The Big Interview: Dimitris Manikis, President, EMEA, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts
In an exclusive conversation, Manikis sits down with our Editor-in-Chief Richard Frost to discuss how the world’s largest hotel franchise company is responding to the Covid crisis.
One of the biggest names in hospitality, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has an extensive global portfolio of more than 800,000 rooms across 22 brands, including Registry Collection Hotels, Wyndham Grand, Wyndham, Dolce Hotels & Resorts by Wyndham, Wyndham Alltra and Ramada by Wyndham. Here, EMEA President Dimitris Manikis explains what the hospitality giant is doing to ensure a rapid recovery from the pandemic.
Can you tell me about your role at Wyndham?
I am the President of EMEA, covering Europe, the Middle East, Eurasia and Africa. My job is to grow the business, make sure our franchisees are happy, keep our team happy, and make sure people know what Wyndham stands for.
I have about 460 operational hotels and an excellent pipeline, 95% of which are franchised. We are the world’s largest franchisor, with 9,000 hotels in 95 countries.
I’m responsible for growing the system, but also making sure we’re actually having fun while we’re doing it because this business is all about fun. Although the past two years have been full of misfortune and sadness, we survived and still managed to walk out with smiles on our faces.
How has Wyndham faced the challenges of the past two years?
No one expected the pandemic to last this long. I remember when we all left our offices at the end of March 2020 and said “see you in a few weeks”. And we are still working virtually now.
The good news is that our business model has proven to be very resilient. We are one of the fastest growing hospitality companies in the world, our system has grown and our EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation] the levels are very strong.
How have you helped franchisees through this difficult time?
Ultimately, you don’t have a franchise business if you don’t have franchisees, so the survival of our customers was our number one priority. We learned a lot about our own business, our customers and human relationships. And we’ve actually gotten closer to our customers through technology, which we never anticipated in the past.
We took a host of financial measures to support our franchisees’ businesses – measures that were hard on us, but good for them. In addition, we have implemented many new strategies – hygiene, virtual meetings, sustainability, etc.
How has the pandemic affected your hotel development plans?
How we handled the pandemic actually helped our pipeline. People saw the resilience of our business model and understood that Wyndham had the right brands in the franchise world and to some extent in the managed world.
Additionally, many existing clients brought us new business because they appreciated what we did for them during the most difficult time in their history.
Which hotel development markets are you particularly focusing on?
First of all, I see second and third tier cities accumulating a lot of business. Second, I see a lot of growth in Russia, the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States], India. Spain, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.
Additionally, we launched two new brands in the last 18 months. There is our soft brand Registry Collection Hotels, which is in the luxury segment. And there’s our Wyndham Alltra brand – our first all-inclusive concept – which has huge opportunities in countries like Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia and the whole Mediterranean basin. .
What is Wyndham doing to make hospitality more sustainable?
We have our own certification program called Wyndham Green – and registration is required.
Every time we board a hotel, we say “you must be part of it and adhere to these values if you want to join our brands”. We have five levels of certification, so you start with the basics and progress from there.
What lessons can we learn from the pandemic?
Over the past two years, what I’ve come to appreciate are two phrases: “I’ll do my best” and “Thank you”. In the past people used to tell me ‘I’ll do my best’ but now when someone says it I know they really mean it because I’ve seen what he’s done for our industry and our enterprise.
I’m glad you’re writing about them because some truly amazing things have happened. I really enjoy reading your stuff – you’re right there on my emails every morning. I love your pipeline reports, project of the week stories, and infographics.
If it wasn’t you who kept us connected for the past two years, it would have been difficult. I really think so. It was a silver lining for us as we didn’t have events and couldn’t communicate with the rest of the world as everyone was working from home.
How do you think the hospitality industry will evolve in the years to come?
First, durability. Sustainable buildings, architecture and design will be essential – more banks finance sustainable projects and more investors buy them.
Second, technology. It’s amazing to look back at what’s happened in the last 18 months alone – under normal circumstances these things would have taken at least five years.
Third, talent. We need to give back hospitality to young talent and we need more diversity because it’s still a male-dominated world.
To me, you can have the best sustainability and technology plans, but if you don’t have the right people to implement them, you have a big challenge.