Talking Brands & Growth: An Interview With Elie Younes, Chief Development Officer of Radisson Hotel Group

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Radisson RED

It’s been a rather busy year for the Radisson Hotel Group and their Executive Vice President & Chief Development Officer, Elie Younes.

Elie YounesIt started with a change of names and the setting out of a five-year plan of reinvestment in their brands alongside some restructuring and a focus on organic growth. The main reason behind the name change? To “leverage the wide awareness of the Radisson brand name globally.”

More recently it was was announced that China’s HNA Group Co. is to sell it’s holdings in Radisson to a consortium led by hospitality group Jin Jiang International Holding Co, controlled by the Shanghai government.

But what of the future? How can the global influence of the Radisson brand be leveraged for growth? How can change translate to opportunity?

We caught up with Elie to get his thoughts;

Can you give a little background about how you came to be Chief Development Officer for Radisson Hotel Group, and what your current role entails?

Becoming Chief Development Officer of one of the world’s fastest-growing hotel groups wasn’t something I ever expected to happen, at such a young age, but I am very proud. I welcomed it as another part of my journey. I’d held development roles within Radisson Hotel Group, as well as at other international hotel companies, so when the opportunity came up six years ago, it felt like the right time for me to step up.

I love that it’s a role that really allows me to interact with and influence various areas of the business – though my main aim is to enable the delivery of our growth.

This year has brought plenty of change for Radisson Hotel Group – in name and in brand. What have been the biggest challenges to overcome?

I think one of the natural challenges we’ve all faced is the need to maintain momentum and avoid distraction during this period of change. Overall, we’ve been fortunate enough to face far more opportunities than adversities this year. The positive market responsiveness to our new brand architecture (which is now much clearer to guests and investors alike) has been a huge boost – as have the growth opportunities that our team has nurtured through our asset-right strategy.

How do you plan to develop the brand, both at a group and individual brand level, moving into 2019 and beyond?

We’re focused on growing six brands that have a clear market positioning, from luxury to economy – and these include Radisson Collection, Radisson Blu, Radisson, Park Inn by Radisson, Radisson RED and prizeotel.

For Radisson Blu, we’re looking to cement our position as the largest upper upscale brand in Europe, while opening up new cities like Munich and Barcelona to the brand. Using our new group identity, the idea is to leverage on the Radisson name and success in Europe to to grow all our brands.

Radisson Collection and Radisson have so far been very successful with almost 20 signed up Radisson Collection hotels within a year and a handful of Radisson hotels. With these brands, we now offer a new and relevant value proposition to our owners, and guests, in the midscale and affordable luxury segments.

As for Radisson RED, we have significant plans to accelerate the growth of the brand in vibrant cities across EMEA. For instance, we’ve recently completed the signings of two new properties in Madrid and Liverpool. The first Radisson Red in the UK in Glasgow which opened this year has been an immense success since its first day of opening.

The Park Inn by Radisson journey will continue as it has done, developing properties in key locations in Europe and emerging markets.

Finally, we’re aiming to bring prizeotel to the UK, where we’ve already identified 10 cities that will be the ideal destinations in which to grow the brand.

So, overall, a dynamic, rewarding and fun journey lies ahead of us.

A lot of industry discussion has been on modern consumers becoming less brand loyal. How can hoteliers encourage loyalty, or should we accept this consumer shift and adapt our offering?

I believe that loyalty is still there (it is part of human nature), but consumer behavior has certainly changed. The traditional loyalty that we’ve established in recent decades needs to be reviewed and adapted to meet the mindset of today’s consumers.

Conventional reward schemes will soon need a radical rethink to make sure they remain relevant as the world changes around them. Operators (and other industries) who don’t react will see their reward schemes become obsolete, negatively impacting loyalty towards their brand.

So it is really up to us to understand and respond to the evolving behavior of consumers.

How do you feel OTAs and third parties have impacted the value of a hospitality brand? Do hotel brands continue to deliver value?

As much as there might be some panic about the effect of OTAs on hoteliers, they ultimately offer easier access to our services and experiences. Sure, they may be an expensive route to occupancy, but OTAs are distribution channels that have made hotel rooms much more accessible to a wider variety of guest.

You have to avoid confusing OTAs with brands. I don’t believe they have a fundamental impact on brand value – something that’s entirely in our own hands. As long as brands are relevant to both guests and owners, they’ll continue to offer value and attract visitors to our hotels. At the end of the day, the guests stay with us.

You’ve mentioned previously that Radisson Hotel Group’s ambition is to significantly grow the portfolio in EMEA. What’s particularly attractive about this market and what challenges will this expansion bring from a brand perspective?

Today, we’re the fifth-largest hotel group in EMEA, while Radisson Blu is the largest upper upscale brand in Europe. And that’s all down to our focus on, and expertise in, the EMEA region as a whole.

EMEA is a hugely dynamic and diverse region that hosts everything from mature markets (Western Europe, particularly the UK and Germany) to early emerging markets (like Africa). The same diversity applies to the investors working within the region. You can collaborate with institutionalized investors and family-oriented high-net-worth individuals, often in the same markets – and each profile behaves very differently

It’s this diversity that makes EMEA so fascinating to operate in. Success relies on the ability to be nimble and employ different rules of engagement in different markets. That’s what catalyzed our asset-right business model, which is designed to suit the nature of the region.

An example of this is our asset-light approach to emerging markets, which many times enabled us to be the first international operator on the scene. In mature markets like Germany and the UK, however, we balance a mix of fee business with longer-term lease commitments. This gives us the ability to be relevant to our investors and owners, adjust our risk profile to exploit the right business opportunities and optimize the ROI to our shareholders.

On a personal note, if you could open a hotel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

Answering for the business, I’d pick Barcelona. It’s the only key gateway city in Europe where we don’t have a Radisson Blu hotel operating. Watch this space, though…

Personally, I’d open a hotel in London, Cape Town, Hong Kong or Dubai. I know they’re all very different, but I love these cities and their energy.

80 DAYS Benchmark
80 DAYS Benchmark