Dipl.-Kfm. (techn.) Detlef Schmidt, Stuttgart, Germany
September 08, 2021
During a Skype call, I had the pleasure to discuss recent challenges during the pandemic, new growth opportunities of the hotel industry and the importance of stress management in turbulent times with Armando Waser. Armando currently manages a dual branded property for Hyatt in Morocco and has an impressive hospitality management background by having worked in eight different countries so far, where he gained a wide experience in intercultural management.
About Armando Waser
Armando Waser, the Swiss-born General Manager with Hyatt in Morocco, has gained tremendous knowledge in the hospitality industry over the last 20 years. Holding a degree from the renowned Lucerne hotel school SHL and having accomplished an executive hotel real estate and investment education from Cornell University, he oversees strategic developments while being sensitive for operational management challenges. His assignments include different functions in hotel management in Lucerne/Switzerland, Madeira/Portugal, Baku/Azerbaijan, Paris, Casablanca/Morocco, London, Frankfurt/Germany and Amsterdam. Since 2019, Armando Waser has been the General Manager of the Hyatt Place Taghazout Bay & Hyatt Taghazout Residences in Agadir, Morocco.
Armando, it is a great opportunity for me to exchange experiences with you. First, I am curious to learn more about the following recent headline: “Hyatt Hotels Corporation just announced that it is buying luxury resort operator Apple Leisure Group (ALG) for $2,7 billion in cash”. Are we starting to experience a time for consolidation in the hospitality industry during the hopefully last phase of the pandemic?
Armando Waser: I believe the acquisition of ALG is a very smart move. It gives Hyatt the opportunity to grow its resort footprint and gain knowledge in this field, while ALG can gain visibility and benefit from the Hyatt network. Leisure travel is the first segment to recover from the pandemic, which confirms Hyatt's visionary approach to create leadership in luxury leisure travel.
In one of my recent articles, I emphasized the importance for hotels these days to better meet the changing client expectations, which are based on long-term social trends. What behavioral changes did you notice among guests during the pandemic and will they last?
Armando Waser: We definitely observe some major change. Guests have clearly been more concerned about hygiene- and safety-measures since the pandemic has started. A lot of guests are now looking for more space and separation during their vacation, so free-standing bungalows, cottages or independent villas are showing an upwards trend. Our Residences showed best results over the past two years and a sister hotel with free standing bungalows has seen a huge demand as well. Further, the travel restrictions invited the locals to travel domestically and gave us the chance to be better positioned in the local Moroccan market. Last but not least, I would like to mention the growing relevance for sustainability and environmental-friendly initiatives among our guests.
What were the biggest challenges for you in managing the pandemic?
Armando Waser: My priority was to maintain the wellbeing of our associates, both physically and mentally. The lack of stability and guarantees had a significant impact on the wellbeing of the employees on all levels. Planning and operation were challenging because of the frequent changes of government measures domestically and the periodically modified travel restrictions. The booking pace changed to last minute and upkeeping staffing levels, while having no long-term outlook, was the toughest part.
Are you grateful for a special experience made during the pandemic?
Armando Waser: I am grateful that this pandemic gave us the opportunity to see things differently, to try out new things and to reinvent ourselves. We became very creative in assigning our associates to other tasks (e.g. security services) and therefore were able to keep them employed with us. We also extended our client focus to local guests very successfully. In addition, we offered tailored evening entertainment, matching the taste of local residents. This made us the place to be in the area over the weekends.
You manage both an upscale resort hotel and 20 luxury houses attached, including private pools and golf course access. According to leading hospitality experts from around the world, you comply with major industry trends: A growing demand for leisure travel, a demand for resort vacation and a growing demand for more space and privacy with your residences offering. Do your latest performance metrics prove these trends?
Armando Waser: Yes indeed. The Villas of Hyatt Taghazout Bay Residences have grown both in demand and in ADR (= average daily rate). During the toughest times, they were our main driver with growing in-room consumption by its residents. This, and the events for locals, made the average F&B check increase. Promoting our spa to locals has been successful as well and will stay in focus, including some new investments in CRM (= customer relationship management).
To differentiate better from competition, tailored innovation for guests in different phases of the client relationship is key these days. What kind of innovation did you implement recently on your managed properties?
Armando Waser: We extended our spa experience by offering massages in an outdoor cabana and launched an outdoor pop-up sunset bar offering the best view from the hotel. We also equipped our Villas with garden grills so that guests can run their own BBQ-Party in their private garden/ pool area or can book a chef to do the BBQ for them.
What will an upscale resort vacation look like 10 years from now? Will we see more luxury all-inclusive resorts like in the Americas or will we see more tailored vacation experiences?
Armando Waser: I think one does not exclude the other. The trend to more tailored vacation experiences already started a few years ago, well before the pandemic. This will continue as guests are looking for more authenticity and true local experiences unique to a region. The demand for all-inclusive resorts will remain and has its market. Especially families want to escape from the city hustle and relax without doing much, while the kids are taken care of.
Towards the end, is there any question you want to ask me?
Armando Waser: Detlef, I know you have a passion for contemporary art. I am a big fan of living lobbies with exhibitions, vernissages and installations. Now, cost saving is a major factor these days and the first thing that is dropped is always what is deemed not absolutely necessary. How do you see this develop and how to best upkeep such initiatives?
Detlef Schmidt: Lively curated public spaces are in my opinion crucial for the commercial success of hotels. Connecting travelers and local guests with a special purpose is one of the smartest things to do. Doing pop-up art exhibitions and events in cooperation with local galleries and artists are win-win situations, especially during the pandemic. I advise to seek contact with local curators because they are, from my point of view, happy to find cost- effective solutions during these tough times.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview. I look forward to meeting you soon in person to continue this exciting dialog.
Armando Waser: Dear Detlef, thank you very much for the conversation. It was a big pleasure and I am very optimistic that better times are about to come for our industry. I believe in power of positivity: this makes us all stronger!