Laurent Voivenel took office in October 2013 as CEO of hospitality management holdings following a 13-year career with Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Laurent Voivenel took office in October 2013 as CEO of hospitality management holdings following a 13-year career with Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

Hospitality Management Holdings CEO Laurent A. Voivenel explains how he hopes to breathe new life into the company by solidifying its GCC base and doubling its UAE presence, while at the same time introducing a new benchmark for budget into Dubai

Having travelled back to the UAE from a trip to Iraq the previous night, towering Frenchman Laurent A. Voivenel, CEO of Hospitality Management Holdings (HMH), squints as the sun streams through the floor-length windows of his Jumeirah Lakes Towers office in Dubai.

The CEO took the operational helm of the Dubai-based company in October 2013, following 13 years with Starwood Hotels & Resorts at properties across Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Pakistan and Tahiti.

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Carrying on the company’s hallmarks of honesty, integrity and transparency, Voivenel reports directly to the HMH board of directors, comprising chairman, HE Sheikh Faisal bin Sultan Al Qassimi; vice chairman HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Faisal Al Qassimi; and previous CEO of the company, Michel Noblet, who is now president.

Voivenel smiles, plonking himself down on a comfy chair and casually launching into conversation about the deal he was discussing with a developer the day before in Kurdistan.

“We have some potential good opportunities there,” he says, animated. “At the moment everyone is confused because of the media; they’re talking about Erbil and Baghdad and people associate them both with Iraq. Erbil is Kurdistan and it’s pretty well controlled because they know about safety and survival.”

He refers to Erbil as “a hub of security in that region” and even compares the city centre today to Sheikh Zayed Road: “Five years ago it was empty and now buildings are mushrooming everywhere”.

It is clear that Voivenel views Kurdistan in a completely different light to neighbouring Baghdad, home of Coral Baghdad, a hotel he wasn’t able to visit on his trip due to security issues. Since the most recent political crisis began, he admits “the situation is getting a bit tougher and business is way down because people are not travelling”.

Not dwelling on this point, Voivenel lists the big brands heading for Kurdistan such as Marriott and Starwood, and asserts that the goal for HMH is “not to miss the train”.

His ability to do so is facilitated by the comparatively small size of Hospitality Management Holdings.

“I was in Kurdistan on Wednesday and the owner asked me when I could send the letter of intent,” he explains. “I said, ‘tomorrow’ and he asked ‘you mean Thursday?’ I knew the gentleman was negotiating with another company who said they would send him the documents before the end of the month but my letter will be sent before noon today. This is certainly one of the advantages we have over the big names”.

Although the team is made up of just 20, all necessary departments are in place, from distributions to development and revenue management.

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