The hospitality hot seat: an exclusive interview with Mövenpick CEO Olivier Chavy

Tom Wadlow
- Leadership - Apr 10, 2018

Business Chief speaks to Olivier Chavy, CEO of Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, about how the Swiss multinational is gearing up for solid growth in Europe this year having made significant strides in the areas of sustainability, technology and hotel design.

"We have had so much rain. There is so much flooding in town, it’s insane. I'm obliged to ask the staff to leave at two o'clock today because the roads will be impossible to drive on tonight. There is one metre of water in some streets."

Not many would believe that Olivier Chavy, CEO of Swiss multinational Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, was speaking from his regional office in Dubai. Zurich, London, Colombo, Hamburg – Chavy could instead be at any number of Mövenpick premises in parts of the world not unfamiliar with rainfall. “Dubai is not equipped in terms of drainage... it is not equipped at all for heavy rain,” says Chavy, who, thankfully, decided to stay on premises and ride out the storm. 

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It has been almost a year since the French hotelier discussed all things hospitality with sister publication FDF World, and bizarre weather events aside, a lot has happened at Mövenpick since. “2017 has been a good year for us,” Chavy reveals. “It’s been very exciting. We have announced our ExCom-Y initiative, hiring 10 millennials to be part of our executive team, and they have brought a lot to the table.” 

Green DNA
Not only does industry veteran Chavy describe the younger makeup of his leadership team, but he also mendtions that a stronger environmental conscience has developed over the course of the year. This is illustrated by the fact that 90% of Mövenpick hotels operate to a gold Green Globe standard. 

Green Globe, established in 1992 following the United Nations Rio Earth Summit, represents the best in sustainable practice in the travel and tourism industry. From energy saving and waste management to community support and heritage preservation, certification requires genuine dedication to socio-environmental issues. 

"We’re extremely proud because this is part of our DNA,” says Chavy. “It goes beyond energy saving. It is a behavioural mindset.” Whether it’s converting the lighting systems of entire hotels, simply gathering and reusing part-used bottles of shampoo, or running clothes collections for local charities, Chavy is adamant that 100% of Mövenpick hotels should and will be gold-certified in the near future. 

125 by 2020 
Indeed, half of the new hotels opened by the company last year are already up to Green Globe’s gold standard, and several more openings are planned for 2018 and beyond. At the turn of the year, Mövenpick had 83 hotels on its books, and Chavy plans to open at least 14 more throughout the year, with another 40 agreements already sitting in a construction pipeline. The company’s target of a 125-strong portfolio by 2020 appears to be well on track. 

Last year, the CEO eagerly discussed the company’s then recent unveiling of a vertical resort in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, which Chavy described as the city’s first relevant hotel opening for 25 years. So, how has the first year of operation been? “When you open a hotel it's what we call a rampart, the period of time before it reaches a stabilised year, which is generally after two or three years. But year one in Colombo was a good one – we closed at 63% occupancy and are in talks over new business contracts, with airlines for example. We are focusing on the Middle East, Japan and Asia markets to fill up this hotel.”

Mövenpick has also been busy in Europe, with regional chief Amir Lababedi recently moving to London, the new launchpad for the company’s continental growth. In Den Haag in the Netherlands, a new 72-room boutique hotel is acting as a platform or benchmark to base new openings on. Mövenpick worked closely with New York’s Wilson Associates on the design, a firm Chavy holds in the highest regard when it comes to creating contemporary, timeless hotel spaces. “Den Haag is a cool one,” Chavy says. “It's very high-end but still a new way of thinking in hospitality. For example, the public space downstairs is very much dedicated to connectivity, and you have the freedom to choose your own level of privacy. You can go to a common table where you can speak and interact with people you don't know, or you can go to the very comfortable eating space and be by yourself. The design is definitely a new era for Mövenpick.”

Sleeping smart
Technology is also influential in shaping Mövenpick strategy in this new era. For example, a new ‘smart mattress’ concept has proven to be a successful new revenue stream in a series of trials carried out last year. Inspired by a Swedish innovation called YouBed, it allows guests to alter the firmness of their mattress via a remote control, and comes as part of an upgrade package costing €15 ($18-19). “This has been something of a home run for us,” Chavy comments. “The repeat business for it is remarkable. People want to try it, and we are going to deploy it in the Middle East and Asia. At the end of the day, we are in the business of selling sleep.”

Chavy is also acutely aware that he is in the business of selling customer experience, and of the fine balance between technology adding or detracting from any one guest’s perception of a hotel stay. So, as CEO, what is his approach to technology? “You can't ignore technology, but it should not be a cult,” he says. “It's all based on the freedom you give to your clients and to the people. If I travel to London today, I like to check in with my phone, go to the plane without speaking to anyone, fly, land, call my Uber and go to my meeting. But, if I am flying with my family, I don't care about going to the booth at the airport to check in, to check in my luggage, and to speak with someone.”

Mövenpick is certainly an early mover when it comes to the hospitality industry and moving functionality to the cloud. For instance, its operating and marketing systems have already been migrated. “We do spend a lot of time, energy, and money in technology,” Chavy states. “However, we should not ignore the fact that we are in the industry to make moments and to sell sleep. We still want to make moments in terms of human interaction and human behaviour, and use technology as the support.”

Recruitment redefined? 
Asked whether the growing influence of technology risks dehumanising the industry, Chavy reiterates the importance of balance. “It is a risk,” he admits, “but only if you shut down other options. I read last week that Singapore has opened its first terminal with no human interaction – it's all fully automated. However, it's one terminal: if you don't feel comfortable, you can go to the other terminal. I think there is a risk. I'm personally very tech savvy; I use a lot of technology but I like human interaction as well. You have to find the right blend.”

Finding this blend also permeates into recruitment. As technology adapts in the hospitality industry, so must Chavy’s staff, but again, managing this blend will be a factor in whether 2018 is another successful year. 

“The important word here is diversity,” he explains. “As much as we love diversity for the staff in terms of geographic origin and speaking the languages, we like to have those who are tech savvy and those who are not. Those who are not tech savvy – they have developed some human behaviors which are unique. Those people take initiative that millennials who are tech savvy may not take. 

“There are exciting months ahead of us. We have an amazing team and have hired some great talent lately. I'm full of hope.”

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