CAIRO: “I ve been everywhere on my motorcycle, from Aswan to Siwa to Marsa Alam, Sharm El-Sheikh – you name it, said hotelier Olivier Masson.
As a member of the Harley Owners Group (HOG) he has put around 80,000 kilometers on his bike in the last five years. Still, he says, “hospitality is my number one passion.
In 2004, Masson was appointed the General Manager of Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza to see the hotel through its anticipated opening.
After four successful years, Masson was recently tapped to become regional vice president, overseeing operations of the Four Seasons’ branches in Alexandria and Sharm El-Sheikh as well as Cairo.
“We have brought a new breed of customers to the country, said Masson.
Asked if the development of the hospitality industry in Egypt has helped the Four Seasons realize its local success, Masson said it may actually be the other way around. “The Four Seasons has helped the hospitality industry to develop, he said, by placing a solid stamp of approval on Egypt as a destination for the luxury market. “There was no real luxury brand in Egypt prior to The First Residence eight years ago, he added.
Masson was born into the hospitality industry. His father was running a hotel in Morocco and that’s where Masson was born, although he is originally from Switzerland.
“It’s kind of a natural progression for a lot of people from my country, he says.
Growing up in the business meant traveling around the region extensively during his youth. As a hotelier, Masson has worked in six continents for a number of hotel chains. So what makes the Four Seasons brand stand out from the rest?
“Four Seasons caters to a very specific market. We cater to the one percent on the top. We cater to people who understand luxury, he said.
The brand forayed into the Egyptian market with the Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at The First Residence eight years ago. There are now a total of four in the country – the most recent being Alexandria’s Four Seasons Hotel at San Stefano – and there are two more in the pipeline.
In his new capacity as regional vice president, Masson will work on strengthening the Four Seasons brand and developing two new hotels in the country: one in Madinaty and another in Luxor.
“We are still working on these projects; they are not firm and definite constructions, but very strong possibilities, Masson clarified.
With the opening of the Alexandria hotel, and with plans to open another in Madinaty, it seems the Four Seasons has an eye for unsaturated hotel markets that may seem like risky ventures to other hotel chains.
“Alexandria is a well-known city but not a well-visited city. By us building the hotel – which is probably one of the best hotels we have in the company – we are putting Alexandria on the map.
“Other people will imitate us and open new hotels in Alexandria. This, he said, is the philosophy by which they look for new business opportunities; if you build it, more will come.
“We were the pioneer. Is it risky? No, it’s not risky. You have to have a long-term vision, said Masson, “and Hisham Talaat Moustafa is a visionary.
He’s the one that built the hotel, he is from Alexandria and we are just following his lead.
They are also following his lead to Talaat Moustafa Group’s largest development on the outskirts of Cairo. Madinaty – which bills itself as an international city on Egypt’s soil – comprises a land area of 33.6 million square meters in New Cairo City with a proposed residential capacity of 600,000 people.
“Madinaty is a city of a million people. It has tremendous potential. It will be a very upscale city with international facilities…and probably the best mall in Egypt.
“We are competing on a world level, not necessarily a Cairo level, said Masson, adding that this is an opportunity to “start fresh and build the right infrastructure.
Masson graduated from Florida International University and went straight into the hospitality industry, working with the Hilton, the Hyatt group and Ritz-Carlton. He began his career with the Four Seasons in 1998, bringing with him 20 years of experience, working for the hotel chain in Jakarta, Hong Kong and Argentina.
He brings his motorcycle with him wherever he goes, and his time on the open road has allowed him to see a different side of Egypt. “Having traveled around the country on my motorcycle, I have discovered things tourists would love: the different oases, the Western Desert – they are incredible.
You can come back to Egypt over and over and never see the same country twice.
No matter where tourists go, Sharm El-Sheikh is the premier hotspot; and the Four Seasons Sharm El-Sheikh, said Masson, is a destination in itself.
To cater to the increasing number of tourists, the hotel is undergoing major expansions which will see it double in size, host a new golf course, a large spa and spacious meeting facilities.
Developing the hotel industry depends largely on enhancing the skills of the people working in the field. The Four Seasons has around 4,000 employees in Egypt, who Masson proudly says “are the best in the industry, not only in Cairo, but worldwide.
“It’s not the building itself, it’s the people that make it work. We are specialists in training, investing all of our resources in our people, he added.
As a testament to the success of their training program, Masson said they have “exported more than 100 people to take up managerial positions at hotels worldwide.
“This is our goal, he said, “to be the training ground for the Middle East.
Tourism receipts, which contribute close to 39.3 percent of total service receipts, rose by 10.7 percent in 2006/07. The government hopes to attract 14 million tourists and generate $10.5 billion in tourism revenue by 2010/11, up from 9.8 million tourists and $8 billon in revenue in 2006/07.
“There is giant business opportunity in Egypt. Tourism is on the forefront because everybody knows about the Pyramids and the Pharaonic era, but the business opportunities in Egypt are immense, said Masson.
“There are a lot of hotels coming, a lot of competition, which will raise the bar and provide better services to everyone.
“We welcome competition. We are not afraid because we have a strong position on top of the list. It’s better for the consumer: the more the merrier.
With his new position at the prestigious hotel chain, Masson and his family will be in the country for a while. “I love Egypt, it is a fantastic country.the people are friendly, welcoming and hospitable. It’s a natural for Egyptians to be in the hospitality industry actually.