IDEEA Podcast Episode 3: Christian Michel, Wyndham
As the Vice President of Development for Wyndham Hotels and Resorts in Europe, Christian Michel is at the forefront of the company's expansion plans. He joins Ali Shahid, Marketing Director at The Bench, on the third episode of the IDEEA podcast to share the focus markets for the world’s largest hotel franchisor, which includes the Balkan region and specific markets such as Turkey and Romania.
He shared his thoughts on the growing interest in the region, contributing to the opportunity that markets with mesmerising coastlines provide for owners and operators to develop leisure and business products that can ride out different economic cycles. He also spoke about the group’s strategy on extended stays and teased his thoughts on his panel topic at IDEEA in September.
Listen to the full episode on the go or watch the entire conversation on video.
Welcome to the IDEEA Podcast, a channel for the IDEEA Hospitality Investment Forum, which is an annual gathering for the Hospitality Investment Community in Eastern Europe. Tune in to insightful conversations between the IDEEA team and hospitality investment leaders and innovators across Europe. And now let's dive right into today's episode.
Ali Shahid 00:24
Hello, and welcome to the IDEEA Hospitality Investment Forum Podcast. My name is Ali Shahid. I'm from the Bench. And I have with me here today, Christian Michel, who is the Vice President of Development for Europe, At Wyndham Hotels and Resorts. Welcome, Christian.
Christian Michel 00:44
Hi, Ali! Thank you. You're welcome. Thank you.
Ali Shahid 00:46
Thank you so much for joining us. Christian, where are you joining us from today?
Christian Michel 00:52
Today, I'm based in Switzerland. That's my base. But I'm sure you're aware that we are traveling a lot. So I just came from Budapest yesterday, but today I'm in Switzerland.
Ali Shahid 01:03
Okay, wonderful. Well, I'm joining you from our office in Dubai. Actually, this is my home office. My living room is my home office these days, sometimes I work from home, sometimes.... So are you also in a similar situation? Are you in your office or your home office? How is it?
Christian Michel 01:20
It is home office.
Ali Shahid 01:22
How are you finding that situation?
Christian Michel 01:26
You know, I worked for the last 18 years for Wyndham in development, and l always work from home. So of course, with the pandemic I did not travel for a while, but I'm used to do that. So fully equipped.... Because we are most of the time on the road, so make more sense for us to be there. We have some office support in London and Dubai, in India and in Turkey, but otherwise, a lot of people are still working from home.
Ali Shahid 01:57
Okay, so this is something you've been used to from before then.
Christian Michel 02:01
Ali Shahid 02:02
Okay. Well, let's talk about your journey at Wyndham. So I was reading your profile earlier, I think this is the first time Christian that we have formally met, although virtually, but I'm sure we'll meet in person in Athens on the 26th and 27th, September this year, where you are one of our speakers. And of course, you are one of our supporters as a sponsor for the event. Why don't you tell us a little about your journey? You joined Wyndham back in 2004. So what has that been like, up until now?
Christian Michel 02:36
I think it has been a wonderful adventure because we were just a few. Before that I worked all my life in hotel operations. I first started as a chef and then went to Hotel School Lausanne worked for 10 years with Marin peak in different position. And then I was working for a Amada as a GM in Dubai, where you're located in Dubai. And I worked also in Egypt, so I know pretty well, the Middle East. And after that, they asked me I wanted to return to Europe. And then I joined at that time, it was Marriott International for a mother in development, then change to send them because we were acquired. And since then I'm doing development. So initially two, three people covering the entire European market and looking at also Australia, part of Asia with the acceptance of China. So it was quite an amazing journey and still doing the same development. But now I have a team of 8 people with me in different locations, and I'm leading the team here in Europe, in development out of Switzerland, and a half people based in Russia, in Greece, in Turkey, in Germany, in UK, and we look at New Project Opportunity for Wyndham.
Ali Shahid 03:52
Okay, wonderful. So what are the new project opportunities for Wyndham at the moment?
Christian Michel 03:59
If we talk about a little about the region that maybe serve the purpose of what we are talking about that we will be meeting in Greece. So Greece, it's a sweet spot, but also of course Balkans. We have a strong presence in Romania we have one of the leader there. Turkey is one of the key market for us. We have two developers there and this year, we will have more than one 100 hotels open [phonetic 04:24] ho so it's really a booming market and we look at Balkans opportunistic big market. We source, we have projects in Montenegro. We have project in Croatia. So definitely always interested to develop that area and continue expanding our brands, mainly Wyndham and Ramada into that area.
Ali Shahid 04:50
Wonderful. So if we were to talk about the southeast European region, which are the most exciting countries for yourself in terms of development for Wyndham.
Christian Michel 05:03
I would say the one that has the most potential for us would be Greece, definitely a mix of resort and city hotels. Then I would say some large countries like Romania, Bulgaria, and I would say Croatia I also felt that has a lot of potential. We want to be in Serbia. So for Serbia, it will be a target-- Belgrade and some of the key cities in Serbia. So yes, definitely. The rest we are in Montenegro in the capital, also in Bosnia and Herzegovina, so we would then complete that maybe add different brands, again into the market and looking at going to an airport destinations or to a city center in the capital that will be the aim for the region.
Ali Shahid 05:50
So it's fair to say that the region overall seems to be rather exciting for yourselves as an opportunity and what's coming?
Christian Michel 05:57
Yes, definitely. I think that the region is quite particular because you have opportunities in business hotels that are small, we're looking currently at the Zadar, Split as a destination, but in that city hotels-- but we're looking also at resort area in Albania, and in Croatia, in Montenegro so definitely it's a good combinations of leisure and business destinations. And we feel with Wyndham that we have the right brands to target the market with Ramada Resort for family, or Wyndham Resort for upscale product.
Ali Shahid 06:39
Right. Christian and I were chatting earlier, before we started this recording, you were mentioning Christian about the residence product that seems to be an exciting proposition. Do you want to share with us what that is about?
Christian Michel 06:53
Yes, we find out during the pandemic that the residence product, the extended stay, but especially in the resort, the mixed use development have a lot of residents product, an apartment or Villa component with one hotel and then we decided to really expand that and tackle that. So we have created brand tiers for Wyndham Grand, Wyndham and Ramada residences. And we have signed last year, our first project in Spain. So we have done large resident's product in Spain, but also in Turkey with the same group in UK and then in America. And it was well received. And it's a beautiful product with a group [unintelligible 07:39] and they want to expand and continue that journey. And we have several let's say residence product. Also in CIS regions, like Georgia as an example, where we see on the shore of Batumi that we would have this type of product so condo hotel or hotel with residences, so very bullish about that and we have a team just doing that trying to be basically create all the structures and infrastructure to support the franchisee with that kind of product.
Ali Shahid 08:12
What kind of audience are you targeting with this specific product? Who are the customers?
Christian Michel 08:20
The end consumer in a resort area are mainly families I think because that there you would have really a good product for families instead of taking two rooms and I think you're more comfortable having a one, two bedroom apartments and in the cities it's more like long stay people for doing relocations or people that want to work from a remote area and using one of the extended stay. We also contemplating and looking if there is an opportunity for senior residences for some projects for people that either in a seaside resort that people can then exchange and stay a few months in Germany, in Austria and then come back to a more winter, to something that's more sunny than in Europe. So it's something that we're also looking at.
Ali Shahid 09:10
Very interesting. Christian reminds us what are the brands called that are focusing on this area on their residence product within Wyndham.
Christian Michel 09:19
So it's Wyndham Grand Residences, Wyndham Residences, and Ramada Residences. So we have added one tier and develop the product around Wyndham and Ramada trademark.
Ali Shahid 09:32
Okay, so that's something for us to watch out for, something exciting especially for those who are traveling for and with their families or are looking for a longer stay. So some exciting products coming online. So thanks for sharing that. This is the first time Christian that Wyndham has chosen to sponsor our event. So tell us a bit more about that. Why have you chosen to sponsor IDEEA Hospitality Investment Forum?
Christian Michel 09:59
So initially, we have attended the fair as a visitor, we went two, three times in Croatia and Serbia with the key people developers in charge of the region. And this year, we have discussed with Marina that we could basically expand our relationship and we were before crisis... That was before COVID. We have budgeted to do two or three of the events that Bench we're planning to do under that, and we saw that maybe Prague was a good opportunity, we wanted to be in Moscow. At that time, of course, without knowing where we are knowing the actual situation. So that's why we have decided to join then it was postponed. And then we have decided that this year, because Prague was postponed Russia, of course, no discussions anymore about it. But we decided to sponsor-- Initially, it was in Belgrade, and then now it's in Greece. So that's why we decided to be there. We were there also last year in Zagreb. So it was good in general, we had some good contacts. And we decided to continue that, we always feel that this medium size fairs are quite interesting for us, you have a good mix of local people, you have more time to meet clients, most of the time, it's less crowded, it's quality time with the clients. So that's why we like the idea of being with you and sponsoring that event.
Ali Shahid 11:46
Well, thank you, Christian, for saying that and for being a supporter. And as you said, you've been a part of our journey in Zagreb, and like you mentioned, it's been not an easy two years for us as well. And I'm sure for yourself, it's been an interesting journey not just because of the pandemic, but also because of the nature of the geopolitical climate that is in that part of the world. But yes, definitely excited to join you in Athens. And hopefully, this all-- It seems like things are really picking up our events seem to be doing really well now. And I'm sure you'll make the right connections when you join us in Greece. But before we close, Christian, and I just wanted to see if we can give a little teaser to the audience for your session, and you're going to be joining us on stage talking about location concept and operating contract flexibility. During the event, so would you like to give us a little teaser on what you will be sharing with us?
Christian Michel 12:57
I'm sure the moderator would have more insight for me because you too will lay out the questions. But I think it's again, an interesting subject. It's something that is quite open. If you talk about the product, you could talk a lot about maybe the residents product that we have discussed new product or all-inclusive concept that are coming in, we have developed an all-inclusive brand for all-inclusive called ultra. So that's for the products and the locations, of course, it's quite defined with the area. And I think the flexibility on the contract, I think it will be an open discussion. So I was on a panel this week, they talked about brands in general, but we are specializing to franchise and we see that we have to adapt ourselves around our business model, especially in the leisure and resort area. So I think that's how I see, it will be an interesting panel to see what the operator has to say. Or if they see an opportunity to have a different fee structures maybe or something in particular, for different business models. So we can talk about price, sales price or commission's on sales of residences, there is different things that we can tackle. We will see how the panel will be oriented, but I'm pretty sure that it will be an interesting session.
Ali Shahid 14:27
It definitely sounds interesting. And I'm sure we'll all learn a lot from you. Christian, thank you so much for joining us today for this podcast. And we look forward to meeting you in Athens again at the idea hospitality investment forum, which takes place on the 26th and 27th of September 2022. Thank you so much Christian.
Christian Michel 14:49
Thanks again. Thanks for taking the time to make this interview.
Ali Shahid 14:54
You are welcome.
Thank you for listening to the IDEEA Podcast, the channel for the IDEEA Hospitality Investment Forum. You can find a full transcript of this conversation in the Content Library on ideaa-forum.com. With other reports and insights. We look forward to welcoming you and your colleagues in person at IDEEA in Athens, Greece on the 26th through 27th of September 2022. If you haven't registered yet, please go to ideaa-forum.com. To purchase your past today and save before ticket prices increase. Please feel free to email us with any questions at Hello at the bench.com.
Until the next episode, stay safe and keep well. Bye-bye for now.