A Q&A with Al-karim Nathoo, 4C Hotel Group

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Al-karim Nathoo, Managing Director 4C Hotel Group, joined us at The Annual Hotel Conference to discuss what it felt like to be back at the event, share his predictions for the industry in 2022 and understanding customer needs. 

What are your top three reasons for attending AHC 2021?
I saw the quality of the line-up of speakers, that was really one of the reasons why I wanted to attend. It's been fascinating listening to some of our industry leaders today, some of the pioneers of the industry, Gary Neville being one of them. And to hear from some of these titans of our industry has been one of my primary reasons to attend. Having stared at people in a box on a screen for the last 18 months to actually see people in person, I wouldn't say touch and feel I might be breaking some COVID protocols, but actually to shake hands, bump fists, touch elbows with people again, and see people we haven't been able to engage with for so long, face to face, has been wonderful. The third reason I attended, it's been great to have a couple of days out of the office of uninterrupted night's sleep, no kids around, perhaps next time you can think about having it in the summer in Cornwall, I hear Carbis Bay is supposed to be very nice that time of year.

What do you think will be the top three trends in hospitality for 2022?
I think the recovery, and thankfully we are in the midst of this recovery, in our industry will be driven by leisure. I also think we as a group we're really doubling down on focusing on that leisure guest, working with the brands to see how we make sure we reposition ourselves to adapt. We are working hard to understanding what our customers need their new leisure customer, what their needs are, what their requirements are, and trying to make sure we make their experience extra special, give them that confidence to come back to stay with us, enjoy our properties, enjoy our hospitality, enjoy the experiences around our hotels. That’s really going to be an area of focus for us, focusing on that leisure customer that's really going to help drive the recovery. Going forward, I think the digitalisation has been a trend for many years. But I think that digital adoption, and that embracing of technology is going to be really paramount and a trend that we'll just see continuing to grow from strength to strength from investing in new technology, contactless technology, finding ways to improve the guest experience using technology, also using data better to understand our customer, what are their needs, what are their preferences, so that we can really adopt this concept of personalisation? I think we've talked a lot about over the years and industry about personalisation. But I think we're really at a tipping point now where that needs to be embraced, where we need to demonstrate the customer that they are front and centre of everything that we can do. And if we can build those long-standing relationships in the time of crisis, then I think we've got a really bright future where we have a partnership with our customers for the long term. 
And I feel much more bullish after listening to some of the presentations this morning, we're already seeing some green shoots. We have, as a group, just recently opened two brand new hotels in the City of London, the Westin in St Paul’s and  supports and the Canopy, London City. And already we're seeing that corporate demand has rebounded very, very quickly, there is still a way to go. I'm not going to sugar-coat it, to get back to the pre pandemic levels will still take some time. But already we can see that business travel is beginning to start, the wheels are turning. I think there's still more some more work to do. But I'm quietly confident that in the next 18 to 24 months, we'll see a really strong rebound in corporate travel, a rebound in events, small events, corporate events, corporate entertainment, etc. 

We've heard a lot of people talk about staffing issues as well today. How are you dealing with that situation?
It sounds slightly cliched and probably something you've heard from a lot of your speakers, but we are a people business. And people are at the forefront of everything we do as a group. Working with our brands, we work with some fabulous brands who put a lot of emphasis on making sure that our people are well looked after, providing strong training courses, providing pathways for career development. I think we as a group are also very keen to make sure we try and retain talent, work with the people that are already in our organisation, make sure their health and safety is paramount, but also give them the confidence that they are part of a group that has a long-term trajectory that they have a career path within ourselves. But it really is a challenge. It's probably something you’ve heard from many of your speakers. We've also heard a lot today about different and innovative ways we can try and attract new talent, retain new talent, recruit new talent. And I think this is one of the challenges that we, as an industry, need to come together and talk about like we are doing today in today's forum. And it's been wonderful to hear from some of the speakers about some of the ways in which They are now thinking of head that how to attract new talent by talking more about the environmental credentials by providing more training opportunities, more internship opportunities, working with existing apprenticeship schemes. I think these are all great schemes that we all need to collectively stand behind and help support

IRemember you can watch all of the sessions mentioned above on demand over here