Business Traveller sat down with Dimitris Manikis, President for EMEA at Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, to hear about the group’s plans for EMEA, the challenges facing the travel and hospitality industry and the future of sustainability.
Key markets in EMEA
Wyndham is touted to be the world’s largest hotel franchising company, with approximately 9,100 hotels in more than 95 countries – 550 of which are in 45 countries in the EMEA region. What markets are of particular interest to Wyndham going forward?
“The CIS region [Commonwealth of Independent States) is the place where we will have more openings this year than in any other region within the EMEA division,” said Manikis.
“We continue to be the number one hotel company in Turkey with 100+ hotels despite the devastating effects of the earthquake and the political situation. Every time there is an election, people hold their plans and don’t act as quickly. But still we managed to open more hotels in Turkey this year, so very steady growth.”
Manikis added that Romania and Georgia are also seeing a growth in properties, while Wyndham has seen a lot of demand for hotels in Bhutan and Nepal.
“Talking about experience-driven tourism, these are amazing places and they need international brands as they grow”.
Major hotel brands have been increasingly moving into the luxury all-inclusive market, with Wyndham also taking advantage of the resort and leisure growth. This year it has expanded its strategic partnership with Greek company Zeus International to bring its Registry Collection brand to Europe.
The luxury Registry Collections brand was launched in 2021, with the all-suite Grand Residences Riviera Cancun the first to join the collection. Later this year, the group will open the Ajul Luxury Hotel and Spa Resort in Halkidiki, northern Greece. This will mark the European debut of the Registry Collection and will feature 171 rooms, 26 villas, 91 bungalows, five swimming pools, two tennis courts, three restaurants, an adventure park, spa and fitness centre.
“As part of our agreement, we have a plan to introduce more Registry Collection hotels or resorts in the pipeline… Registry Collection is not a highly consumer brand. It’s our top-tier luxury brand. You don’t have masses of hotels,” explained Manikis.
The group has also signed another property in Tbilisi, Georgia, though this will only open in 2025.
Angling for acquisitions
On the acquisitions side, Wyndham purchased European hotel brand Vienna House in a deal worth $44 million last September. This deal will see the group add around 40 mid and upscale Vienna House properties to its portfolio, equating to over 6,000 rooms.
Commenting on the brand and its expansion across Europe, Manikis said:
“I fell in love with Vienna House. It’s a no-brainer that we will expand the brand outside of the places that it has properties today. If you ask me where, I would say that the brand has such a DNA and essence that, with a few tweaks, it can fit anywhere. It’s that essence of European, Viennese hospitality. You will see people with ties for business and backpackers – it appeals to every type of traveller.”
“We never buy something to either kill it or keep something stagnated. We only buy to accelerate growth.”
Entry into the extended stay market
While Wyndham is an acquisitions-driven company, it launched a new extended stay brand last year (Echo Suites Extended Stay by Wyndham), with Manikis stating that the extended stay market “is the segment to be in” given the rise in demand for serviced apartment and aparthotel properties.
“We invited some of the industry’s best developers to tell us how they would build an extended stay hotel if they had a blank canvas… They have given us some great advice and that’s how we’ve created Echo. It wasn’t established by Wyndham for the industry, it was by the industry for Wyndham.”
The new-build prototype for the brand calls for 120 rooms across single and two-queen studio suites, with facilities including a fitness centre and 24-hour guest laundry.
As it stands, Wyndham has signed 200 contracts in the US and the first Echo Suites properties have broken ground in Plano (Texas), Sterling and Richmond (both Virginia). Wyndham is also looking at opportunities to bring Echo to Europe, though remains cautious about the debut.
“[We need to] find the right partner, right location, and make sure that what we develop is going to do justice to the brand because you want to use the first one as a reference point.
“We are now in the process of putting a bit of European flavour into the brand because it’s currently very American. We are going to launch it by the end of the year.”
While tourism has certainly bounced back, with brand expansion on the horizon to meet the demand, hotel groups such as Wyndham have myriad challenges to overcome.
“Airlift and infrastructural development is absolutely key. Travelling is not fun anymore. My main concern for this summer is can we cope? Are we going to have enough people at security at Heathrow? Are the baggage handlers going to take three hours? Passenger capping? These are the things that we need to be very mindful of. Because for all these destinations that I’ve mentioned, you need planes, trains and automobiles.”
For that reason, Manikis emphasised that “you have to do your analysis” when planning for the future and explore all the transport options. “If you open up a hotel in a place that no one can get to, then what’s the point? We all love remote locations but as long as we can get to them,” he added.
Manikis spoke of the trillions of dollars of investment in tourism in Saudi Arabia, where Wyndham currently has 13 hotels.
“Credit to the Saudi government for the announcement of a new airline [Riyadh Air], the expansion of Riyadh airport and the building of King Salman International airport. If you look at UAE and Dubai, the growth of Dubai – where did it come from? Through Emirates airlines. It established Dubai as a hub and then it all happened from there.
“We are working with the Saudi government to explore the options of midscale and economy tourism for the country and the kingdom. Luxury is only 10 per cent of the world. 90 per cent of people are looking for decent accommodation and want to spend on experiences instead of US$1,000 for a bed.”
For further details on Wyndham’s plans for the Middle East, see our feature:
Sights on sustainability
Sustainability is another challenge facing Wyndham, and one that is on everyone’s mind. How can a group with 9,000+ hotels ensure that its accommodations limit their carbon footprint and champion eco-friendly measures?
“Sustainability is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. It will take time, commitment, effort and on top of everything else, education. You need to educate your owners, franchisees, team members. Goalposts are changing all the time. It’s a long path.”
Wyndham is a member of the Sustainability Hospitality Alliance (SHA) and has its own sustainability programme, Wyndham Green. The latter is a five-level certification initiative designed to help hotels improve their environmental footprint, with Level 1 certification now a brand standard.
Looking forward, Manikis is confident that travel will continue to be part of our everyday lives and considers that as the main trend for the future.
“When we started travelling again, some of us thought that it was revenge travel. I am so excited to see travel being part of our lives and not a luxury. We travel because we want to connect. That’s the trend that we see. If we invest in that trend, the future of our industry is phenomenal.”
As for Wyndham, Manikis summed up the group’s focus:
“All in all, new brands, new markets, strengthen the existing portfolio, [and] continue to grow in the usual suspect markets (central Europe, Iberian Peninsula, Turkey).”