Constantinos S Gavriel, GM of Le Meridien Dhaka, recently talked to The Business Standard about the local hospitality industry
TBS: You have more than 20 years of experience in the hotel and catering management industry. What made you interested in joining the sector? Tell us about your journey.
Constantinos S Gavriel (CSG): It all started when I was just finishing my school. At that time, I really did not know what subject I should study for a specific career path. My friend's dad was an elector at a university.
He suggested I should study International Hotel and Hospitality management. Basically it is a business degree. He said I could apply this knowledge in both business and hotel management, so I should go for it.
From a very young age, I had already been travelling with my family across Europe, America and the Middle East and I was always fascinated by hotels. So I decided to enroll into a four-year hotel management degree. After my graduation, my career started at the Hilton Hotels in London as a sales executive.
I spent the next 14 years of my career in London in the hotel industry. Then I started my expat career. I have worked in Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Abu Dhabi and of course, now, I am in Bangladesh for over three years.
Throughout the years, I have enjoyed discovering new countries and new ways of managing people in the hotel business.
TBS: How do you see the potential of the hospitality industry of Bangladesh?
How has Le Meridien Dhaka been doing so far? Are you planning to expand your services in Bangladesh?
CSG: I think it is an exciting time to be in Bangladesh when it comes to hotel business. The business is still in its infancy in this country. We are getting more and more five-star hotel properties opening up.
If you look at other countries in South and Southeast Asia, you need to look in retrospect where they were 20/30 years ago. Bangladesh is in that stage of hotel business. I think in the next 20 years, you are going to see huge development in the Bangladesh hotel scene.
The future is extremely bright for the local hospitality industry.
With the recent Covid-19 situation in motion, we might see a slight slowdown in revenue in the next 9-12 months. Once we figure out how this crisis pans out, I think the future of hotels and resorts is very positive in Bangladesh.
Le Meridien Dhaka, opened in June, 2015. We can say that the hotel has been a phenomenal success. We have had double digit growth year on year for the last four years. It had contributed to a massive following- a base of loyal customers. Our corporate, governance and catering has been doing great, and we have won numerous awards for excellence in the hotel industry.
It all can be attributed to the hard work and dedication of our associates. Our big focus is the "guest experience." We really want to benchmark ourselves against the best hotels in Asia, not just the local ones.
Our owning company Best Holdings Limited has signed up for two new Marriott branded hotels to be constructed in Bangladesh. One will be in Mawa, Courtyard by Marriott, around 40 kilometers from Dhaka. The other is going to be the first five-star luxury resort in Bhaluka, part of The Luxury Collection. It will be truly a one of a kind five-star experience. We are very excited about it.
TBS: What are your thoughts regarding the industry, its regulations and policies? What areas of the industry should be more emphasised in terms of development?
CSG: In Bangladesh, Le Meridien Dhaka follows all the international and local regulations and company brand standards. We operate at the highest level- whether it is safety, hospitality or health.
Marriott runs a special programme called "We Care"- which ensures our guests get cleanliness, safety and hygiene throughout their stay with us.
In order to make Bangladesh an attractive destination, I believe not just five star hotels, but all the hotels should be mandated under one umbrella- to meet the highest level of standards.
International travellers want to feel safe when they come to Bangladesh. The industry should emphasise more on regular check of standard maintenance.
TBS: Given the fact that Bangladesh is prioritising tourism, what opportunities do we have in terms of career perspective if someone wants to enter the hospitality industry?
CSG: For someone who wants to work in the hospitality industry in Bangladesh- there has never been a better time. New hoteliers will get to join this industry and hone their career. Marriott is planning to open nine new properties in the next five years.
We are fortunate that the opportunity to learn and grow for young people is huge in this country. The number of jobs that will be created by all the hotel operators combined is phenomenal. The industry has become extremely international.
The world is a much smaller place now. Bangladeshi people can have careers at home as well as overseas. We need homegrown talents to play a role during this growth period.
TBS: What do you seek in a candidate when you hire a hotel staff?
CSG: Above and beyond, what we look for in a candidate is the willingness to learn. On the technical side, we can train and develop our staff. But a growth mindset is required when it comes to working in the hotel business.
A candidate has to have a personality and learning capability. We can take care of the grooming part. A candidate must think outside the box.
What differentiates us from our competitors is the guest experience. And you cannot really teach this principle to a candidate, it has to come naturally from within.
TBS: Do you think having a degree in tourism and hospitality management gives a candidate a competitive advantage?
CSG: Obviously, a degree in tourism and hospitality management will give any candidate an advantage when they are starting their career.
But I want to reiterate, it is really to do with the individual person, his/her willingness to learn and adapt. Everyone in this sector needs to constantly learn and observe the ever changing industry landscape.
TBS: What is the highest paying job in the hospitality industry? And how can someone prepare herself/himself to get there?
CSG: If we consider our case, an entry level job at Le Meridien Dhaka starts from somewhere around $400. I can say the salary in the hotel management sector is very respectable.
TBS: How do you define quality of hospitality in the global market vs. the quality of hospitality in the Bangladesh market? What are the main differences? What steps do you think the industry should take to eradicate these differences?
CSG: The one key difference of quality between the international and local hospitality market is consistency. The Bangladeshi hotel industry has seen some impressive properties being constructed over the years.
But unfortunately, consistency in guests' experience maintenance is very hard to find.
If we want to stand toe to toe with global hotel standards, we must maintain consistency in terms of the whole hotel experience for our guests.