Speaker Spotlight: Geoff Ballotti

 Geoff Ballotti, President and CEO of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts discussed the emerging Mediterranean markets, major trends in hotel investment and development in the Mediterranean, how Wyndham Rewards benefits travelers as well as owners and investors and more during his panel In the Hotel Operator Hot Seat: Global CEO One-On-One at MR&H. Read his Q&A below for his plans for Wyndham's Mediterranean strategy.

  1. Let’s begin with the latest. Wyndham Hotels & Resorts recently completed its spin-off from Wyndham Worldwide Corporation and is now the world’s largest hotel company in the world by number of hotels. Now as an independent public company what is Wyndham Hotels’ development strategy? What should the market (and owners and developers) expect from here on?

On June 1 Wyndham Hotels & Resorts marked its spot as the world’s largest hotel franchisor and a leading managed hotel services provider. As a pure-play hotel company with the leading position in the economy and midscale space, we are even more focused on growing our brands and helping our owners make travel possible for all guests.

We are dedicated to smart global growth, development of our franchisees and the elevation of travelers’ experiences. Even as our global scale remains unmatched today, we continue to open two new hotels every day of the week, and last year we introduced nine brands to 21 new markets around the world. In 2017, in the EMEA region we launched The Trademark Collection by Wyndham, a soft brand aimed at mid-scale and above hoteliers, with the opening of more than 50 hotels in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In the GCC market, last year we were proud to open the world’s largest TRYP by Wyndham in Dubai and Wyndham Grand in Bahrain.

The markets and owners can expect to see more growth from Wyndham. Whether it’s through strategic acquisitions or organic growth, we have a long track record of spotting opportunities in the market and moving to meet that demand. Our development pipeline increased to nearly 1,400 hotels and over 171,000 rooms, a 13% year-over-year room increase. Approximately 51% of our pipeline is international and 70% is new construction. In EMEA our pipeline is equally strong with 104 hotels and 14,634 rooms.

Our key openings in the region so far this year include Dolce Attica Riviera and Wyndham Athens Residence in Greece, new hotels in various Turkish destinations, such as Rize, Izmir, Hendek and Isparta. In addition, our Days Inn by Wyndham brand has expanded to new European markets with openings in Nice and Rotterdam. Israel is another important destination. Our presence includes 2 beach resorts in Hadera and Netanya with stunning sea views, just outside Tel Aviv, in addition to other hotels in Jerusalem and Nazareth.

We are experiencing strong growth in the CIS region, where we have 15 operational hotels across Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. In particular we are seeing positive momentum in Georgia, where we expanded our presence with the opening of Ramada Encore Tbilisi in March this year, and have plans to open 3 more hotels in the next 2 years.  

  1. In the European leisure markets – how does Wyndham Rewards benefit travelers as well as owners and investors?  

Our work with Wyndham Rewards is really paying off for Wyndham, our owners and most importantly our members. We designed the program for the everyday traveler, Wyndham Rewards is the only award-winning guest loyalty program uniting more than 25,000 hotels, condos and homes across the entire Wyndham family of brands.

Wyndham Rewards members make up roughly one-third of the occupancy at our hotels up 70 bps over last year and total membership continues to grow by approximately 10% each year. We are currently at nearly 58 million members globally. Members here in EMEA are also reaping the rewards – membership is rising and we’ve seen occupancy jump 365 bps.  

  1. What do you see as the major trends in hotel investment and development in the Mediterranean region?  

European travellers are shifting from longer haul trips to destinations closer to home, especially to Southern European markets. Europe is a year-round destinations, with plenty of travel options, from Central Europe particularly popular for weekend breaks to the Mediterranean area, a top Summer destination which continues to provide a number of attractive development opportunities. In addition to these positive trends, low cost airlines have also changed and expanded the landscape to include a number of secondary cities that have become more popular. This is creating great development opportunities in the segment, which we are looking forward to capitalising on.

  1. How do Wyndham’s brands fit the unique conditions of the Mediterranean markets?

Our strong and diverse brand portfolio means that we can suit the needs of any type of guest, whenever and however they want to travel. The diversity of our brand lends itself to the travelling middle class that is increasingly discovering important destinations like Turkey and Greece, to name a few. For example, our resorts under the Ramada and Wyndham brands are perfectly positioned to suit the needs of our leisure guests visiting the Mediterranean markets. The recent addition of the word ‘Resorts’ to our company name Wyndham Hotels & Resorts says a lot about how important this segment is and the development opportunities it brings.

  1. Which emerging Mediterranean markets are you keeping an eye on and why?

Turkey is a key market for us. Not only it is the sixth largest market for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts globally, but we are also proud to be the largest international hotel group in Turkey. As of July 2018, we have 67 hotels all across this vibrant market. We are committed to maintaining our leading position through sustained expansion in this dynamic market.

Greece is another important Mediterranean market for us. In just over 18 months we have opened seven hotels in this exciting market, accounting for almost 1,300 rooms. We entered Greece in December 2016 with the opening of Wyndham Grand Athens. The co-located Ramada and Wyndham resorts in Loutraki opened about a year ago to much success, and we have continued to establish a larger presence in the Athens area with three additional hotels.

Cyprus is another high potential market. In 2017 the country had its most successful year based on arrivals and it’s building on great infrastructure, which has the potential to make Cyprus a year-round destination and an important development market.

Last by not least, in Italy, which is a fragmented market, local businesses are gradually starting to realise the incremental value a brand can bring, and we believe this is something we will be able to capitalise on in the long term.

  1. How important is finding the right partners to run resorts? Tell us a bit more about the partnership with Zeus in Greece: benefits, challenges, what difference does it make to customers?

We entered Greece in December 2016 through our partnership with Zeus International, and the opening of Wyndham Grand Athens. We have found a like-minded partner who continues to help us grow our footprint. In just over 18 months we have opened seven hotels in Greece, six of them with our partners at Zeus. In 2017, we announced an extended partnership with Zeus international to develop 20 hotels in Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania over the next 10 years.

Overall, finding the right partner is crucial for a number of reasons. From identifying the right locations when entering a new market, to operating successfully, and very importantly ensuring guests have a great brand experience, with the right service and attention they deserve. Ultimately, successful partnerships of this nature not only benefit the businesses involved, but the local economy and the country as a whole. Greece is a great example.

  1. How are travel trends such as the rise of serviced apartments, extended stay or the shared economy affecting the resort market (particularly with the recent opening of the Wyndham Athens Residence).

Wyndham Athens Residence is our first mixed-use hospitality development in Greece and a very exciting proposition that we are bringing to our guests in this iconic city. The philosophy behind Wyndham Athens Residence is to offer comfortable long-term accommodation to help make guests feel at home in the city centre, but at affordable prices, ideal for families and younger travellers. So it is a solid addition that complements our other hotels in Greece. 

  1. What are you most looking forward to at MR&H this year?

The entire team is excited to attend as Wyndham Hotels & Resorts for the first time ever. We believe with our breadth of brands there is so much opportunity in the region, and we’re looking forward to continued growth.

 

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