Rising To The Challenge: Tim Cordon, Senior Area Vice President - MEA, Radisson Hotel Group Radisson Hotel Group's Tim Cordon on balancing flexibility and (meticulous) detail in the hospitality industry.

By Aby Sam Thomas

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Radisson Hotel Group
Tim Cordon, Senior Area VP MEA, Radisson Hotel Group

Hospitality may well be one of the industries that's been hit hardest by the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic, but there remains a sense of hopefulness for the future from the industry at large- and that just about encapsulates the feeling I get when talking about doing business in these times with Tim Cordon, Senior Area Vice President for the Middle East and Africa at Radisson Hotel Group.

While he acknowledges that it has been a tough few months for his enterprise, Cordon is quite emphatic in stressing the importance of the lessons that the COVID-19 crisis has taught him and his team in this period. "This pandemic has most certainly shown us how unpredictable life is," Cordon says. "With daily changes, we need to be resilient, but also flexible and open-minded to overcome this pandemic. One of Radisson Hotel Group's core beliefs is that "we are many minds, with one mindset.' This time has most certainly proven that we need to exercise this philosophy, and stand together as we are all faced with common challenges."

Cordon has been working with the Radisson Hotel Group since 2003- he actually started off his career as the General Manager of the Radisson Blu Hotel Manchester Airport in the UK. At the time, the Group was called the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group (the rebranding happened in 2018), and the Manchester Airport location was its largest hotel in the UK, which, under Cordon's leadership, soon became one of the company's top 20 performing hotels from around the world.

This was followed by a stint in London, with Cordon taking on leadership roles at both the Radisson Blu Portman Hotel and then the Radisson Blu Hotel Stansted Airport. In 2010, he left the Group to work as the General Manager for The Cumberland Hotel in London, and after just about three years there, he returned to work for his former employers by taking on the role of the General Manager for the Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek. In 2015, Cordon was appointed as the Regional Director for the brand, and he then ascended to his current role in 2017.

Radisson Blu, Dubai Waterfront

Cordon's career trajectory should make it clear that this is someone with a deep understanding of not just the hospitality industry per se, but also the vision and mission of the Radisson Hotel Group as an enterprise. This would explain why, despite everything that has happened in 2020 so far, Cordon says that his company has remained steadfast to the goals it had made for itself this year. "We've actually had a busy start to 2020," he says. "While these have been challenging times, we are pushing forward with our hotel and ambitious development plans. We recently announced 14 new signings across EMEA in Q2, six of which fall within our region."

"The MENA continues to be a strong focus for our development plans, and we are therefore proud to sign these hotel deals, further strengthening our positioning in Africa and the Middle East, especially during these unprecedented times. The new signings re-affirm the Group's commitment to our ambitious five-year development plan. We are continuing to expand our new brand architecture, and further strengthen our presence across the globe. Our plan and ambitions are to ensure we are top of mind to our guests, team members, owners, and partners, especially as we continue to expand across the region."

Related: Redefining Hospitality: Radisson Hotel Group's Ramsay Rankoussi

And the company certainly seems to be winning especially on that front- after all, there's been a slew of announcements coming from the Radisson Hotel Group over the last couple of months. From the Radisson Riyadh Airport in Saudi Arabia (a 470-key property that's due to open in the last quarter of this year) announced in January, to the Radisson Resort Dubai Palm Jumeirah (the Group's first beach resort in Dubai) announced in March, the Group certainly seems to be moving ahead with its aggressive growth plans for the region. Indeed, looking toward 2021, the Group actually has 10 scheduled openings within the Middle East."

"That said, it's safe to say the COVID-19 crisis has thrown a spanner into the works- but Cordon says the company has decided to navigate these challenges by focusing on what really matters to the brand. "Our immediate priority has been and continues to be the safety of our guests, team members, and partners," Cordon explains. "Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we immediately implemented the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), and all relevant authorities for country-specific requirements, focusing our efforts and investment on expanded hygiene, health and sanitation precautions, and continue to do so."

Tim Cordon, Senior Area VP MEA, Radisson Hotel Group

The Radisson Hotel Group's commitment to this particular factor can be seen in the collaborative approach which it is making use of while navigating itself and the industry as a whole out of this crisis. One example of this mindset is the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol that it launched in May this year, with it comprising of in-depth cleanliness and disinfection procedures that the Group developed in partnership with SGS, one of the world's leading inspection, verification, testing, and certification companies. "The Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol includes a 20-step protocol and a 10- step protocol for meetings and events looking at all aspects of the meeting, events, and guest experience," Cordon notes.

"Radisson Hotel Group also played a leading role in developing the World Travel and Tourism (WTTC) "Safe Travels' protocols, the industry's global hospitality framework and stamp, to provide consistency to destinations and countries as well as guidance to travel providers, operators, and travelers about the new approach to health and hygiene." According to Cordon, these instances are a showcase of how industry players can work together and with industry bodies and this come together for the greater good of the public. "In addition, from an operational perspective there are many factors we've had to consider over the past few months, including repurposing some of our hotels for essential service use, adapting new strategies and approaches to secure a strong reopening," Cordon adds.

"Many of our hotels have remained open to support their local communities, medical staff and essential workers during these challenging times. Our hotels are continuing to open in line with local government regulations, and it is great to see people starting to travel again. Moving forward, despite the cabin fever that kicked in as a result of social distancing, travelers around the globe will certainly be a lot more conscious and cautious, and safety is on top of everyone's mind. Based on previous crises, we expect that leisure travel will recover quicker, particularly travel for visiting friends and relatives, than business travel, as companies tighten their expenses during this recovery period."

But Cordon also makes it clear that he doesn't expect it to be smooth sailing ahead either- however, he believes that smart enterprises will find a way to ride this wave to their advantage as well. "There are still challenging times ahead as the world continues to be affected by COVID-19," he says. "Our whole world has been greatly impacted, and the expansive global scale of COVID-19 is unprecedented. I feel there is a real opportunity for brands to stand by and clearly communicate their brand values and positioning to consumers. Consumers need to believe in your brand, in your health and safety commitment, and that you will deliver on your promises."

FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar, Radisson Blu, Dubai Waterfront

This kind of thinking especially applies to the domain he works in, Cordon notes. "Travelers still want to go on holiday, but safety has become a top priority," he explains. "As a result, the staycation trend is expected to grow in the coming months, with residents keen to take a break away from their home for a few days in a location that is familiar to them. Therefore, we believe, the post COVID-19 recovery will be driven by a rebound in domestic tourism. We can see that families and solo travelers have been amongst the first market segments to start travelling and making reservations. As travel and tourism begins to return, it has been crucial to add value to existing offerings."

"Guest are now looking for incentives such as F&B discounts, free upgrades, added value, and booking flexibility that enables free cancellation. We can also see a lot of reinvented loyalty programs with increased offers and points in an attempt to stimulate demand through existing customer bases. The unique selling points of a hotel no longer focus solely on location, it focuses on the type of experience the guest will receive when staying at the hotel. This is the reason we have adapted our philosophy to focus on making "Every Moment Matter' for our guests, to ensure our guests have the best experience. With that in mind, we have recently launched a set of staycation and F&B offers across the region."

Related: Turning Points: Simon Casson, President Of Hotel Operations For Europe, Middle East And Africa, Four Seasons Hotels And Resorts

With efforts like these, the Radisson Hotel Group is clearly joining its counterparts in the business world in finding new ways to get their enterprises to not just make it through the COVID-19 crisis, but thrive after it as well. "While every industry and every business are different, it's critical that organizations reinvent and redefine themselves and the way in which they work in the new world," Cordon says. "We must change how we think and work, and adapt to the new norm of business. As we rethink where and how business is done, it creates the opportunity for MENA organizations of all sizes to advance and achieve their goals, while experiencing a more flexible work culture, reduce their carbon footprint, enhance diverse talent recruitment, and make new investments in innovation."

According to Cordon, at the end of the day, you get what you put in, and that's especially true given the opportunities that the MENA region presents for businesses- regardless of their sizes. "Doing business in the MENA region could yield great rewards for those with the initiative and drive to make their investment successful," he declares. "In recent years, many of these countries have been attempting to diversify their economies, which has broadened the horizons and has created an opportunity for global investors and entrepreneurs to venture further into the region."

Tim Cordon, Senior Area VP MEA, Radisson Hotel Group

It's interesting to note here that Cordon's outlook on this matter hasn't really been altered due to the coronavirus pandemic- and that's an indication of the strategy that Cordon makes use of when leading his enterprise. "Luckily, one of the things that hasn't changed are the business fundamentals and management traits that help us run successful businesses: tenacity, commitment, and vision, and basic business skills," he says. "Times like these also teach us that we need to quickly be able to adapt- even the bestlaid plans often need to be tweaked when there are factors that impact its success."

"I personally always ensure that I am aware of the numbers and review them daily, as they provide a strong foundation in the decision-making process. Over the past few months, it has also been important to be able to separate the history from the now, and create a new competitive advantage, be it a focused niche or super service. Our teams have always been the most important part of our business, and never more so than now, as we ask them to look after our guests and hotels in new and more difficult circumstances. Making sure that our people, by far our greatest asset, are recognized and given the opportunity to contribute is critical."

With that last directive from Cordon being something that entrepreneurs should be well used to hearing by now, I decided to quiz him about his thoughts on the startup space of the region. "I am the sure pandemic has had a meaningful impact on the life of startups," Cordon replies. "While some industries have thrived, even accelerated, others now face secular declines, with structural transformations ahead. These are highly uncertain times, and no one knows how long the current situation will last or what the outcome could be." But it's not all doom and gloom, Cordon says- one should expect a silver lining to everything that we are experiencing right now, and history does back up that hypothesis.

"Looking back at 2008, it is astonishing to see what people have developed in the outcome of a crisis," Cordon notes. "Companies like Zoom, WhatsApp, and Slack were all developed after the great recession in 2008, and today, the world would probably be less productive, or worse, lonelier, if it hadn't been for them. Thanks to the willpower and spirit of such entrepreneurs, we were able to stay in touch with family, friends, and co-workers despite being sequestered at home." And that's the kind of sentiment Cordon wishes entrepreneurs in the Middle East take to heart as they make their way through the ongoing crisis.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has left many across the region in unfamiliar territory personally, professionally, or both. Whilst launching a new business in this current climate might not seem like the most sensible idea or safe option, it is those times of uncertainty that drive creativity, and often provide that extra motivational push. Looking at the cost of setting up a business, many fees are currently being waivered for new businesses and SMEs, which is an outcome of the economic stimulus packages unveiled by many governments across the region, making it more affordable to register a business. I honestly believe there is always opportunity to come from a crisis or recession economically, giving new businesses the opportunity to create a momentum for themselves," Cordon concludes.

Related: Champions Of Change: Accor's Maud Bailly And Yigit Sezgin

Raidsson Nofa Resort, Riyadh

Tim Cordon's tips for entrepreneurs

1/ Get the right people and empower them "Contribute significant time to selecting and developing your team, and then give them the tools and empowerment to let them "get on with it.' The right people will excel!"

2/ Keep an open mind always "Be ready to adapt and change, always listen to different points of view– you don't have all the answers."

3/ There's no "I" in "TEAM" "Recognize and understand that success is no longer "yours,' but derived from the success of your people."

4/ Take time to reflect on everything that you do "Have clear space in your diary- sometimes, it's not possible, but making time to reflect on what is going well, and what can be improved is too often missed in the rush of a full diary every day."

5/ Don't forget to take care of yourself "Downtime is important too– nobody makes their best decisions when they are exhausted."

Related: Trust The Process: Claudio Leenders, Founder, Leen's

Aby Sam Thomas

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor in Chief, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  

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