GM INTERVIEW: Yannis Anagnostakis
IHG Dubai Festival City GM shares management strategies and F&B news
IHG Festival City Properties area general manager Yannis Anagnostakis explains the leadership strategy for the four properties he manages and reveals some exciting changes in F&B at his hotels
Taking the reins as incoming GM at an established hotel is a challenge international hoteliers take on time and time again. Typically upon arrival, the pressure is on from owners to present a draft strategy, while on the ground, the GM must get to know his team, subtly sussing out ways to make their mark and drive success.
Greek national Yannis Anagnostakis became area general manager at InterContinental Hotels Group’s (IHG) cluster of hotels in Dubai Festival City (DFC) just over a year ago.
With this, he made the jump from running one hotel, Jumeirah Emirates Towers, to four properties: InterContinental Dubai Festival City, InterContinental Residence Suites DFC, Crowne Plaza DFC and the Al Badia Golf Club.
However, it also marked his return to IHG, a company he’d previously worked with in the Americas, as GM of InterContinental Toronto, “just as things became normal again”, he acknowledges of the Dubai market.
Anagnostakis has been in Dubai for five years, thus witnessing the impact IHG DFC had on the market following its 2007 launch, not to mention the slump in Dubai’s hotel business in 2008/9 and its momentous bounce back, felt most in 2012.
His understanding of the market dynamics meant that on joining the hotel last January, Anagnostakis was able to focus on understanding the people he was now to manage. “The first year is usually a special mission, you have to spend a lot of time in the discovery process,” he observes.
“I don’t feel that you need to rip everything apart when you arrive in a property, you just need to get the maximum buy-in from the management team and your colleagues. You have to spend time in explaining what the vision is.”
This philosophy became even more important considering that Anagnostakis’ first task was to review the set-up of the management team to ensure a “completely brand-hearted” approach.
This involves two hotels managers, one for the two InterContinental branded properties and one for Crowne Plaza, and a golf club manager reporting to Anagnostakis, each with their own direct reports and each responsible for co-ordinating various operating shared services.
“[That one person] has to report into three different hotel managers,” says Anagnostakis. “It’s quite a complex set-up. But by clearly defining and clearly redeploying the management team, we ensured that every property gets adequate attention. Once you tend to bag everything into one then you miss the detailing.”
He explains: “We expect our colleagues to display specific behaviours within each of our properties that are branded differently. So for example, at InterContinental we’re asking the colleagues to deliver service ‘at your side’.
At Crowne Plaza, our pledge to our customers is ‘to keep them one step ahead’. They are two different behaviours and we had to put people through intense brand delivery training.
“At the end ultimately there is a differentiation between the properties. So the risk here when you’re running three hotels within one cluster is to mix the brand delivery and that’s what we worked on in the past year and will continue this year,” asserts Anagnostakis.
Another focus point for 2013 is the F&B offering of the hotels, particularly InterContinental— in which we can expect some significant changes. “We want to tweak a lot of the F&B,” Anagnostakis says, because the Dubai market demands that hotels must compete with free-standing restaurants.
“Seven or eight years ago when we were planning or developing these properties, we never thought that we would end up with a city that has so many free-standing restaurants coming from around the world.”
As a result, he says IHG, in collaboration with owning company the Al Futtaim Group, wants to focus on creating proper identities for its outlets — starting with Vista Bar and Lounge.
“We recently expanded our Vista bar into a beautiful terrace but already this summer we are planning a complete overhaul of both the Vista Lounge and the Vista Bar. They will become two completely separate concepts,” he reveals. “We want to give them a destination identity,” asserts Anagnostakis. “We don’t want to operate just a hotel bar or a hotel lobby lounge.”
“We believe that every property must give a touch of differentiation and a reason for customers , residents as well, to visit those outlets. That’s the hotel guests — we’re trying to attract them to stay in the hotel by offering a different entertainment and dining scene — while we must also appeal to Dubai residents, we want more of that,” he says.
The concepts are being created in-house, however, IHG is also in talks with some third-party restaurant operators for other venues.
“We are considering successful third-party concepts and any hotelier who doesn’t would not be serving their brand, their company, or their owners well.
“When a restaurateur or restaurant operator has created a successful brand it would be a shame to exclude them from functioning in a hotel environment,” says Anagnostakis.
InterContinental DFC already has a partnership with three Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire and Anagnostakis reveals the hotel is working on creating an additional dining experience with Gagnaire.
“We’re expanding our operation of Reflets by Pierre Gagnaire so very soon we hope to be in a position to inaugurate a different dining environment in Reflets at the terrace. We have a beautiful area outside. It’s a big secret but we want to present something different,” he says, adding that the new menu would offer “a lightened up version of Pierre Gagnaire’s masterpieces”.
Anagnostakis is reluctant to reveal other changes ahead, however, explaining that IHG is in “very lengthy and serious discussions with our owners”.
“Sometimes things take a little bit of time and we also need to plan around an occupancy that doesn’t necessarily permit renovation,” he says.
Speaking of occupancy, Anagnostakis says all the properties “enjoyed a very robust growth” last year, in part credit to the upward performance of Dubai but also attributable to the success of the revised management strategy working across all market segments.
“Overall our revenue recorded substantial growth, I do not wish to reveal the percentage however, it was sizeable, extremely satisfactory,” he says. “It was a positive year, for us we focused on beating our competition.
This is something extremely important for IHG-branded hotels, this is something that we keep at the forefront of everything we do. We wanted to push our properties substantially higher up the ranks.”
Continuing on this upward curve is the goal for 2013, through focusing on staff, who will in turn deliver to guests. “I don’t want to take anything away from the customer unless it is absolutely necessary,” asserts Anagnostakis.
“I think it’s time to give more rather than take away in order to achieve a higher profit. Ultimately, once you add services and have your team working towards delivering outstanding customer service every single day, that will bring the result,” he concludes.