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Hotelier of the Month : Darren Darwin

Darren Darwin is the General Manager of Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar in Oman with over 26 years’ experience, Darren has worked on the pre-opening of several luxury and upscale hotels around the world.

A British national, Darren holds an MBA in International Hospitality Management and Service Industries from renowned Swiss hotel school, Glion University, and was awarded Diplomas in Executive Leadership and Asset Management by Cornell University in the U.S. In addition, he has completed a multitude of hospitality training courses. Prior to his career in hospitality, Darren served in 29 Commando attached to the Royal Regiment of Artillery, England, Northern Ireland and Germany. During this service he had an exemplary record and received a General Service Medal for participation in a volatile zone in Northern Ireland.

What’s the most challenging in running your hotel?

Being the highest five-star resort in the Middle East certainly has its challenges, mainly because it’s sometimes difficult for suppliers to get up and down the mountain. However it is definitely worth it for the magnificent views – our unique location is the main reason guests visit after all.

Have you ever been given any advice that proved not to be true?

I’ve been given plenty of advice in my lifetime that did not materialise. I wouldn’t categorise it as not being true but perhaps not quite right. This is normally down to the economic or cultural situation. In life things often work out differently from expected and part of being an hotelier is that you are flexible and able to adapt.

How do you apply your previous experience as a military into your career in hotel?

The most important things that I learnt in the military that can be applied to what I do now are teamwork, focus and to never give up.

What was your darkest moment in your career?

I have been through two challenging moments in my life. The first was during Hurricane Ivan whilst I was working at a resort on Barbados back in 2004. Luckily it just missed the us but it was a very stressful time as we were on a category 5 evacuation so there was a lot to do in terms of preparation and ensuring guests were kept calm and safe. It became the tenth most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded!

The second was in 2008 during the economic crisis in Russia. I was working in a hotel in Moscow and it was a very difficult for everyone, from the employees to the owners. We went from 90% to 10% occupancy within a short period of time as budgets were cut and people just didn’t have the money to spend.

If you could turn back time, what would be the one thing you would have changed in your career?

It would have been useful if I had completed my MBA in International Hospitality Management and Service Industries at an earlier age as I acquired so much knowledge and analytical thinking from it. That being said, I don’t have any regrets as my previous experience and background really helped me get the most from it. It’s just interesting to think about the path I would have taken if I’d entered my career in hospitality with this education 20 years ago.

What are your preferred sources when it comes to learning about hotels?

Word of mouth is definitely one of the most important sources. I have a lot of friends in the industry and we’re always chatting about the latest hotel opening and giving each other recommendations. I look at online trade magazines and newsletters every day, for example Hotelier Middle East and eHotelier – not to mention Hotel Intel.co of course. They’re always interesting to read and find out about the latest happenings in the world of hospitality. Finally, STR Global is a useful platform for competitor analysis and trend reports

Are you a ‘Lobby GM’ or a Numbers GM?’ – And what is the importance of being a Lobby and / or a Numbers GM?

I’m both. In the past, a general manager’s role was primarily guest facing – they would meet and greet in the lobby, socialise and entertain. There has been a significant shift in recent years and the role has evolved. Nowadays a general manager needs to juggle a wide range of tasks and we have essentially become business managers, often looking after multi-million dollar businesses. We have to handle complex business models across all operations from financing to marketing, ultimately ensuring a strong return on investment for our shareholders and owners. However it is important to always make time to interact with guests and I never lose sight of this, in fact it’s the part of the job I enjoy the most. I love hearing their stories and feedback on the resort. 

 What are the different between the new generation hoteliers and old-schooled hoteliers?

Old-schooled hoteliers are very honed on getting the basics right, understanding consistency and are normally more people orientated yet can be quite cautious. In today’s age, hoteliers need to have a huge array of skills in order to stay abreast of finances, inspire staff and communicate with guests. With more booking channels, we need to oversee marketing strategies and ensure we embrace technology and take risks as it’s easy to get left behind. Also the immediacy and visibility of guest feedback due to online review platforms it is vital that we deliver a very high standard of service – poor service doesn’t have anywhere to hide anymore. 

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