GOING BEYOND

Saudi Arabia 2017 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Rafique Izhiman, Area General Manager KSA Jeddah/Yanbu Hotels & General Manager, Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG), Jeddah, on the role the firm plays in the market, expanding its footprint in the country, and expectations for 2017.

Rafique Izhiman
BIOGRAPHY
Rafique Izhiman holds a bachelor of science degree from Beir Zeir University, and joined IHG over 30 years ago. Has experience in a number of leadership positions, including sales, rooms and opertions. He is a passionate and energetic leader with a high performance record.

What role does IHG play in the market?

IHG operates the largest number of guest rooms in Saudi Arabia. We have over 744,000 guest rooms globally, serving over 150 million guests each year. Our family of 12 trusted brands includes several brands in the Saudi market: the business traveller trusted Crowne Plaza®, the friendly comfort of the city center Holiday Inn® hotel, the luxury of an award-winning InterContinental® resort, and residential-style Staybridge Suites. For decades IHG has led the lodging market, providing exceptional accommodation and dining experience and going beyond the hospitality experience with the IHG Rewards and IHG Business Rewards programs, the largest loyalty program in the world, to ensure our guests' complete satisfaction. Moreover, with community projects like the IHG Foundation, which aims to develop foundations of stronger, healthier, more prosperous communities through supporting community projects across the globe, we are doing our part to make local communities better for all.

How has the group expanded its footprint in Saudi Arabia?

Over the long term, the hospitality industry has grown broadly, affected by the global and local markets, driven by economic growth and an increasing trend for domestic and global travel. Saudi Arabia is witnessing increased demand in the lodging sector; as a result, we plan to launch new properties to meet this demand with the Staybridge Suites brand at the Al Andalus District, in addition to other projects to be announced soon.

Jeddah is a stop for all pilgrims to Umrah and Hajj. How do you appeal to pilgrims?

Jeddah is the global gateway for Makkah and Medina, where millions of Muslims head to every year to perform the Umrah and Hajj, and our role here is to take good care of them by providing the best amenities, comfortable rooms, good food, and our famous seamless service to allow them to recharge and complete their rituals or relax both before and after.

The Gulf has high demand for great service which can be difficult to meet. How do you train and equip your staff?

GCC locals and residents have a unique taste when it comes to food and accommodation which we understand, and we seek to exceed their expectations and amaze them each time they visit our properties. We truly believe our people are the ones that have brought us to where we are today and our people will help us grow even more. Our dedicated team learn efficient practices and workshops by the IHG institution and other training entities to maintain the excellent service provided at every level and department, and that is why we receive global awards for guest satisfaction from TripAdvisor, Booking.com, and Hospitality Check as well as recognition certificates by Cristal International Standards for implementing and maintaining the highest standards of health and safety. The most precious and heartwarming rewards are the thank you notes that we receive directly from our satisfied guests before they leave.

Saudization is a key goal for the hospitality industry. How do you train Saudis to meet the needs of your customers?

Many young Saudis are talented, highly motivated, and well educated. Our role is to offer them strong internship programs like the I-Host program for high school talents and Future Leader, a specialized program for university graduates. Via these programs we gave them the opportunity to train in the career they aspire to, with the supervision of senior managers, giving them the required experience to lead IHG properties equipped with the best knowledge.

What are your expectations for 2017 under the Vision 2030?

Change is the law of life and the global economy is variable. Changing the way things work has become essential to be familiar with the business cycle and to win at all times. 2017 will be a transition period and people need to adapt in order to meet Saudi Arabia's comprehensive and ambitious vision for 2030.