Building a Legacy of Success

Hakan Ozel – General Manager at Shangri-La Dubai

Hakan Ozel is a dynamic Turkish national with over two decades of hospitality experience, mainly with the Shangri-La Group in the last 18 years. His rich career path has seen him work in Asia and the Middle East in countries that includes China, Indonesia, Turkey, Oman, Egypt and now the UAE.

Equipped with diverse hospitality knowledge and being detailed when it comes to the food and beverage management, Hakan has worked on numerous special projects within the Shangri-La Group and focuses strongly on top level quality service and tailor made guest experiences for long term members and tourists visiting the UAE. We meet with Hakan to get more insights on his career, personal aspirations and the Dubai property of the Shangri-La Group.

What made you venture into hospitality?

Hospitality comes naturally to our family and relatives. I remember the days when we had relatives and family members visiting us from other cities and countries, staying with us days and weeks as our house was big enough to accommodate them all, and they loved to stay with us due to the attention and welcoming attitude we had as a family.  My mother was a great cook, with her native roots from former Yugoslavia. Her delicious Bosnian borek is something which I still miss very much. With all this hospitality foundation, and while the tourism industry was booming in Turkey in 1990s, I decided to study in Tourism and Hotel Management to become a hotelier. I always wanted to be a hotelier and here I am.    

What roles do you play in the day-to-day operations of the hotel?

What I enjoy the most in this business is that my days are never the same. Therefore, I play several roles while leading the hotel:

My role as a general manager is to give “Character” to hotel. Without a strong culture, achieving this is not possible. My primary role in the hotel is to encourage all my colleagues to learn, know and strongly embrace the corporate and local culture in every act we are in. This is extremely important in a day-to-day operation of the hotel.  

I play an integrator role. Communication is very crucial in business; hence I like to encourage all my related leaders and colleagues to communicate between each other to collaborate in partnership manner. We can run the hotel successfully only when we know each other well, what we are experiencing to achieve or fail so that we can support better or celebrate together.

I encourage everyone to take their own decisions for their departments. There is a delegation of authority in the hotel and decision making is a very critical part of everyone’s job. In case that they have difficulties or challenges, I play either coach, or mentor role to support them all the time.

I challenge myself and all my colleagues to achieve more and better business results instead of accepting the achievement, or failure. I encourage all my teams to be organized and planned, while executing the business matters with logical and strategic thinking. There are always opportunities to make things better as long as we put it into our hearts and minds. I am competitive in nature; hence my team becomes competitive by default. Accepting nothing but the best is a part of our culture and we live with it.

What are your key strengths?

Effective leadership means becoming aware of our own and our team’s strengths. Successful leaders must build teams around them with a set of complementing strengths, rather than specific knowledge or competencies, and then build upon them. “Gallup CliftonStrengths” is an assessment that measures 34 talent themes and helps individuals and teams develop those talents into strength. I took the test, followed by a workshop. Subsequently, my top 5 strengths are “Strategic, Competition, Futuristic, Significance and Individualization”.

Highlight some of your achievements in your career?

I started to work in hotel business as a rank-and-file staff professionally in 1998. I became a general manager in Shangri-La Group after 15 years in 2013. Climbing the career ladder in a highly competitive international business is a career achievement itself, I believe.

Beside this, I had couple of industry recognitions like “Top 30 Hospitality Heavyweights in Middle East” by Hotel & Catering News Middle East in 2022, “Top 10 Most Powerful Hotel Bosses” in the UAE by Arabian Business in 2022, “General Manager Power 100, 2022 (100 of the very best GMs in ME)” by Hotelier Middle East, and “Best Leadership Award” by Global Times Newspaper, Beijing, China in 2017. 

What are the unique selling points of Shangri la Dubai?

Every hotel has a bed to sleep, TV to watch, bathroom to have shower, view to see, minibar to pick-up a drink. Regardless of how new or old property you are, service and hospitality makes a difference to customers. The most important unique selling point and differentiator of Shangri-La Dubai is its Asian Hospitality coming from the Shangri-La Group’s roots.

Anticipation, helpfulness, sincerity, attention to detail, simplicity, selflessness, care, positive attitude, thoughtfulness, sharing and humility are just couple of elements that are found in the services and hospitality of Shangri-La Dubai.

We are located on Sheikh Zayed Road, serving both business and leisure guests to enjoy their stay for any purpose as we are in close proximity to Dubai International Airport, Dubai Mall and Downtown, City Walk, Dubai International Financial Centre, Museum of the Future, and Dubai International Exhibition Centre.  We have amazing Downtown and Burj Khalifa views from the guestrooms and terraces on the Hotel’s Level 42, attract domestic and international visitors who enjoy this a lot.

Shangri-La Dubai has been offering a variety of exciting dining experiences. We have the Shang Palace, a Michelin Guide-recommended Chinese Restaurant, Hoi An, Vietnamese Restaurant serving French-Vietnamese cuisine, Dunes Café, offering international cuisines from the buffets and a la carte till Lobby Lounge, a meeting and gathering point for the guests in the hotel.

We also have ikandy, ultra lounge by the swimming pool for day and night enjoyment and entertainment, ensuring Shangri-La Dubai appels to all tastes, especially domestic and international travellers.

Finally, ‘Picture-Perfect Room Escape’ is a unique experience created by Shangri-La Dubai, allowing our guests to picture a stay that combines breath-taking views of the iconic Burj Khalifa and downtown skyline with a warm, contemporary ambience. Guests are firing-up their favourite playlist, pick a book off the shelf and settle into a comfy corner to take that perfect shot with our in-room Polaroid camera before indulging in special in-room curated breakfast menu.

What are the future highlights for the Hotel?

Shangri-La Dubai is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2023. The hotel has experienced upgrading and improvement projects in the past. As of today, there are 152 5-star hotels in Dubai, hence asset enhancement plans will always be in consideration for Shangri-La Dubai to keep the hotel trendy and competitive against the current and upcoming competitors.    

Do you attend any industry events like ATM/WTM?

It is always great to come together with the stakeholders of industry. ILTM in Cannes and Shanghai; ATM in Dubai and Frankfurt are just couple of major industry events that Shangri-La Dubai has been attending over the years and we accept these events as an opportunity. Furthermore, we continuously visit the stakeholders like domestic travel agencies in GCC countries periodically to strengthen our relationships for business.

Talk us through any current industry trends that excites you and your team?

Trend is shifting from tangible basic, given products to experiential and transformational products, which is very exciting. Travelers are becoming more demanding and intentional about what they spend and where they spend. They want authentic, local, and shareable experiences that fit in with their socially conscious mindsets. These travellers are mainly young generation travellers, who are also the decision makers for family travellers while choosing the destinations and hotels.

Hotel rooms are no longer the main attraction as basic products are almost the same; the focus has been shifting toward experience such as amenity offerings, family set-ups, aha moments through technology, convenience, privacy, entertainment, and social offerings. Hotels are no more just hotels, but becoming a “complex”, which is partly hotel, culinary-destination, leisure centre, function space centre furnished with state-of-the-art audio visual equipment and experience, residence, apartments, office space and partly wellness space. Managing all these units with higher expectations requires strong experience and leadership when it comes to leading the complex successfully.

Hotels are outsourcing their public spaces to restaurant, bar and entertainment centre operators. This trend allows both parties to cooperate and work together to create experiences. It is an opportunity to diversify the experience for customers. This win-win trend helps hotels to reduce their costs, maximize their net income and strengthen their positioning especially if the engagements are done with well-known and trendy brands and supports the tourism industry of Dubai to grow stronger.

Pop-up restaurants are also trending nowadays as Dubai being a tourist destination, attracts many visitors, citizens and residents to experience different offers. “Immersive Dining” in Shangri-La Dubai is just an example for these pop-up restaurants.  Diversity is necessary for all industries especially when we consider people are thirsty for new experiences and ready to explore, as they are bored with “normal and givens”.  

Finally, there is a growth in healthy, organic, and locally produced food demand since customers are more health and diet oriented. While seriously considering these trends, we must ensure that the recognition of this trend should not remain in manifestos or statements, but must surely take place in menus and offerings meaningfully.  

Tell us about the future focus of the industry?

2023 is the year of sustainability in UAE. Country has been preparing to host the COP28 Climate Conference at Expo City Dubai from 30 November to 12 December 2023. Customers and enterprises are more environment and sustainability oriented and committed. Environmental-friendly products usage and initiatives, such as elimination of single-use plastic, reducing the water usage, and saving energy will always be in the strategic plans of the organizations. Commitment to these strategies and trends are expected to grow, as such in line with the governments vision, compliance is strongly required.

Given your extensive role, do you have any personal hobbies, preferences etc?

I love abstract painting on canvas with acrylic oil. It helps me to create, express my emotions on colours and composition, and relax.  I have a library, with a collection of hundreds of business and leisure books. Some of them are the best 100 business books in the world, selected by MBA students. My library also includes tens of thousands of pages of archive, both printed and digital, which I have been growing for almost 25 years.

I love fencing very much. I used to take the fencing courses in an international fencing club in Dubai and attend the nation-wide tournaments with an amateur eagerness. Due to pandemic, I had to cease, but will again start soon.      

I have a good size of Cuban cigars collection. In my spare time, I clean and season my humidors occasionally, check my refrigerated storage cabinet daily, check their temperature and humidity levels to ensure the cigars are at their best condition, and take care of the other accessories.

Finally, I love to write and share my experience in different platforms. It is great pleasure to contribute to GTM every month.

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