GET TO KNOW: Debbie Merdjan CEO and founder, Camelot Group
The Hospitality Leadership Forum 2018 welcomes Debbie Merdjan, CEO and founder of the Camelot Group, as a panelist on the first day for the session titled African hospitality trends and outlook: What does the future hold?
The panel will be discussing the next generation of tourist and the seismic shift in the way the tourism sector operates, affected by everything from changing economies and government policy to operational efficiencies, technology and balancing the guest experience.
Award winning Debbie brings over 30 years of business experience including health & skin care training centres, product distribution, spa consultancy and spa franchise operationion throughout Southern Africa.
H&R Magazine: What do you believe has been the key change in the hospitality sector over the past five years?
DM: The growth in Wellness Tourism and people’s awareness of health and mindfulness has grown enormously. Holidays and business travel have changed in that most people want to ‘work on their health and wellness’ when they travel. There is a trend for guests to use their leisure time to look good, work on their skin, bodies and their weight, and perhaps do the things they don’t usually have time for.
It is pretty unusual these days to find a hotel or boutique hotel that does not have its own Spa, or is not connected to a Spa. A key change in hospitality today is that when people search online what the hotel rooms look like, they also have a look at what the Spa looks like and what it has to offer.
The hospitality industry has also changed considerably because of technology. Most people use the internet to research everything to do with their hotel, and connected to that, their wellness treatments. Anyone in the hospitality industry therefore needs to have a good and professional presence online, and keep up with the latest technology. This of course goes for the wellness industry too.
H&R Magazine: Where do you see the three key challenges in the industry over the next five years?
DM:The internet has changed things for the hospitality and the wellness industry. People are more informed than ever before, because of the internet. Clients are able to search for information on hotels and check and compare prices online. The same goes with Spas. It’s easier than ever before to do research online and to be fussy about what is on offer, at a hotel or a Spa. People check prices, they compare deals, and they have certain expectations. To be successful, we have to be super competitive and we have to meet these expectations.
For me, with the changing pace of technology, the three key challenges would be:
- Competition. The Internet allows people to do their own research and find great deals online. This is not a bad thing, it means we all have to stay on top of our game and we have to exceed guests expectations.
- Options. We live in a world of options. There is not just one kind of luxury hotel on offer, there are many. This is the same with spas. There is not just one good Spa, there are a vast amount. To stand out, both hotels and spas need to excel. They need to offer something that is unique and something that is different. They need to stay on trend and offer the latest innovations and technology too.
- We all know that hospitality has changed. Today you have the choice between a five star hotel, a small boutique hotel and AirBnB. We need to remember that people have choices and so if you want to succeed, you really have to stand out. AirBnB is changing the face of hospitality, which is not really my area of expertise but it is something to be very aware of. The good thing for wellness is that whether people stay in a deluxe hotel, a small guesthouse or a local AirbNb, they still want to incorporate wellness into their stay.
H&R Magazine: You are a panelist at this year’s Hospitality Leadership Forum titled African hospitality trends and outlook: What does the future hold? What are you most looking forward to discussing?
DM: There is so much that interests me, I would have to say Wellness tourism. Wellness tourism, which I touched on in your first question, has become huge. Hardly anybody goes on holiday anymore without wanting to work on some aspect of their health, either physically or emotionally. We know that when people book a holiday, they are also booking their massages, perhaps booking a specialist eye treatment, sometimes even having a little cosmetic surgery. I honestly believe that the hospitality industry and the wellness industry are intertwined and you cannot offer hospitality anymore without adding wellness.
H&R Magazine: The hospitality sector is undergoing huge change. What are the three tips you would give for success in the coming five years.
DM: Always include genuine experiences for the guests. Of course from my side, because I am in the wellness industry, this includes a wellness experience. Guests should be offered all kinds of inclusive experiences, not just Spa treatments. Offer a tour where they can meet the locals, take part in a local cooking class, or go on a neighbourhood cycle tour or walk. They may want to learn a bit of the local language or go to local theatre.
Bring Wellness into all aspects of hospitality. This goes with the above about cycling or walking. Have the huge buffet on offer, but also have a menu for vegans, a menu for people who want to lose weight or are perhaps Banting, or a menu for people recovering from surgery. If you’re a luxury hotel, don’t only have a gym and a spa but perhaps ask a special guest if they would like an exercise machine in their room. Go the extra mile. And from my side, of course have packages that include a few nights with a beauty and wellness treatment.
Incorporate wellness into hotel architecture. The hospitality industry is a tough one, which is all related to the digital age, changing technology, competition and world markets. Because wellness is so huge and so important, incorporate wellness into your hotel, not just from a marketing point of view, or by having a beautiful spa, but include it in your hotel architecture. There’s a gorgeous hotel in Bali that is centred around the extremely contemporary swimming pool, and has really lovely but discreet gym areas dotted around. If you have a rooftop, include a running track. You can be really creative in giving people what they want, but keep it luxurious, discreet and trendy.
H&R Magazine: And are there any specific areas in the (sub-Saharan) African hospitality market that you believe are unique?
DM: We have consulted with so many game lodges that include safaris and spas – hugely unique and really beautiful. You go on a game drive, see the Big Five, then enjoy a fab spa treatment. We have also consulted with luxury hotels where the emphasis is not only on luxury but also on art and wellness. Hotels have beautiful suites, an art gallery and a spa, giving the client a little bit of everything. Imagine walking to a spa through the bush, experiencing a outdoor hydro circuit or having a treatment on a hotel rooftop overlooking a stunning city view? Africa has all of that. Many spas also use amazing and typically African products indigenous to our continent.
H&R Magazine: Which type of people do you believe would gain the most form attending your session this year?
DM: I think that the bulk of people will be hoteliers interested in incorporating wellness into their offering and I look forward to sharing my knowledge with them. These do not just include the large deluxe hotels but also boutique hotel owners and guest-houses. Everyone in hospitality is acknowledging the importance of offering health and wellness to their guests and thus improving occupancy and guest satisfaction.
The Hospitality Leadership Forum runs from June 24-26 2018 at The Gallagher Convention Centre, Johannesburg
10.45am DAY 1 African hospitality trends and outlook: What does the future hold? The next generation of tourist is emerging and the hospitality and tourism sector is undergoing a seismic shift in the way it operates, affected by everything from changing economies and government policy to operational efficiencies, technology and balancing the guest experience. We take an in-depth look into the trends and factors influencing travel patterns and new projects and markets.