GM Interview: Christophe Schnyder, Sofitel Dubai The Palm

Sofitel Dubai The Palm general manager Christophe Schnyder speaks to Hotelier Middle East about leadership, sustainability and standing out in a competitive market

Christophe Schnyder
Christophe Schnyder

Having previously spent 10 years with Jumeirah Group, Christophe Schnyder has helmed Sofitel Dubai The Palm as general manager for seven years. In October, Schnyder and his team collected the Hotelier Middle East award for Hotel Team of the Year. We take a closer look at the key factors behind the property’s success.

According to Schnyder, empowering staff is key in any industry that involves human resources: “It is the backbone of every successful operation. When employees are empowered, their productivity levels automatically go up and they will feel accountable for their roles. But empowerment also has to come with clear objectives. Employees have to have clear directives on the do’s and don’ts. This has to come with the right training. People management is one of the hardest jobs – everyone is different and everyone comes from a different socio-economic background so there are a lot of things involved that need to be taken into consideration.

“I encourage the senior members directly reporting to me to make decisions in their own fields in order to stimulate their creativity and entrepreneurship. In more junior managerial positions, the same principle applies that has led to increased amazing feedback from our guests about creating special moments (‘Sparkles’) and, as a result, a positive impact on our guest loyalty ratio.”

Another aspect of Schnyder’s leadership  style is what he calls the ‘Balanced Scorecard’ approach.

It enables organisations to turn their strategies into operational reality, focuses all resources on achieving the strategy; employees are then empowered to develop and perform, internal processes are enhanced and focused to deliver what customers want: “Ultimately, all this leads to financial success. Clear measures and targets allow leaders to steer their organisation towards its long-term goals, and engages and empowers employees to live up to their full potential to contribute to the organisation’s success.

“Our philosophy on a global level is to mould the next generation hoteliers. We believe that setting clear objectives across all teams help efficiency and productiveness, and allows everyone to pull towards one goal”.

Schnyder explains that several elements need to be aligned in order to have a favourable outcome: “The success of a business is the fine balance between guests’, employees’ and owners’ satisfaction coupled with an efficient cost and cash flow management. Of course, we live in a fragile economic environment, but a healthy team synergy helps you to overcome unexpected adverse situations and pitfalls.” Staff retention in the regional hotel industry continues to be a hot topic but Schnyder says: “I believe if you treat your employees right and don’t really give them a reason to leave, then you are safe.

Social Network
When it comes to communicating with guests, Schnyder favours a proactive approach: “Our aim is to be very much in touch with our clientele, to give them the opportunity to contact us and liaise with us during the stay and not at the end of the stay if they had a good stay or less satisfactory stay. So that’s why we introduced the live chat, which gives us the ability to chat with our guests like you do on Whatsapp (with certain standards in place). An initiative that we put in place is payment using blockchain technology especially for promotions in order to ease the mechanism of payment and accounting. Our clientele is getting younger. So they expect this from us. They don’t want to have to produce a voucher or contact somebody on the  phone. It has to be interactive. So that’s what we’re promoting.

The initiative seems to be working well so far: “We have seen our satisfaction scores going up over the last three months
because, if there’s an issue, you can sort it out right away. People can easily reach you. Every time they log on to the Wi Fi network they get a mini questionnaire and as soon as we have a certain rating which is not satisfactory to us, we contact the guest proactively. They really appreciate that.”

Sustainable Initiatives

Sustainability is high on the property’s agenda. Schnyder explains: “At Sofitel Dubai The Palm we are proud of the efforts we make to help our planet. #SofitelSavingThePlanet is really all about how we as a hotel have a continuous and ongoing effort to making sure our practices are helping to ensure a greener world of tomorrow. Sofitel Dubai The Palm remains one of the most sustainably designed resorts in the region, and we continuously strive to better our practices and performance through technological advancements and various other efficiency models. 

This year we were certified “Gold Status” by the Green Globe for our continuous effort over five years, and also follow Accor hotel’s sustainable development programme called Planet 21.” Through its efficient segregation programme, Sofitel Dubai The Palm has recycled more than 120 tonnes of plastic, 8 tonnes of canned materials and more than 60,000 litres of used cooking oil to date. In addition, the property has eliminated the use of 4,800kg of plastic bags, replaced plastic with biodegradable products in all outlets and reduced overall energy consumption by 20% this year.

Schnyder says: “As a hotel we have implemented a vast array of initiatives over the last few years, such as our resort wide Earth Hour, which we invite guests to join the global switch off. We also have joined together as a team to participate in beach clean ups along the UAEs coast line. Our commitment doesn’t stop there,. The resort when built had sustainable design at the heart of it. All of Sofitel Dubai The Palm’s roofing is made from cape reed, a durable structure from sustainable African forests.

Half of our hot water is generated through 232 solar panels on the hotel’s roof equating to 2,200 kw of heat output each day. In addition, we installed sustainable roofing and solar panels that are fitted with a smart weather station that monitors rain fall, wind speed and temperature, allowing us to control landscaping requirements throughout the resort.”

The resort’s other sustainable measures include an AC condensate drain line, water saver units, eco-friendly wood flooring and  motion sensors.

Market Knowledge

In the current climate, Schnyder and his team have to leverage the factors that set the property apart from its competitors. He says: “In general, I think there will be growth in Dubai. I assume that hotels will see a standardisation in occupancy over the next few years. Hence, the importance of every hotel I think is to really keep the finger on the pulse with their key feeder markets. For us in particular it’s 45 to 48% from Europe. UK being the strongest one and we’re known as a family resort so mainly families. We’re really very active in keeping the relationship with our key partners. We travelled last year to China and this year we travelled to Russia to host some very prestigious events with our key booking suppliers. It will be even more important to invest in marketing and sales over the next couple years in order to keep  above the average.

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