An international hospitality management leader with over 30 years of experience, Olivier Harnisch is the Chief Executive Officer of Emaar Hospitality Group. He is responsible for the overall strategy of the company, with a focus on international expansion.
He is responsible for the overall management of 15 operational hotels and three serviced residences in Dubai, and the pipeline of over 30 projects in the UAE – in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Fujairah - as well as in international markets including Egypt, Maldives, Bahrain, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
With the goal of national and international expansion as well as enhancing productivity and profitability, Olivier leads the company in unlocking the potential of its three hotel brands – the premium luxury brand Address Hotels + Resorts, the upscale lifestyle brand Vida Hotels and Resorts, and the contemporary midscale brand Rove Hotels.
He is also responsible for the leisure clubs under Emaar Hospitality Group and the Lifestyle Dining assets. In addition, he focuses on further enhancing guest experiences and implementing new strategies that create long-term value for all stakeholders.
Olivier joined Emaar from Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group in Brussels, where he was Chief Operating Officer, responsible for a portfolio of over 360 leased, managed and franchised hotels in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
He has acquired in-depth expertise in all aspects of the hospitality business through multiple leadership roles across four continents. He has significant regional and international experience in both hotel and restaurant operations.
Olivier started his career in 1986, and was initially associated with individual hotels, food and beverage operations and airlines for over 13 years, enabling him to gain strong insights in classic hospitality and in developing compelling guest experiences.
He then worked for over 14 years with the Hilton Group where he held the position of Vice President for Northern and Central Europe.
Olivier holds an MSc in Organisational Behaviour from the University of London, an MBA in International Finance from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and a Degree in Hospitality Management from Berlin School of Hotel Administration. Having worked across the globe, Olivier is fluent in six languages.
Hozpitality:- UAE, specially Dubai is a very competitive market, how do you manage to keep yourself different from competition?
Olivier Harnisch:- As the UAE’s homegrown hospitality company, we understand the market and the aspirations of our guests. Emaar Hospitality Group is first and foremost a customer-centric organisation, and everything we do is aimed at enhancing our service standards and in delivering a warm, personalised guest service.
One of our key differentiators is the choice of lifestyle experiences that we offer through our hotel brands, restaurants and our leisure attractions. For example, Address Hotels + Resorts is our premium luxury brands while Vida Hotels and Resorts are positioned as upscale lifestyle, and Rove Hotels is a midscale contemporary brand. This means, across our 13 hotels in Dubai, guests have the choice of pursuing an experience that they desire.
We have a lifestyle approach to our hotels, all of which are in central locations in the city, with effortless connectivity, and offer ease of access to various attractions for our guests. Further, we also have added-value features such as our U By Emaar, a multi-tier loyalty programme designed by Emaar Hospitality Group in association with Emaar Entertainment which assures unprecedented value for customers and makes it easy to attain and redeem points. We have also integrated technology as a key driver of customer service, which is another strength that sets us apart in the competitive industry.
Today, being awarded the role of Expo 2020 Dubai Official Hotel & Hospitality Partner as well as the Official Hotel Partner of Arabian Travel Market underlines the success of our approach to redefine guest service standards and set new industry benchmarks. Further, our hotels rank No 1 in TripAdvisor Rankings in Dubai in all three segments – 3, 4 and 5-star – from over 582 hotels in Dubai, a strong statement on how our primary stakeholders – our guests – perceive us.
Hozpitality:- For Emaar Hospitality, HR is the new PR, is this a new trend?
Olivier Harnisch:- We do not see Human Resources as a PR opportunity, although all good PR that it generates is welcome. We believe that our biggest asset is our team, people from across the world who are passionate about the industry and are willing to go the extra mile to make a positive difference. With changes driven by technology, a new generation of millennial travellers and guests, and more young people entering the workforce influencing the industry, it is important for us also to relook, evaluate and energise our HR function. That is what we are doing today with initiatives such as Hiya, our Women in Leadership Programme. The immediate goal of Hiya is to achieve 30 per cent women in executive leadership positions, 50 per cent women in general manager roles, 40 per cent women in management positions and 32 per cent women in supervisory positions by 2019. The long-run goal is to achieve gender parity across all positions for the Group through a clear strategy underpinned by Hiya. We already have a milestone appointing Sharihan Al Mashary as the first Emirati General Manager at Manzil Downtown.
Hozpitality:- The concept “World’s Greatest Hospitality Talent” created by Emaar Hospitality is a big hit, tell us more about this.
Olivier Harnisch:- This is indeed something close to my heart, and we launched ‘The World’s Greatest Hospitality Talent’ to attract the brightest and best from across the world. The challenge was open for all young talents below the age of 26 years from anywhere in the world. Young men and women with a passion for the industry applied for the coveted opportunity online through the submission of a personal video.
From over 4,000 applicants, eight candidates were short-listed and invited to Dubai for a one-week casting that combined traditional and innovative selection techniques, such as a performance at Dubai Opera and team-based business simulations. Finally, we chose Gabrielle Nicholson, 22, from the United Kingdom, as the winner. She is now working across the diverse aspects of hospitality – at the corporate level by shadowing the Chief Executive Officer and senior managers – as well as with leaders of all other operations.
Hozpitality:- We have seen that in Emaar Hospitality the job interview for new team members is not just an interview, it is an experience. Please tell us more about your “Casting Event”.
Olivier Harnisch:- The ‘casting event’ was a special evaluation programme that was part of ‘The World’s Greatest Hospitality Talent’ initiative, and not part of our regular recruitment process. However, I would like to reiterate that we do have a creative approach to hiring new talents. We are looking for truly passionate individuals, who can contribute to and grow themselves by working with us. Our recruitment process, therefore, places equal focus on the individual’s aspirations and passion for the industry along with the mandatory qualifications and experience for the different roles.
Hozpitality:- How are local and international hotel brands capitalising on the opportunity in the mid-market segment?
Olivier Harnisch:- The rise of midscale hospitality is one of the defining trends now, especially with more millennials from across the world seeking travel experiences. We had realised the need to leverage the opportunity early on, which is reflected in our Rove Hotels. We have opened five Rove hotels in Dubai already, and we have also expanded the brand to Saudi Arabia as well as to Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah. For Rove Hotels we also developed innovative concepts such as a licensed cinema in the Rove Downtown. Today we are positioned as a true industry leader in the segment.
Hozpitality:- Tell us about your group, how many hotels do you currently own?
Olivier Harnisch:- We now have 14 operational hotels in Dubai and four serviced residences. We also manage the Al Alamein Hotel in Egypt. Further, as part of Emaar Hotels and Resorts, we also operate the Armani Hotels in Milan and Dubai. Additionally, we manage a collection of restaurant brands including At.mosphere, Burj Khalifaas well as leisure attractions such as the Arabian Ranches Golf Club, Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club, Dubai Marina Yacht Club and Dubai Hills Golf Club.
Hozpitality:- What are your expansion plans in the next 3 years in this region?
Olivier Harnisch:- We are focused on geographic expansion and have doubled our pipeline over the past year. Today, we have over 38 hotel projects globally in markets such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Turkey and Maldives.
We are also expanding outside Dubai in the UAE with new projects in Sharjah (5), Ras al Khaimah (3), Fujairah (2) and Abu-Dhabi (1), through new management agreements to expand our main three brands of Address Hotels + Resorts and Vida Hotels and Resorts and Rove Hotels.
We are looking at expanding into many more markets - 58 in total - signifying our strength in managing mixed-use assets, which has contributed to our footprint growing in Dubai and the UAE, and in other international markets, including key European cities, India and China.
In fact, Emaar has already announced plans to take Address branded hotels to key cities in China.
Hozpitality:- World Expo is coming to Dubai, how would this effect your business, are you excited?
Olivier Harnisch:- We are honoured to be awarded as the Official Hotel & Hospitality Partner of Expo 2020 Dubai. In this role, we will provide authentic experiences with a strong local flavour at various locations across the Expo 2020 site, including VIP clubs and lounges, as well as in its hotels and restaurants in Dubai. We will also operate several other experiences across the Expo 2020 Dubai site, showcasing also the latest trends and innovations in the hospitality industry.
We will also be responsible for providing exceptional service to Expo 2020 Dubai’s special ticket holders. Our focus is on providing an exceptional level of hospitality that will encourage visitors from across the world to return and experience everything that Dubai and the UAE have to offer.
A growth catalyst, Expo 2020 Dubai will further strengthen Dubai’s position as one of the world’s most open and technologically advanced cities. And we are delighted to be part of this journey and will highlight exceptional hospitality standards for the 25 million guests who will visit the Expo.
Expo 2020 Dubai is indeed an investment in the future of our city – and we stand to gain from the positivity and vibrant economic growth environment it provides – now as we prepare for the event, during the Expo and afterwards too.
Rapid Fire questions:
Hozpitality:- Have you ever SCREAMED at someone?
Olivier Harnisch:- Yes a few times, unfortunately. And I always immediately regretted it.
Hozpitality:- Did you change diapers when your kids were small?
Olivier Harnisch:- Absolutely, and I loved it. Not sure my kids did though …
Hozpitality:- If you could eliminate one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be?
Olivier Harnisch:- The time spent in traffic. It costs me about an hour every day.
Hozpitality:- Did you ever spend money on yourself in a beauty parlor except for haircut?
Olivier Harnisch:- I love to go for a traditional shave at a real barber once in a while. A real treat.
Hozpitality:- If you could be successful in another profession, which would you choose?
Olivier Harnisch:- Airline pilot. Which is my other passion. I hold a pilot license since 20 years.