The Future of the Hospitality Industry in Egypt and What it Takes to Succeed

Mohamed B. Ibrahim
General Manager at Holiday Inn & Suites Cairo Maadi, and Holiday Inn Cairo Maadi

How has the hotel industry in Egypt evolved in recent years, and what steps have you taken to keep up with changing guest expectations and preferences?

Egypt is on the right track for tourism recovery after the pandemic, I believe the reason why we have not yet reached the highest number of tourists we had in 2010 is because of the security issues in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. This being said, the construction and development happening the past 7 years allowed Egypt to climb back towards the 2010 tourism numbers. 

Overall, Egypt did a good job of controlling the pandemic and managing the restrictions, which were not as bad as in some other countries. During this time, the government invested in infrastructure and improved highways, which helped when tourism started to pick up again. The devaluation of the currency has also had a positive impact on tourism, making it more affordable for tourists.

If we take Turkey as an example- the leading tourist destination in the Middle East- Egypt has a similar combination of a safe country, good infrastructure, and a cheap currency, which will attract more tourists. I predict that 2023 will be the year we surpass the 15 million tourists mark again, especially since the first quarter of the year is already showing positive signs.

What sets the Holiday Inn Maadi apart from other hotels in the area, and how do you ensure that your guests have a memorable experience during their stay?

I believe the Holiday Inn brand makes sense, especially in the mid-scale segment. It's the oldest branded name in the world and has a reputation for providing a comfortable and affordable holiday experience. 

Guests want to feel at home and not pay a lot of money for good service, and that's what we aim to deliver. While we don't offer the same level of luxury hotels, we strive to provide a homey, welcoming atmosphere that guests appreciate. At our hotel, we're evaluated on 10 metrics, but the two most important ones to me are guest satisfaction and employee satisfaction. If we consistently deliver on these metrics, our guests will keep coming back. We aim for scores above 85, and when they're above 90, we know we're doing something right.

One of the keys to our success is our TLC approach -  providing tender loving care. We prioritise treating our guests and employees with respect and kindness, and we believe that this approach is just as important as the physical amenities of the hotel. With this approach, we've been able to maintain guest scores above 90 and employee satisfaction scores above 90, even with limited resources.

What are some of the challenges that you face as a General Manager, and how do you address them to ensure the smooth operation of the hotel?

In the hotel industry, challenges are a constant factor, as we sell intangible services rather than physical products. From sourcing raw materials to dealing with government regulations and taxations, there are always obstacles to overcome. For instance, if we can't find a specific ingredient or product, we have to think outside the box and find alternative solutions. It's important to keep the management team engaged and involved in finding solutions to these challenges. Additionally, we have to be empathetic towards our team and understand their needs. For example, we provide our staff with a good meal plan, including meat protein every day, which helps them feel valued and appreciated. These small investments help us maintain high employee satisfaction levels and, in turn, provide better service to our guests. Ultimately, the key to success is to keep learning from each other and sharing our experiences with stakeholders.

What strategies do you have in place to attract both business and leisure travellers, and how do you balance the needs of these different types of guests?

We strive to adapt to changing market demands. While we have traditionally focused on corporate travel, we recognise that the current trend is towards leisure travel. We believe in capitalising on any opportunities that come our way. For leisure travel, we concentrate on digital advertising and media through various online platforms, tailoring our approach to suit the target market. For example, in Saudi Arabia, we use Snapchat instead of Twitter, while in Egypt, we focus on Instagram. We partner with experienced agencies that know the Middle Eastern market well and attend trade shows to showcase our offerings. Digital advertising is a critical tool for us right now to attract leisure travellers. For corporate travel, our approach is all about sales and understanding the market. Our sales team extends beyond just the sales team and includes front office staff and guest relations. We recognize that a comprehensive approach is necessary for continued success in this area. As someone with a sales background, I am keenly aware that a strong team in the front office is essential to our success in attracting corporate travellers.

What’s a piece of advice you would give to Muslims overseas wanting to work in the hospitality industry? 

If you're looking to start a career overseas in the hotel industry, it's important to be aware of potential biases, and favouritism that may be present. You may not have the same status as a scientist or doctor, but you bring a unique perspective with your dual language and culture that is needed in the industry. 

To be successful, it's important to be humble and understand that hard work will pay off. Big companies appreciate hard workers who are willing to put in the effort to succeed. Additionally, be prepared to travel and relocate frequently. Many successful hotel industry leaders started in Africa, paying their dues and gaining valuable experience. So, if you're looking to succeed in this industry, learn to be humble and take the risk to relocate and grow.