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Lebanon 2017 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Georges Ojeil, General Manager of Le Gray Hotel, on the company's standout concept, challenges for Lebanon's recovering tourism industry, and sustained efforts to make Le Gray Beirut's most unique accommodation.

 Georges Ojeil
BIOGRAPHY
Following years as Food & Beverage Director and Executive Assistant Manager with a number of properties in Lebanon, Georges Ojeil was appointed Corporate Director of Food and Beverage for Le Royal Hotels & Resorts where he oversaw Le Royal Hammamet, Le Royal Luxembourg, Le Royal Beirut, Le Royal El Minzah, and Grand Hotel Ville De France by Le Royal in Tangier. He was called to join IHG as Executive Assistant Manager for the Crown Plaza Hotel in the Dead Sea, Jordan, and then as Hotel Manager for InterContinental’s flagship property in Amman with 440 rooms and seven outlets. Ojeil holds an MBA from Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Paris and an Executive MBA from Ecole Superieure des Affaires in Beirut.

Le Gray, part of Campbell Gray Hotels, is a perfect combination of modernity and comfort. What sets your hotel apart from the competition?

Individuality and understated luxury is what sets us apart. Our hotel is part of the Campbell Gray Hotels collection whose concept is based on individuality, and this includes the identity as well as the approach. We believe in understated luxury, luxury that is at the service of the guest's comfort and wellbeing without being intimidating. All our hotels are snob-free zones and this certainly includes Le Gray, Beirut, the flagship of the collection in the Middle East. Our hotel has a collection of more than 500 pieces of art handpicked by our chairman, Gordon Campbell Gray, who is an art collector. This combination sets our hotel apart and positions us as trendsetter. Le Gray is a unique hotel with a prime location delivering quality service consistently. That said, our property embraces quality and anticipates guests' needs. Consequently, the adopted strategy has succeeded in grabbing a big market share so to position us among the key players on the local market since the hotel's opening back in November 2009.

A big emphasis on the human approach is key in this industry. How does Le Gray work to provide the best service?

Indeed, emphasis on the human approach is key in hospitality and this is why our greatest asset is our human resources, our people. Being in hospitality has some common standards to all hotels and this certainly differs according to the rating of each. However, the difference is in how we deliver the service and how genuine and how passionate we are. The difference is in how we can be friendly and stay distant, anticipating guests' needs while staying unobtrusive. To achieve this, the work starts at the screening and recruitment stage; we believe we can teach and shape skills but cannot shape attitudes. Then, our continuous training and development process results in knowledgeable empowered professionals who adopt situational leadership with an inspiring yet motivational approach.

Local authorities are working on several plans to bring back Gulf tourists. How do you foresee these initiatives?

Any initiative aiming at regaining Lebanon's place on the touristic map is a great initiative. Lebanon has always been the vacation destination of the Arab world, and the Arab tourist has always felt at home here. Le Gray has about 45% Arab guests, and we are happy to see them coming back. The first quarter of the year is not a touristic period to judge properly, but we already see the demand is on the rise for the holidays.

What do you currently identify as the main challenges of the sector?

Security and instability have a great impact on a traveler's behavior, making last-minute bookings a trend. This affects projection. As another result of the recent political and security situation in the region, the market has became highly competitive; a matter that led to a drop in the average rate. Now despite the fact that the trend in occupancy and demand are on the rise, the average rate is still on a much slower pace and it constitutes one of the main challenges. Delivering constant quality has to be balanced with a vigilant approach toward our financial returns management—an equilibrium that should guarantee a profitable business with many happy returns.

What are your main goals and priorities for the year ahead?

This year, and mainly the beginning of the second quarter, will witness the opening of new conference and events facilities at Le Gray, Beirut. We will also inaugurate 16 more rooms and add a lobby lounge with two different entrances, one specially dedicated for pedestrians coming from Weygand Street. So this year, our efforts are dedicated to making our new facilities the venues of the year, sustaining our position as Beirut's most unique hotel.