Swedish national Milad Badri is currently Vice President of Operations for The Standard International, with responsibility for the management and operational strategy of all the brand’s properties in Asia and the Middle East, along with seven exciting new pipeline projects. With more than twenty years’ experience in developing guest-focused luxury experiences for leading hospitality operators, Milad is highly respected as an expert in building brand identities which resonate with different target audiences across a range of regions and cultures.

You are an expert in branding strategy. How can hotels benefit from branding strategy? Why is it important for hotels to have their branding right?

In my mind, successful branding strategies are about two things: building trust and establishing differentiation. In highly crude terms, the outcome of the trust is your occupancy and the differentiation shapes your ADR/RevPar. The critical component of the brand experience in this context is a crystal-clear understanding of what your brand stands for and what it means to your people and your guests. Sounds simple, but really that’s what makes the difference between hotels that thrive and those that merely survive. The brand promise starts with a vision for the enduring effect it intends to have on guests. This is executed by the development of leaders and staff at the property that truly live and embody its values and standards. Ultimately the key is the brand culture as it determines how we engage with each other and our guests.

To become a successful brand hotel, how much does branding come into play vs the importance of day-to-day operation?

I often say that 80% of the basic standards and procedures around general hotel operations are the same across any hotel in a given category. The remaining 20% is where you can infuse the brand into your day to day operation. And that’s really the opportunity to differentiate against the competition. For example, we all greet the guest on arrival in one shape or form, but the brand allows us to formulate the way we greet them: what we say when, how we say it, what we wear, our tone of voice, and so forth. Some brands are obviously more prescriptive than others. I personally live by the idea of freedom within a framework that allows for our people to exercise self-expression, personality, and empathy as individuals. Because at the end of the day, people are the brand.

Can good branding overcome weaknesses in day-to-day operations / can good operations overcome weaknesses in branding... which has more influence?

Interestingly enough there are studies specifically underlining how guests are inclined to be more forgiving of negative experiences at hotels with a strong brand reputation compared to hotels with a weaker brand reputation. So there’s no doubt branding is critical and will give your operations a clear edge over a non-branded property. However, branding (no matter how solid) will never fully compensate for a deficient operation. There’s only so many times you can disappoint someone and be saved by your reputation. In fact, your brand is no better or worse than the experience of the last guest you served.

How do you explain 'branding' to non-branding people such as hotel owners?

Largely hotel owners are sophisticated individuals that recognize the value that branding brings. In general however, it’s really about illuminating long-term value vs short term gain. Hotel contracts are largely long term so it is important to ensure that the owner clearly understands the value of the enduring positioning that the brand can establish in the given location and market.

What's our biggest challenge working in this part of the world?

I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to work in several countries and continents. Obviously, every place has its own challenges, but frankly those challenges are what I truly enjoy. And usually they are similar topics: understanding cultures, people, languages, systems, etc. I’ve also been part of introducing brands from one part of the world to new regions. Here is where it gets really interesting as you have to ensure that the brand and its values, along with its cultural expressions, translate in the right way. It’s a sensitive exercise and you have to get it right.

What single thing could you tell us about operations that most people don't know, never realized, and might be surprised by?

If you decide to embark on a career in hotel operations you should know that it is a 7 days a week, 24 hour gig. It doesn’t stop. Make sure you love it.