Aurelio Giraudo holds a bachelor’s degree in Hotel Administration from Italian Hospitality and has completed a number of senior leadership programs at Cornell and Bocconi University. Prior to his appointment at Accor as cluster general manager for Banyan Tree Doha and La Cigale Hotel Managed by Accor, he was the cluster general manager for Kempinski Group in Kenya.
Aurelio has four decades of experience with leading luxury hospitality companies including Four Seasons, Shangri-La, Preferred Hotels and Resorts, Dusit Hotels and Resorts, Marriott and Accor group. Aurelio is no stranger to the Banyan Tree group, during his early years in the hospitality industry, he was working for them in Banyan Tree Bintan Indonesia.
In his current role, he is in charge of repositioning the La Cigale Hotel under the Accor umbrella and to ensure the successful opening of Banyan Tree Doha, which will be the first co venture between Accor and Banyan Tree Group. With his extensive expertise in sales and marketing, food and beverage, revenue management and finance departments, he will be responsible to achieve the commercial objectives of both the hotels and position the hotels as preferred destination for local and international travellers.
Aurelio is no stranger to the Middle East market wherein he has held a senior leadership role with The Regency Hotel in Kuwait in the capacity of general manager and director of business development.
In an interesting conversation, LLM speaks with Aurelio about the new upcoming Banyan Tree Doha, FIFA World Cup 2022, what makes La Cigale hotel a unique property, and measures taken by his team to deal with the post-Covid-19 situation.
What can you tell us about the upcoming opening of Banyan Tree Doha?
It will be a one-stop destination comprised of luxury hotel, lavish residences, fine dining restaurants, prestigious French fashion department store Printemps, cutting edge Vox cinemas and a state of the art, indoor, first ever theme park in Qatar, Quest. It will feature the signature Banyan Tree Spa with a Rainforest hydrotherapy facility, Saffron fine-dining Thai restaurant, and Vertigo, a 28-storey rooftop bar overlooking panoramic city skyline of Doha.
For Italian food lovers, we will be having Il Galante, a fine Italian dining restaurant; Qalamkarri, an Indian restaurant inspired by traditional Kalamkari art; and Panya Lounge, a patisserie with a combination of Asian and European flair. Exquisitely designed by renowned interior designer Jacques Garcia, Banyan Tree Doha will feature 126 luxurious guest rooms including 66 suites and 215 serviced residences.
You have a long track record of success in the hospitality industry, what makes Banyan Tree Doha attractive to you?
I visited this project before taking up this exciting assignment and was blown away. The modern steel elliptical shape, covered in exotic, awe-inspiring gardens, its location being in the heart of Mushaireb, one of the most fascinating destinations in the vibrant city and the one-stop destination concept with luxury hotel and lavish residences will be a key to success for this property.
How does this fit with the wider growth of the tourism sector in Qatar, with the FIFA World Cup 2022 now just around the corner?
Lots of exciting new projects are coming up in Qatar for FIFA World Cup 2022 and Banyan Tree Doha is one of them. I am very excited to lead the team of professionals who will be working very closely with me for launching the hotel. Lots of initiatives are already taken by the Qatar government in promoting sports tournaments, especially football.
Even though our industry is going through difficult times due to Covid-19, Qatar as a market has seen a growth of business over the previous years, driven by government initiatives and quarantine demand. With vaccination drive in full progress, we anticipate the market to recover by quarter four of 2021. With increased demand and less supply, our forecast for the hotel is very healthy and we anticipate the same to continue until end of FIFA World Cup 2022.
The FIFA tournament time demand model has forecasted 1.7 million people could visit Qatar during the World Cup, with approximately 500,000 visitors in the country on the busiest days. So overall very healthy signs for the market.
Tell us about the La Cigale concept and what makes it such a unique property?
La Cigale hotel is a five-star luxury hotel in the heart of the dynamic centre of Doha City, approximately 20 minutes away from the Hamad International Airport. Opened in 2006, La Cigale hotel is a winner of lots of World Travel Awards and has been recognised as Qatar’s leading Hotel by voters at the World Travel Awards in 2020. It was rebranded under the Accor umbrella in December 2019.
It has 225 keys, ten dining and entertainment outlets with outdoor seating options; two state of the art ballrooms; a 490 square meter gymnasium; a 20-metre-long daylight indoor swimming pool and a deluxe spa. We strive to offer our guests an extraordinary experience, combined with world-class service, and a personalised approach.
As we are one of the most popular food destinations in the city, in next eight to 12 months, we will do soft refurbishment of all our food and beverage outlets and will come up with exciting new concepts.
2020 was a challenging year for the hospitality industry. In your opinion, how will travel trends change in 2021?
No doubt 2020 was a very challenging year for the hospitality industry. We were amongst the worst hit industry. For us our first priority was safety of our guests and employees. We took many measures to ensure that and used technology to create a lot of contactless services but keeping the core of hospitality at heart.
Even though the year was extremely tough, we did see a lot of initiatives taken by the Qatar government in promoting sports tournaments. We have seen some light with vaccine now available all across the world however I do feel that it will take some time for business to return back to normal levels and there will be continued dependence on local business. IATA led initiative of Travel pass will play a big role as well for travel to resume with 80 to 90 countries now in discussion stage to offer this scheme.
In my opinion, I do foresee a slight market recovery by Q4 2021.Travel trends has evolved now with safety and cleaning being the top priority. Travellers are opting for short travel destinations with flexibility in changing dates as current travel regulations are changing regularly and impacting their trips.
What are some of the new measures your team has put into place to deal with the post-COVID-19 situation?
The government launched the ‘Qatar Clean’ programme which was a key factor that helped the hospitality sector overcome the repercussions of the Covid-19 crisis and played an active role in pushing the country’s economy forward at a time of great uncertainty. The level of commitment shown by the Qatari government in engaging all stakeholders and ensuring the reopening of the service sector in a safe and secure manner has been inspiring. Looking to the future, I am certain that this set of rules will benefit the global economy the most if they are adopted at the global level. Our hotel has adhered to the guidelines of the ‘Qatar Clean’ program, which imposed strict standards regarding sterilisation and disinfection to ensure the provision of a safe experience for guests.
In addition to the ‘Qatar Clean’, we also follow the ‘ALLSAFE’ program which was implemented by May 2020. It was developed and examined by Bureau Veritas company for hygiene and prevention standards, which provides assurance that these standards have been adhered to in Accor hotels as the health and safety of our guests is our absolute priority. It includes the enhanced cleaning program in public places with frequent sterilisation of all high touch areas, enhanced room cleaning protocols including additional disinfection of high-touch areas in the room and bathroom areas, enhanced food safety standards and new buffet protocols, and training of staff teams on safety and public health.
Do you think that the ‘new normal’ will make hospitality fight harder to regain the trust / loyalty of the customers / guests?
No, I don’t think so. Brands and hotels have worked hard to upgrade their hygiene and safety in this pandemic. And the loyal customer has more trust on the brands that they use and are confident about their hygiene. We saw most of our staycation and daycations are our loyal and repeat guests. They are coming and staying because of the confidence they have on us. The brands that will lose their guests are the ones who have not kept in touch or didn’t take safety and hygiene as a priority or the ones who lacked in their communication to the guests.
I would very proudly like to say that hospitality industry has worked together and build strong protocols and the most of the guests know they are more protected here even more than their homes.
What is the profile of the customer / guest you envisage? To what extent do you also target locals?
Local Qatari market is a big market for us in terms of staycation and dining experiences. The average spend is much higher than any other market. We have devised special packages for them for rooms, food and beverage and residences and we have devised special theme nights catering to this segment. We are also participating in Chef’s of Qatar virtual Food Festival organised by Qatar National Tourism Council (QNTC) in collaboration with talabat and Qatar Airways targeting local market, a clever and safe way of experiencing fine dining without leaving the home.
For Banyan Tree residences, we are also targeting international celebrities staying in Doha (footballers, coaches and luxury designers).
How important is it that the two duo properties are now managed by Accor?
Accor is expanding its footprint in Doha in a big way. As a cluster general manager for both the properties, it helps me in aligning the strategies for both the hotels and helps in saving cost by having shared services. We are able to cross sell both our properties and cater to different customer segments for both the hotels, with ultra-luxury to luxury fine dining options, rooms and residences.
What are your upcoming projects?
The next big thing for Accor in Doha is Banyan Tree Hotel and Residences, which will be opening this year. Accor has big plans for the Doha market, wherein Raffles, Fairmont, Sofitel, Rixos, Novotel, Pullman, Ibis and Adagio hotels are expected to open in the next two years.