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Rixos Founder And Chairman Fettah Tamince Explains Why Guests Want To Stay At His Hotels (Even In The Middle Of A Pandemic) Even as the COVID-19 crisis crippled the global hospitality industry, Rixos Hotels had some of its properties busy and running throughout the outbreak, despite travel restrictions and country-wide lockdowns.

By Megha Merani

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Rixos Hotels
Fettah Tamince, founder And Chairman, Rixos

You know you're doing something really right in the hospitality business when a customer checks in and doesn't leave throughout the year of the worst pandemic in modern history.

Even as the COVID-19 crisis crippled the global hospitality industry, leaving millions of hotel rooms empty and causing many hotels to temporarily halt operations, Rixos Hotels had some of its properties busy and running throughout the outbreak, despite travel restrictions and country-wide lockdowns. "We had many guests who just didn't want to leave," says Fettah Tamince, founder and Chairman of Rixos Hotels, part of the Accor portfolio. "Why would they? They are safe [in the hotel]... their hometown is not safer than what we offer, [so] they made us their home. We have a guest who checked in last February, and hasn't left since."

Now, of course, his customers come from means that make it possible to foot a year-long hotel bill, but Tamince points out that the fact that they choose to stay with Rixos over anywhere else is because of their loyalty and trust in the brand. Because at its heart, Rixos embodies the traditional values that anyone who has been to Turkey will instantly recognize: hospitality that is personal and deeply genuine.

"I don't call them [guests] customers," Tamince explains. "We are a family... But then imagine you are in a family where you are sure your chef is on top of his job in terms of your safety, the engineer is making sure you have fresh air, your gardener is doing the best work, security is making sure no one bothers you, and doctors are making sure your health is okay and monitoring that everything around you is done in a very careful way... that's called service!"

Tamince says his family of guests includes members who have routinely been staying at Rixos properties for more than 20 years. "We have one million guests who spend their holidays [with us] and are very loyal to us," he says. "But trust and loyalty is so important now, much more than before. You have to be on top of your business. It's very competitive, because we are in markets where the growth of supply is double digit. You have to be innovative on your product and concept, and building a community. You can't just fight on price."

Source: Rixos Magawish Egypt

And within the community, Tamince says his guests have been reaching out to him directly with their concerns and seeking reassurance before they travel. "I have been personally approached by a lot of guests through my Instagram and my email," he says. "They ask about our procedures, and whether the hotel is safe. They want to know if it's safe to bring their kids. They ask if I'm traveling with my kids to those properties. I had a lot of questions that I personally answered to assure them that we had everything in place, and that we will be very careful to look after them and their loved ones."

Related: The Road To Recovery: Accor MEA CEO Mark Willis On Taking A People-Focused Approach, Immediate Wins, And Bouncing Back

As part of COVID-19 safety precautions, Rixos put an in-house healthcare system in place, and it also introduced its own comprehensive and stringent pre-screening procedures for all visitors. At the same time, Tamince says he was concerned about ensuring the Rixos experience wasn't overshadowed by rules and restrictions– an important balancing act to strike in these days. "I made sure my team understood that the guests are coming to us after a very tough time," he explains. "It's likely the first time they're traveling [since the pandemic], so while we do have restrictions and procedures to follow, we also need to make sure they don't feel overwhelmed. We need to give them the full Rixos atmosphere and experience, so they forget about what they went through over the last 10 months."

Part of creating that experience has involved enhancing the brand's all-inclusive concept. "All inclusive doesn't mean just free drinks and food," Tamince says. "We provide the best experiences when it comes to entertainment, sports, and activities for kids– and this has been our biggest advantage." Indeed, guests across Rixos properties have been welcomed back with meaningful entertainment lineups especially for children including edutainment programs, new food and beverage concepts with a health-oriented focus, as well as a long list of health, wellness and sports activities.

The brand has also partnered with ballet and dance schools, football academies, yoga centres, culinary institutes and more to develop its programming for both adults and children. "I have four kids, and I know when you go on vacation, you don't want your kids to waste their time," Tamince says. "You want them to learn something to improve their skills but at the same time to also have fun."

Fun for the entire family was also the intention behind's Rixos' theme park, The Land of Legends. The biggest leisure and entertainment park in Turkey –a joint venture by Rixos Hotels, Emaar Properties PJSC and Dragone Productions– opened in Belek, Antalya, in 2016, and Tamince now has plans to develop more worldwide. The Land of Legends' original and purpose created concepts, themes, designs, and characters are the work of renowned entertainment mastermind, Franco Dragone.

Source: Rixos Magawish Egypt

"With The Land of Legends, I believe I am introducing something new to the world," Tamince says. While he declined to divulge whether plans for a park in the UAE are in the works, Tamince confirmed that a Middle East location is definitely on the cards. "There is no one where we are copying or going after," he adds, when asked if his concept is similar to Disney's hotel and theme park packages.

Looking ahead to a future after the pandemic, Tamince says he believes hotels will need to focus much more on creating new experiences, proximity to nature, and outdoor activities. "I think we are going to witness longer stays with a lot of visitors, and we have to be prepared with more options," he says, adding that guests will now want to experience more of the outdoors, as part of, or close, to their indoor spaces. "You can have the best room, but [after the pandemic], people want to see a garden and trees, be able to walk on grass, hear the sound of birds, dine or drink outside, have space to play sports, and definitely have better activities for their kids," Tamince declares. "How I describe my my concept is that "I have all experiences outside, with some rooms.'"

Tamince's approach definitely appears to have paid off so far. He says Rixos is perhaps one of the handful of hotel groups in the world that closed the year with a profit, albeit generating only a third of its annual revenue. In Dubai, he notes that business has been "very good" since December last year, attributing the pickup to the government's exemplary handling of the pandemic.

"Dubai, I believe, is one of the safest cities in the world," he says. "We are operating in many countries... and Dubai has done very well not just in terms of business, but also with all the precautions and procedures they have introduced, the [rollout] of the vaccines... That's why Dubai is going to benefit." Tamince also shot down global media commentary that blamed large volumes of tourists for a spike in virus infections in the UAE, and criticized the Emirate for opening borders too quickly. "I don't think Dubai did [anything] wrong," he insists. "They managed everything very well from day one, and are monitoring things very well. As operators, we are witnessing this everyday."

Looking back at the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Tamince remembers that during the first weeks of lockdown, his initial reaction was one of shock. "I talked to all my senior management, and told them that we are going to face a tough time, and we should be prepared for the worst," he recalls. "And we did prepare ourselves for the absolute worst, but thankfully we didn't get to that." But seeing the empty lobbies and rooms around the world was very sad- and it wasn't just financially disappointing, he adds. "Everyone was worried about their health, and the health of their loved ones, about work, about the future. It was not an easy time."

Source: Rixos Magawish Egypt

And being a leader came with a lot of sleepless nights, Tamince admits. "You think of the worst cases," he shares. "You worry about your staff members getting infected, about your family and theirs... You think about food supply, you think about access to healthcare, you think about security... There are so many things you think before your business, your revenue or your hotels that leave you sleepless."

But then, one night about two weeks into the lockdown, Tamince decided to switch back to action mode. "The next day, I woke up all my team, and I told them let's not waste time," he says. "Let's not worry about what's going to happen to us, and what's going to happen to the world. Let's look at this time in a different way. What can we do during lockdown?"

The first thing to do, he told his team, was for each of them to choose how they wanted to improve themselves. "I told them, for example, if you speak one language learn a second," he says. "If you cook 10 recipes, learn an eleventh. If you are growing five vegetables or trees or flowers in the hotel gardens or your own, plan another two. I called my spa team and told them to find the best new music for their spas, find the best new oils, look at new therapies and training that they never had a chance to when they were busy... And we also decided to do some very quick renovations that we never found the chance to do, because we used to run at 90% to 95% occupancy." One of Tamince's most cutting pieces of advice to his team, however, was to tell them to "stop making Netflix richer." "People had started to say they slept at six in the morning," he says, exasperatedly. "Why? Because they watched five movies, one after another." So, what did Tamince do? "I told them it's not going to help them, and to use this time to come out like athletes who have trained for a big run- and that's what's happened," he declares, proudly.

Related: A Lifestyle Revolution: The Merger Between Accor And Ennismore Ushers In A New Era Of Hospitality

Megha Merani

Independent Journalist

Megha Merani is an independent journalist based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Her stories have made headlines across a number of publications including Reuters, Associated Press, Entrepreneur Middle EastBloomberg Middle East, Arabian Gulf Business Insight, Arabian Business, and former local daily 7DAYS.

Megha also produces editorial for government platforms including the World Government Summit and World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils. She has been a grant winner of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The Global Initiative Against Organized Crime funded by the government of Norway to report on the online trade in illegal wildlife.

Megha is also an Associate Fellow (AFHEA) at Murdoch University in Dubai and leads its Digital Newsroom course unit. In addition, Megha serves as a United Nations Women mentor to support equal opportunities for women entrepreneurs, and supports various other programs including TIE Women, 60 Day Startups, and the Watt Inc. Business Incubator.

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