Her career path was not destined to bring her back to France, perhaps not so soon anyway. Five years ago, Alice Mafaity returned to Paris, where it all began. A stopover to recharge her batteries before probably resuming her journey in the hospitality industry.
The General Manager of the Hôtel du Louvre since January 2023 has never had any desire to linger in her own country, as there are too many things to discover beyond its borders. No doubt there's a connection, or perhaps it's just a coincidence that she started out as a room manager at the Paris Charles de Gaulle Hilton, a stone's throw from the airport. The choice of an international group was no coincidence either, a way of paving the way. So, after two years, she took off for Japan to begin a journey of almost fifteen years between Asia and the Middle East, moving from Hilton to InterContinental to Jumeirah. There, she came face to face with other cultures and learned as much about herself as about the meaning of hospitality, working her way up through the ranks.
Then, in 2018, an opportunity arose to join Hyatt and return home with the appropriate responsibilities. Director of the Regency Paris Étoile, she climbed to General Manager of the Hyatt Paris Madeleine before taking charge of the Hôtel du Louvre.
Almost a year after her arrival, Alice Mafaity spoke to Le Journal des Palaces. A journey between Tokyo, Hong Kong and Paris, talking about her singular career path and her early decision to export. But also about her relationship with management and her desire to inspire her teams and support them by passing on the knowledge she has acquired; not forgetting her commitment to encouraging women to exchange ideas, assert themselves in the hospitality industry, and give them the tools to succeed.
Journal des Palaces: You've been General Manager of the Hôtel du Louvre for almost a year now, but before that, you were lucky enough to work in the United Arab Emirates and China for Jumeirah and InterContinental. What have your years away from France with foreign companies taught you?
Alice Mafaity: Following Covid-19, with the staffing problems and the generational change, managers were forced to adapt and go back to the basics of the business: training. And that's what I experienced during 15 years abroad. When I started out in Asia, there was a considerable need for training in terms of operational knowledge of services, even more so in Dubai, where the front-of-house and front-of-house staff didn't come from these professions.
We're experiencing this today because we're recruiting people who don't have the same technical skills, and who are much less likely to come from hotel schools. So we need to support them with onboarding, training, job training, career development and knowledge of the business. I feel comfortable setting up this structure, which is less well known in France because we are fortunate to have some very fine hotel schools.
Have you learned any other lessons?
Currently, I'm having major discussions with my teams on management and the theme of how to motivate and integrate new generations into the company dynamic. Here again, having lived abroad helps me.
My first experience in Japan was very difficult. Having lived in the United States when I was younger, I thought I was ready. But in Japan, where the culture is very different, I realized that as a manager, I was going to have to adapt to this culture, and be open to exchange to understand others and achieve my objectives.
Today's new generation doesn't have the same career goals. They have a different work-life balance to previous generations, and this is truly destabilizing for managers, especially middle managers. The fact that I've lived abroad gives me this perspective and enables me to support my managers through this change.
What is it like to work in the hotel industry in France and abroad? Have you noticed any differences, and on what points?
In Asia, there is a need for technical skills, but the relationship is stronger. In France, it's the opposite. We have expertise, people who are very attached to the technical side, but there's a need for support in guest relations.
How do you position yourself in relation to this support?
Our good fortune is that Hyatt is already quite modern in its approach to management with strong values. We strive to recruit people with the same values of integrity and respect. My role as GM is to identify any dysfunctions within the teams and to initiate discussions with the managers. Today, I'm helping my managers to focus their strengths on well-being and fun.
It's even more important to support managers in this changing world. The hotel industry has to cope with this economic, social and political instability, and you have to be agile. Personally, I appreciate being able to work with outside coaches on specific topics. My next objective is to focus on the guest and create momentum. To achieve this, I'll be accompanied by a coach myself.
Is there anything you’d like to work on with this coach, or is it more of a global approach?
I'd like to bring humour back into our daily lives. It may destabilize the teams, but I like it because it opens the door to discussion. Without being completely eccentric, today we need to think differently, and humour will help us to move forward in a more positive way, to dedramatize certain situations.
How would you sum up the past year? What challenges have you encountered?
I told myself that with a completely renovated hotel, everything would run smoothly, but it's quite the opposite. On a more serious note, throughout the year we continued to work on our product, both on the “back of the house” and the “front of the house”, to ensure that it lived up to our guests' expectations. This has involved not only the rooms, but also the promotion of our two food and beverage outlets. L'Officine is our lounge, and we're trying to position it on the market because in France, people aren't used to going to these places. We want to become the benchmark for after-work and brunch. There's also our beautiful brasserie under the name of chef Bocuse. I aim to position this hotel as a major player in the Paris hotel market, five stars ++.
At Hyatt, the cleanliness of the rooms and the absence of technical problems are taken for granted. Today, luxury and 5-star hotels are differentiated by the service and experience they offer. I'd like to create an inspiring experience.
How would you define luxury hotels?
For me, luxury is all about detail, the quality of the product and the interaction between the guest and the hotel staff. It's important to prepare for the guest's arrival, to find out why they've come and allow us to surprise them. It's also about remembering when a guest comes and ensuring that their expectations at the time are met without them even having to ask. Luxury is also about discretion and consistency. When you achieve consistency in service, you reach a higher level.
You succeeded Fanny Guibouret, who left for Kyoto. In July, she told us that the Hôtel du Louvre was a “treasure trove”. What do you think?
I agree with Fanny that we have an exceptional hotel and incredible teams, where the values of kindness and respect really come into their own here. In the guest reviews, there's a mention of the teams. Not everything is perfect, but there's a care for the guest that I haven't seen for a long time.
It's also true that the Hôtel du Louvre remains a remarkable place. In this Paris that never stops, it's a true haven of peace where you can decompress and be inspired by the calm that reigns. Then there are the rooms, some of which overlook the Louvre Museum, where you can see some works of art in the evening when it's illuminated. Thanks to its location, it offers a panoramic view of all the iconic monuments of Paris.
What would you like to pass on to the Hôtel du Louvre?
I want to add that five-star touch to our services, continue to work on the Group's values and achieve that consistency. We have a real benevolence, but we need to work on personalization, especially as our teams are young and need this support in their relationship with guests. In the hotel business, you can tend to be very mechanical and forget about the guest. My approach is to refocus all our attention on the guest.
The Group has entrusted you with the Chapter France Women@Hyatt initiative. How did you feel about this role, and what concrete action have you been able to take?
I was the one who approached Michel Maurow about this initiative. My aim when I heard about this initiative was to set up a very inclusive one. Of course, the idea is to train women within the group for leadership positions, but I wanted to avoid an imbalance, and for me, it was important to be as inclusive as possible. I wanted us to be able to support all our colleagues in their personal and professional development without any bias. I wanted to create a group dynamic.
Today, we've created networking. Every month, we have exchange groups, including an afternoon of workshops between women, on themes brought up by our teams. Six of us play the role of mentors, accompanying the women on each subject and creating a space where they can learn from each other's experiences and receive advice. Two weeks ago (mid-November), the theme was “Knowing how to set limits”.
In 2024, we want to step up our work on mentoring, by women or men, to support those who wish to move up the corporate ladder or into GM positions.
Does this also enable you to better identify potential?
Yes, it does. At Hyatt, there's this logic of building a talent pool. We already have several programs in place to help them progress, but this initiative will perhaps give us a more feminine vision. We're at the crossroads of developing these future talents and supporting GMs in dealing with the issues that women may face.
Do you agree with Britta Leick-Milde, who said at this year's Hotelier Middle East that there was no longer a glass ceiling for women?
At Hyatt, there isn't one any more because there's a real desire for inclusion and diversity, but I'm not sure that it can be generalized to the entire hotel industry. In my career, I've never felt that there was a glass ceiling. I've always felt that it was up to me to build my own career, on my own or with others.
Whether it's you, Fanny Guibouret or others, more and more women are taking up General Manager positions. How do you perceive this feminization?
When I started my career, I only worked with women, and that was a disaster. A balance is always good, but it's true that it opens up great careers and is inspiring for women and for everyone.
Do you think that your examples and initiatives like Hyatt's encourage girls and young women to dream bigger, and tell themselves that it's also possible for them to reach these positions once reserved for men?
That's the aim, and that's why it's so important to have these moments of networking and exchange, to share our experiences, to say what's working and what's not. We want to have an impact, and that's why we're accompanied by a coach specializing in diversity, equity and female leadership. We don't necessarily want to go fast, but to do well. And it was important for us to start by taking stock of where we were in relation to this notion of leadership by women, which will guide us in inspiring our colleagues.
Do you think women bring a different vision of the hotel business?
Women and men are different, of course, with their strengths and weaknesses. It's interesting because this is a subject we discussed on October 4 with around forty colleagues, and during the exchanges it emerged that leadership is not a question of gender but of personality. We all have our style based on our experiences.
What lessons have you learned from all the sessions you've held so far?
Today, feedback shows that there is no bias that would prevent employees from positioning themselves in managerial roles. It's also clear that the networking was a valuable opportunity for the participants to express themselves freely.
Our objective for 2024 is to develop mentoring. We have a program in the region called Inspire. It trains mentors for these missions, and we want to be more distinctive and provide our talent pool with the best possible support in terms of their positions and career development.
Can this mentorship project be extended across the continent and the rest of the world?
That's Hyatt's objective, and we're pushing for internal development.
Could you name a few professional encounters that have marked your career? Do you have any mentors, and if so, can you tell us about them?
I'm thinking of Michel Morauw, who recruited me in 2018. He gave me his trust quickly and supported me in my first position as General Manager. Before him, I felt I had to “validate” my position. With him, I had an exchange, trust, and he considered my past experience to allow me to blossom in the position for which he had hired me. For me, he's an example of positive management.
Beyond Michel Morauw, it's not just one person who has made an impression on me, but all the people I've met in Dubai in the operational teams, because of their resilience and dedication to their company.
What advice would you give to a young person looking for a career in the luxury hotel industry ?
The most important advice is to seize opportunities in other hotels or abroad, without being afraid of change, because that's how you build your career and experience, by challenging yourself. You must take control of your career and go for it. For me, it was really enriching to go abroad, and I'll certainly do it again after the Hôtel du Louvre.
Why do you enjoy working abroad so much?
It's the discovery of other cultures and people. With the people you meet abroad, both professionally and personally, exchanges are easier. You often meet people who have followed their spouse and had to reinvent themselves, and that makes for some incredible conversations. It's not easy every day, and it's true that coming back to France has been a breath of fresh air. There's a balance to be found.
How do you see yourself evolving as a manager?
I'm taking a lot more distance. When I started out, I was a bit more of a hothead, with a more virulent character, and you learn that in the end, communication and being involved in exchanges is much more constructive and influential than just jumping in. There's a lot more maturity.
A journalist with many skills and an ever curious traveller, Christopher has a great attraction for carefully refined hotels, where characterful gastronomy, impeccable service and sincere elegance go hand in hand. A discreet and gourmet pen at the service of a certain idea of luxury.