Michael Nugent is the regional director of Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts in Jordan. Nugent brings over 30 years of international experience in the hospitality industry and over 18 years at the forefront of the region’s expanding hospitality sector. He previously held executive level roles at Le Meridian and Mövenpick Hotels in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Nugent’s commitment to Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts spans more than seven years, with key executive positions in the UAE. Prior to his newly appointed role, he was general manager of Mövenpick Hotels in several locations and Apartments Bur Dubai.
In addition to being an enthusiastic, result-oriented hotelier, Nugent is also an avid sportsman and philanthropist. He frequently combines his love for running with his passion for charity work. In 2011, he ran a seven-day-long, 250 km marathon in the Himalayas to raise money for CWS (Child Welfare Scheme).
What is the outlook for the hotel business in Jordan in 2017?
What is clear is that we are in for a repeat of 2016, given the on-going regional instability. Local incidents and the subsequent travel warnings from foreign embassies have contributed to our year not having the best start. However, it is our job to promote Jordan at every opportunity and on every platform available to us. We are aware of the efforts of the Ministry of Tourism and Jordan Tourist Board, as well as the initiatives of many in the private sector. It is important that we talk ourselves up, not down. We will continue to focus on the more resilient markets, such as the Asian market and in particular, China. We are aware that certain markets, such as Europe and the US, will be slower to come back in the numbers that Jordan used to enjoy, so we must focus elsewhere, with targeted specific initiatives to generate the footfall we need. For its part, Mövenpick Hotels in Jordan is continuously improving its products, and indeed, the re-launching of our second hotel in Petra in March, will send a clear message that we are open for business and see only positivity ahead.
How difficult was 2016 for Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts in terms of running costs and taxation?
Running a business in lean trading times is never going to be an easy proposition in any country. Any increase in costs will, of course, impact profit. However, I am pleased to say that 2016 saw improved results in all our hotels, due in part to the excellent support of owning company Zara Investment Holding, plus a sales refocusing of our targeted markets. Flexibility and the ability to adapt quickly are the essential core behaviors necessary during tough trading times and that has paid off for us. Yet, we face similar challenges in 2017 and we need to create new initiatives to keep our existing clients engaged and also drive new business.
Did the drop in electric prices help improve your bottom line?
The lowering of electricity tariff was an excellent initiative from the Government and very well-received. This demonstrates the spirit of cooperation, recognizing that Jordan’s vital tourism industry needed support. It has allowed hotels to maintain and in certain cases increase local employment, which is a vital pillar for national stability. What has been critical is that we did not see the drop in electricity charges as an excuse for us to neglect our energy-saving initiatives and indeed on the contrary, we have increased the implementation of energy-saving projects such as LED lighting, which is being applied through 2016 and the first half of 2017 in all hotels.
What were your occupancy rates in 2016? Do you see them changing in 2017?
In 2016, occupancy rates increased modestly for our portfolio. The highest increase was seen in the Dead Sea at over 10%, with growth also in Tala Bay, Aqaba City and Petra. Petra is also off to a positive start in 2017, whilst the other locations are not faring quite as well. However, we see March onwards to the year-end as a lot more positive. With the Arab Summit, the World Economic Forum and increasing interest in more charter and direct flights to Jordan, we are seeing potential business growth and we are ready to support and capitalize on it.
You’ve worked in other countries in the region. What is the main difference between the tourism markets in Jordan and the Gulf?
Having spent 10 years in the UAE, specifically in Dubai, it is fair to say that for a variety of reasons, the tourism market in Jordan is different. The key benefit they have in Dubai is the airlift service into and out of the country. They have created a world-class regional hub. Also, the centralised decision-making process, combined with oil-based wealth, means they are able to implement their master plan for tourism, even in turbulent times.
This hub has created demand from all corners of the globe, despite the fact that the UAE has very little of the diversity and rich heritage of countries like Jordan. Jordan, as we all know, booms from a tourism perspective when the region is stable, as it is by far a more interesting and varied destination, particularly for the European and Asian markets.
What is the percentage of business visitors of your overall number of guests?
As we do not currently have an Amman City hotel in our portfolio, we are heavily reliant on the leisure market for our resort destinations. However, we have seen positive business in the MICE segment in the Dead Sea and continue to focus on the medical market in the same destination.
How difficult has it been to promote the kingdom abroad in light of the difficult regional circumstances?
We have the media and the travel warnings acting against us in the push to promote Jordan. Unfortunately, geographical knowledge of the region in many of our source markets is limited and as such, we tend to suffer the fallout of prevailing regional conflicts despite the calm, safe and
friendly environment we offer. However, we cannot falter in our combined efforts, at every opportunity, to get the message out there that we are open for business. We have also, as mentioned before, switched our attention to more resilient markets that are less sensitive to the surrounding instability. Nowadays, the global traveler understands that unfavorable incidents can occur anywhere at any time, so they are slowly becoming more and more engaged in Jordan. We, however, must ensure we have the affordable airline seats available to bring them here to enjoy this amazing country.
Given the amazing attractions and diverse range of activities for tourists in Jordan, how will you be capitalizing on this? What promotions and experiences will you be offering visitors to Jordan so they get the full Jordan experience?
We have a wide range of packages and promotions that combine the best of what our hotels and resorts in Jordan have to offer travelers can tour the Dead Sea and the historical cities of Petra and Aqaba over a period of four to seven days, depending on their preference. Whilst some packages cater to the heritage experience, others focus on relaxation and rejuvenation.
You can find out about our promotions by visiting our website: http://www.movenpick.com/en/middle-east/jordan/.