5 minutes with Alaa Eldin Saleh
In a field of 16 highly respected leaders within the regional hospitality industry, Alaa Eldin Saleh, Managing Director, Accor Hotels – Makkah won the prestigious “Hospitality Leader of the Year” trophy at last year’s Middle East Hospitality Awards, staged at The Ritz-Carlton DIFC in Dubai.
Alaa will be delivering the opening presentation at The Hotel Show Saudi Arabia and we took the opportunity to ask him some questions about his career path so far and the opportunities that he sees ahead for KSA’s hospitality and tourism industry.
Q: There were an incredible variety of senior hospitality leaders on the shortlist but interestingly, you were the only finalist based in KSA. Does this tell us anything about KSA’s emergence as an international hospitality market, and would you expect to see more KSA based leaders on the list in coming years?
It was an honour to be the only finalist based in Saudi Arabia. Saudi today is emerging into the global hospitality sector and although most tourism in Saudi Arabia still largely involves religious pilgrimages, there is growth in the leisure tourism sector that was expected to generate $25b in 2019.
I was privileged to win this prestigious award backed up with Accor Makkah’s successful history. In 2010 we launched 3 key properties in the iconic Abraj Al Bait Complex, Raffles Makkah Palace, Fairmont Makkah Clock Royal Tower, and Swissôtel Makkah, the first Swissôtel hotel to be opened in Asia. The success of these properties allowed us in to unveil our second Swissôtel property, Swissôtel Al Maqam Makkah in 2017. With over 5,000 rooms, 22,000 beds, 2 million meals a year served and more than 2,500 employees these 4 hotels have become symbols of Makkah not just in room capacity, reputation and luxury services but as key beacons of the city.
As one of the fastest-growing tourism sectors in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is a country that continues to diversify with a strong focus on religious and business opportunities and I feel that because of this that yes, you will see more KSA based leaders in the coming years.
Q: Can you go into a little more detail on why you feel that the KSA hospitality and tourism market is now attracting such global attention, expansion and investment? What impact has Vision 2030 had on the hospitality market so far?
I am a firm believer that Saudi Arabia emerged into true hospitality era after announcing the new tourist visas regulation for the first time in its history to visitors from 49 countries, online (eVisa) or on-arrival.
We, at Accor, have revealed a robust strategy in line with Vision 2030, mapping our portfolio of existing 36 properties (13,782 keys) with expansion plans of an additional 37 (10,776 keys) in the pipeline.
In line with the vision, last year we successfully managed to push Accor to be selected as the exclusive hospitality partner for Royal Commission of Al Ula for the Winter at Tantora Festival staged in Al-Ula, operating Winter Camp 'AI Wadi' for the second consecutive year. I had the honour of supervising an outstanding team who welcomed 37,000 guests from 72 countries and hosted International Royal Families, Heads of States and A-list celebrities.
I see more opportunities coming our way with the support of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) in organizing and developing the entertainment sector and support its infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. The great success of Riyadh Season is a good example of the GEA’s outstanding ability to enhance the entertainment industry in the Kingdom, as evidenced by the 10.3 million people who visited the festival generating more than SR1 billion ($267 million) in revenue.
Q: And how are Accor Makkah responding to this exciting new phase of market growth and dynamism?
I am confident that with our various expansion plans of an increasing number of keys to our existing 5,000 inventory, we are continuing to be a partner of Saudi Vision 2030 as the main hospitality operator in Makkah, the two Holy destinations and KSA in general.
Believing in our local talents, our Saudization initiative in Accor Makkah is a keystone for my strategy in blending and attracting more Saudi talents in different departments, where now Saudi Nationals representing more than 33 per cent of our workforce. Our Saudi talents are positioned in all divisions, with many reaching leadership and senior positions. I’m also a true believer in what Saudi females can bring to this industry so we’re also working towards increasing female representation.
Q: You’ve reached a position of considerable influence in the industry, but you worked your way up through the ranks to get there. Have you been lucky enough to have any particular mentors or inspirations that have helped you in your career?
I am lucky to have come across such an inspirational leader and mentor in the world of hospitality as Sébastien Bazin. As CEO of Accor, he has committed to the UN's HeForShe campaign that seeks to promote women's and men's rights by pledging to reach parity in pay and equality between genders by 2020, which we had introduced in Accor Makkah as part of Vision 2030. He has led Europe's largest hospitality group to record profits and intends to turn Accor into the world's most powerful hotelier.
I am inspired by him as he doesn’t mince his words. Hotel discounts in Dubai? “They will never pay off.” Robots serving customers in restaurants? “That, I will never do,” he stated in a recent interview.
His vision and plans for bringing back direct bookings, destination Saudi, not for discounts, food and beverage and on social media's role today are all groundbreakings in our industry.
Q: And if you had to boil it down to two or three points, what advice would you give to young professionals looking to make their home in the hospitality industry?
I am looking to inspire young professionals who are looking to make their home in the hospitality industry, given the many challenges we have faced in Accor Makkah that we overcame by leveraging our human potential by creating exceptional team synergy, even in the most exhilarating conditions.
My first recommendation to them is that it’s about having a passion – and pursuing it. Doing something that you’re passionate about makes work effortless. Second is innovation - the application of better solutions that meet new requirements and enhance guests experience. Finally, the importance of striving to learn more and not become complacent in your position. These three qualities together make what I believe to be the recipe for success in the Hospitality industry today.