure to guests, including swimming pools, spa facilities, beach clubs, bars, and restaurants.
What changes did you implement during the last month on your managed properties?
Katrin Herz: Since we are mainly able to welcome local guests, we noticed an increase in longer term rentals. We also noticed more guests coming to spend their weekend with us, including their families. Therefore, we decided to adapt our service offerings. We put a bigger focus on improving the child friendliness of our properties, like offering special kids’ menus. We also expanded recreation opportunities for our guests.
What is your advice for hotels in general these days?
Katrin Herz: Let me go back again to the trend towards more leisure travels. Nowadays, a lot of hotels want to position themselves as resort hotels. However, before implementing radical changes, it is wise to monitor the customer behavior and market potential to create a fit for your current and future guests. Starting small and making use of unused facilities at the beginning can be a smart measure. Pedal sports, for example, is very popular in the U.A.E.. Adding new courts in unused spaces can be an option for offering more leisure opportunities to guests. In general, my advice is to better listen to clients to learn about their changing needs, especially in current times. Guest surveys and engaging directly with guests to learn from them, are powerful resources helping you to take the right customer centric decisions.
Your managed properties are positioned as luxury and premium brands within the Marriott portfolio. Can you give us an example for what it means to have Marriott as a strong partner by your side, especially during the pandemic?
Katrin Herz: The Marriott brand is an orientation for both our guests and our staff. Especially in times of the pandemic, a hotel stay is about trust. Whom to trust more in hospitality than Marriott’s expertise, gained from having been in business for more than 90 years? For example, Marriott supports us with state-of-the-art cleaning standards and technologies, adapted to the demands that have come up during the pandemic. This know-how helps us to guarantee guests a healthier and more secure environment during their stay. Also, Marriott’s loyalty program “Bonvoy” supports us to maintain customer relationship on a very professional level. By the help of the program’s app or website, guests can inform themselves, can book online, can check in and check out online, can communicate with the hotel, and can request additional services. Bottom line: The loyalty program is not only a benefit for our guests but also for us as we can better focus on the non-standard requests and needs of our guests.
During engagements with my clients, a major challenge is always how to develop innovation that matters. My advice is to monitor social trends on a regular basis and challenge those trends by making use of the innovation potential of the surrounding ecosystem. This means to better engage with clients, partners, competitors, and of course with the own team. What is your approach when it comes to innovation?
Katrin Herz: I agree, innovation is a lot about listening and understanding different stakeholders of a hotel like guests and partners, and for sure the own team plays a crucial role. For me, developing innovation also means empowering the team and encouraging each team member to do things differently. So it’s a lot about creating an innovation-friendly culture. Let me also mention our huge benefit of being a part of Marriott. We are able to leverage the experience of other brands and properties of Marriott in implementing new products and services.
This is a strong statement and commitment to the team at the end of our conversation. Thank you very much for your time and sharing your inspiring experiences.
Katrin Herz: It has been a pleasure to exchange views, so I have to thank you as well.