HM on location: Radisson's El-Bassuni targets franchisee dynamics

Aly El-Bassuni speaks at the Radisson Hotel Group Americas Business Conference. Photo credit: Radisson Hotel Group

MIAMI—It’s been more than a year since Aly El-Bassuni joined what was then Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group as SVP/franchise operations, Americas. In that time there's been substantial change for the company, including the acquisition by China’s Jin Jiang and a name change to Radisson Hotel Group. 

All of this, El-Bassuni said during Radisson’s Americas Business Conference last week at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, was part of the company's efforts to improve its market share with its franchisee partners.

“The structure just wasn't conducive to our scale, to where we wanted to be in terms of growth and our five-year plan,” he told Hotel Management. “We needed to build an organization that would [let us] execute against our plan.” 

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Consolidation

When El-Bassuni first arrived in late 2017, the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group had groups for midscale hotels, full-service hotels, managed hotels and Latin American hotels, among others. “It was very much bifurcated,” El-Bassuni recalled. He saw a chance to streamline the franchise processes and find a better way to work with owners and investors. 

Radisson restructured these divisions into “one group, one team, one organization, one family with all of our capabilities,” said El-Bassuni. The franchise operations team would oversee all brands in the Americas, responsible for strengthening owner relations, driving performance and bringing consistency  to the company’s strategies, “whether it was support at the regional director level, whether it was at the RVP level, whether it was across owner relations or licensing and retention, guest experience [and] safety and security,” he said. 

Communications

The biggest difference since the consolidation, El-Bassuni said, was improved efficiency in franchise relations. “We spent the last year getting on board a new platform that is the underpinnings of how we manage our operational support,” he said. Partnering with SalesForce at Accenture, an implementation partner, the company developed a back-of-house platform that improved communications with owners. “Our owners today have visibility to more information about their hotels or a portfolio of properties,” he said. Regional directors can use the platform to assign and receive tasks from owners, while owners in the development process can see where they are on the path of getting a hotel up and running. “When I get a call from [a franchisee], I will know that he spoke with Floriano or Will on my team or somebody in other organizations, so it gets us all together synergized to be able to better serve our owners and our franchisees.” 

To improve franchisee relations, El-Bassuni’s team spent the better part of September through mid-December holding 19 regional meetings in six countries, hosting nearly 100 percent of general managers and owners across the Americas and talking about strategic initiatives and why these initiatives benefit their business. (El-Bassuni himself attended 16 of the meetings.) At the meetings, the team asked for feedback from the attendees and paid attention to the responses. “That's how you get the engagement,” he said. “It's about engagement. It's not about an edict.”

The change from these meetings wasn't so much change in direction, El-Bassuni said, but a change in buy-in. “It was getting our owners [and] general managers to engage at a higher level and to buy into things like investing into revenue-management services, enrolling more members into the Radisson Rewards loyalty program, partnering with our sales team to take part in an historic blitz we did at the end of last year, raising the bar on the quality.”

The company sent out an owner survey last summer and has been making adjustments based on the feedback. “We need to do a better job marketing,” El-Bassuni said. “We need to do a better job of holding owners and other properties accountable from a quality perspective. We need to provide better sourcing capabilities. And those all resonated very much with me. I don't oversee marketing, so I'll focus more on the quality side. And we're seeing that quality needle moving in the right direction.”

After almost a year and a half of implementing changes, El-Bassuni said he had heard positive feedback on the team’s efforts from owners and managers during the conference. “We're investing heavily and we're asking them to invest along with us."

 As part of the Radisson's Destination 2022 five-year plan, owners are updating and repositioning their properties while the company is investing in sales, marketing and technology initiatives. “And when that meets in the middle—the franchisee investment and our investment—that's going to be pretty special,” said El-Bassuni.

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