GM Interview: W Amman's Esra Parin
A relatively new entrant in Jordan, W Amman has already made waves with its striking design and offbeat guest experience offering, and its GM, Esra Parin, is determined to steer the property to greater heights
Opening a hotel, versus running a hotel, poses different challenges. General manager of W Amman, Esra Parin, has known both.
Recruited to head up operations at W Amman in March 2017, Parin has more than 20 years of hospitality experience, including leadership positions with brands such as Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts and The Ritz-Carlton, across the Middle East and Europe. W Amman, the brand's first property in Jordan, opened in January 2018. Developed by Eagle Hills, the 280-room hotel, located in Amman’s new downtown of Abdali, references the Hashemite Kingdom’s history and culture, with W’s signature dark and dramatic design narrative punched up with Middle Eastern flavour.
Pragmatic, energetic and eloquent, Parin lives by W’s 'Whatever/Whenever' philosophy. As a female GM in Jordan, she is also somewhat of a rarity. “Though people in Jordan are very hospitable, working in the hospitality industry is culturally not well-perceived by families,” she says. There are also very few women employed in the business. “Normally [at other Marriott properties] we have a healthy gender balance of almost 40:60. Unfortunately, here we have very few female talents working with us. It’s one of the things we want to change in the near future.”
Talent acquisition was a big challenge that Parin took on as soon as she was recruited. “Finding the right talents and getting them to stay is the challenge. We are also helping them see a future with the group, through internal promotions and career progression, instead of hiring from outside. Getting the right people and making them stay is important, as staff longevity is one of the most important elements to provide consistent service.
“We had enough time before the opening to create an atmosphere where people are able to express themselves without fear. When we opened, we had the highest guest satisfaction scores for our brand and in our area of the Gulf, Levant and Pakistan. We work hard to ensure that teams gel well and solve problems before frustrations build up. We want to be the best hotel in the Middle East, not just Amman. To achieve that, we have to be on the floor all the time, talking to guests and stimulating people’s passion for service.
“High staff turnover happens a lot in Jordan. We want to change this. In 2019, I foresee our teams stabilising and working together, establishing a career not only at the W but at any of our other hotels that are soon coming up.”
To keep the team engaged and excited in the run-up to the opening, the marketing team at W Amman created a live TV station, fun activations and team building activities, Parin recounts. “We tried to keep the brand alive and make the talent understand what W is all about, because they need to embrace our philosopy. The 'Whatever/Whenever' passion points needed to be brought alive.
“I think we have established a good image and perception; now consistency is key. Today’s traveller is knowledgeable – they know what they want and what’s value for money. To attract and retain guests, you really need to provide amazing service, understand them and deliver [the brand promise].”
Among W Amman’s target demographic are Jordanians who know the brand from other cities, as well as those who don't know what to expect. Working with media and influencers, W Amman has targeted markets such as the USA, Turkey and the GCC.
Parin explains the strategy: “W has this advantage over other brands. We create enough interest and lifestyle experiences, which other brands can’t do in the same way. Hopefully, this will help us create additional demand. Other markets such as China, Russia and Europe are still untapped. There is greater potential to bring more people to Jordan.”
Parin lauds Jordanian authorities' continuous efforts to reinvigorate the country's diverse tourism offerings. “This would be the most important for 5-star hotels to reach their numbers. Lonely Planet announced Jordan as one of the Top 10 destinations to visit in 2019. At ILTM 2018, I could see greater interest in Jordan, especially in the luxury segment. Even if Jordan isn't exactly undiscovered, there are so many who haven’t visited, even from the GCC and Middle East. There is greater interest in Jordan, since other destinations have been consumed or over-exposed.
“Jordan Tourism Board, Jordan Hotel Association and the Tourism Ministry have opened a channel to communicate with hotel GMs and leadership teams. It has started the process of improvements for positive outcomes. They are going to look at Amman as a separate market, distinct from Jordan’s other tourist destinations such as the Dead Sea or Petra, which have their own needs and challenges.”
While W Amman met its occupancy targets for 2018, this year may be more challenging. Parin foresees lower average rates in 2019 because of demand not keeping up with the new supply.
“A good proportion of the business here in Jordan comes from NGOs,” she adds. “In order to get this business, you have to have security clearance. Hopefully, we shall complete that process soon, giving us individual room nights plus additional group business.
“Another hurdle is there isn’t enough MICE business as there is no new, modern convention centre in Amman, and the supporting infrastructure. That would be key for Jordan to develop further and attract MICE business. We still need to continue focusing on individual leisure travellers.
“We are a corporate hotel and for this segment to flourish, the geopolitical situation needs to stabilise, along with new investments in industries and companies based here. That will take some time. Hopefully when that happens, the country will see additional business in terms of economic movement, which will also have an impact on travel and corporate travellers,” Parin elaborates.
Parin doesn’t think that being a woman has held her back. “There are more important elements than gender that can make a difference, no matter what the industry. I never thought I had a disadvantage being a woman. When it comes to leadership style, everyone has their own strengths and walks their own path.”