Back to business

Asli Kutlucan

“Business is back, meetings are taking place and people want to get on with life” said Asli Kutlucan, Chief Development Officer at Cycas Hospitality, speaking to Hospitality Insights. Kutlucan noted that people were taking precautions, wearing masks and not shaking hands, but having been back on the road for five weeks, it was clear the sentiment in continental Europe was “we’re back – let’s get back to business”.

Reflecting to the beginning of lockdown, Kutlucan said: “The first priority at Cycas was our team and our guests. Due to the large number of extended stay properties in the UK and continental Europe, we didn’t have a total shut down, so it was important to create a safe environment for guests and team members. That was the one and only priority we had at the beginning.

Our team were extraordinary. I know every operator or manager will be proud of their teams – it’s like being proud of your kids – but the way our teams put themselves out there, even before we asked, was very important for me. Once we settled into the new norm, we just continued like every other day we had our business active.”

On business travel largely feeding the extended stay segment and the precarious future for corporate travel, Kutlucan said: “Business travel is indeed one of the key market drivers for extended stay but business is a large market segment and it’s not just corporates, as everyone believes. Throughout lockdown, in certain locations, we had between 25 – 33 per cent occupancy from key workers, IT and other engineers responsible for maintaining infrastructure and public services.

The sentiment from everyone we are talking to is that they want to be back on the road. People realise that to do business, they need to be able to meet people, visit offices, etc. Yes, it is limited now due to insurance and liabilities, but once there is a vaccine and those are lifted, we foresee business travel coming back. Are the next 6-8 months going to be easy? Of course not. But after that, the corporate market will return to normal behaviours, slowly but surely.”

Kutlucan spoke of expansion plans for Cycas and whether these had changed in the wake of COVID-19. The Cycas portfolio includes 25 hotels, across five countries with 11 currently under construction. Senior appointments announced in April were in preparation for the opening of the hotels under construction, these openings are scheduled from the end of 2020. “Our business plan was affected, but there hasn’t been any detrimental damage on the company structure, corporate finance or future plans. We are cautious but we still have a strong believe in hospitality and the travel business and exciting projects and hotels that still on track to open by the end of the year including our first two double-decker hotels in Paris as well as several openings in the UK. We are thinking long-term and planning long-term therefore we are cautiously expanding our teams and our portfolio.

We are in a buyers’ market and there is still a lot of liquidity. There are already quite a lot of distressed assets. I am receiving calls every day from investors asking me if there are any opportunities to work together, are there any distressed assets they can buy? Every downturn is a big opportunity for some. For those already in the sector and who understand the cyclical nature of the sector, they see this as a big opportunity. Interest in our sector from investors has not decreased, in fact it’s now their turn to go out and start their shopping spree.”

Discussing the importance of people and culture at Cycas, Kutlucan said: “We are in a people business. We are essentially a service company. We are only in this business every day because we have people serving people. Therefore, talent and our workforce at Cycas Hospitality is our biggest asset. We are in this business to have the best talent and give the best service so that our investment partner can do more and more hotels with us.

We stayed as connected (virtually) to members of the team as possible during COVID and now the hotels are reopening and the full workforce is coming back to work, all the executive team want to do is visit our hotels and thank everyone for their support during this time and continue to create bigger and more amazing teams over these five countries.”

Finally, in response to her hopes for the hospitality industry in a post COVID-19 world, Kutlucan said: “This industry is filled with people who have passion, love and care. I want that to continue growing. I think our teams and our customers will adapt very quickly to the new norms and find different ways to deliver hospitality. We’ll work to continue to make this industry the greatest industry that exists.”