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The new General Manager of the Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort and Spa is thriving in a country where he feels welcome. Thibault De Vries talks to Journal des Palaces about his goals for the hotel and his new life in Bahrain.


The new General Manager of the Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort and Spa is thriving in a country where he feels welcome. Thibault De Vries talks to Journal des Palaces about his goals for the hotel and his new life in Bahrain.

Category: Middle East - Bahrain - Careers - Appointments - Interviews
Interview made by Vanessa Guerrier-Buisine on 2024-04-15

Thibault de Vries, General Manager of the Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa

Thibault de Vries, General Manager of the Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa
Photo credit © Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa

Alumni of the EHL Hospitality Business School, French Dutch, career with the Hyatt Group. These three facts might describe Thibault De Vries. The 42-year-old is also married with three children, and a citizen of the world, having already worked in six countries between Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Thibault had a revelation when he was very young, discovering with his father the backstage area of a hotel where he was staying. “Being, communicating and socializing with guests” was his first motivation for joining the hotel industry. “Personalizing each guest's experience” was the driving force behind his move into the world of luxury hotels.

After graduating from the EHL Hospitality Business School in 2005, Thibault opted for the operational side of the business so that he could experience and manage the day-to-day lives of his colleagues. His journey in the hospitality industry began at the prestigious Park Hyatt Paris Vendôme and Grand Hyatt Singapore, where he honed his skills and knowledge. In January 2011, he ventured to Hyatt Regency Johannesburg in South Africa. It was a two-year stopover that changed his life, enabling him not only to land his first executive position as F&B Director, but also to meet his South African wife.

In 2014, another highlight in his career, when he left for the Ararat Park Hyatt in Moscow, before heading to Sochi to take up his first position as General Manager at the Hyatt Regency Sochi, before returning to Moscow to head up the Hyatt Regency Moscow Petrovsky Park. Throughout his career, the individual spent almost ten years in Russia, where he fervently pursued his goal of becoming a General Manager. It was during this time that he also experienced the joyful milestone of welcoming three children into the world.

In 2022, Thibault began his Middle Eastern adventure in Qatar, preparing for the opening of Andaz Doha - a Concept by Hyatt. In December of last year, a significant milestone was reached in his professional journey as he made the strategic move from Qatar to Bahrain to assume the position of General Manager at the Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa.

Thibault approaches his professional career with the same tenacity and drive that he applies to conquering personal challenges. Not only does he push his limits through physical feats like climbing Mount Elbrus and completing the Moscow marathon, but he also thrives on the daily challenges he faces while managing hotels.

Journal des Palaces met this hands-on manager to discuss his career, his management style and his objectives.

Journal des Palaces: After graduating from EHL, you spent more than 18 years with the Hyatt Group. What did you learn there, and how are you putting this experience to good use at Jumeirah?

Thibault De Vries: Hyatt is absolutely an amazing company. I enjoyed working for them for the last 18 years. They have given me my basis of everything I need to know in running a luxury hotel. Hyatt gave me the responsibility and opportunities for me to grow rather fast and this was obviously the strong point. I have consistently demonstrated a strong work ethic and dedication to achieving exceptional Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and delivering outstanding results.

Having said that, I learn more things every day. I have developed a profound appreciation for the luxury hospitality sector, and in particular, Jumeirah stands out to me as a pinnacle of excellence in this industry. It has the resources and the support that can play on a high level in terms of luxury experience for our guests.

What kind of General Manager are you?

EHL was a very academic base for my career, but after that, I started as a trainee, and I really worked up my way. I consciously took that decision to go through the whole operational process.

I want to know what my colleagues do every day and improve the experience for my guests. On my average day, I spend, if I can, 60 to 70% of my time in the operations. That allows me to relate easily to my colleagues in all the departments because I've been in their situations, and I know what challenges they face. So, it's easy for me to empathize with them, to suggest some small improvements, to be a part of the team. They understand immediately that I know what I'm talking about, and that automatically creates legitimacy, it creates respect.

What is your relationship with your teams?

I don't micromanage my teams, I trust my managers. I do keep a very close finger on the pulse as I like to say, but they are professionals. They have a clear mission of the hotel, they have the budget and the KPIs, so they know what has to be done. I like my team to stand in the spotlight, and all the good results comes from them. I'm just there in the background, helping, guiding, supporting, directing, adjusting. That's how I see myself more as a GM.

And with your guests?

I am always available to my guests. I very much enjoy inviting my regular guests for a cup of coffee, for a special dinner. I'm always in the lobby welcoming guests. We are in hospitality, it is about being warm, being kind, trying to make the guests feel as comfortable as possible.

What were the first priorities that you input in the hotel since your arrival?

The hotel faced several challenges during the opening period, and there is still a lot to be done to reach the level that we aspire. Therefore, I would say the number one thing was to create a clear vision for my team. So, I have set up five clear goals to work on and complete for the year:
  • Identify opportunities revenue-driven,
  • Improve guest satisfaction internally,
  • Improve guest satisfaction externally, on, TripAdvisor, Google…
  • Accelerate the hiring process,
  • Creating wow moments for our guests.

What are Jumeirah’s strengths?

Jumeirah has positioned itself as a key player in the luxury segment of guests. Jumeirah only has 26 hotels today, it’s a whole different infrastructure and set up. The product offered to the guest is really of a very high-level quality. It's amazing, and the number of colleagues we have in each department to support this service delivery is significantly higher than what I have seen in my past experience.

Finally, the number of training and development opportunities that Jumeirah offers from rank-and-file employees to even the general manager, is impressive. They have already given me the opportunity to do some MBA courses.

What are your hotel’s strengths?

It's an absolutely stunning hotel, about 45 minutes from the capital city. A full-on resort, with 207 rooms, five different pools, different restaurants and bars, outlets, a private cinema with 36 seats, and a canal like a river going around the property whereby we do boat tours on the abra boat, a traditional Middle Eastern boat.

We have the most beautiful beach in Bahrain: an 800-metre-long white sandy beach, and because we are on the Southwest coast of the island, we always have a cool breeze coming through from the water even during the hot summer months. We are far away from any industry or production areas in Bahrain, so our air is really fresh and clear, which is very nice as well.

What do you think are the benefits of an experience abroad?

I believe, as a national Dutch person, having grown up in Amsterdam, we are, in general, fairly open-minded and liberal thinkers compared to some other nationalities. But with my travelling, it has even opened my mind further, to learn different customs, different ways of doing, different expectations.

I speak more languages thanks to that, I know how to welcome a lot more different types of guests to the hotel, what would be their expectations, how I would help again so that we can personalize and cater the arrival experience and the whole stay more accordingly to their expectations.

And for me personally, it's an amazing journey, of course. I met my wife in South Africa, have all my three kids born in Russia. I mean, all this is just an amazing personal experience as well.

What do you enjoy most about Bahrain?

We have been here now for about 3 months, so we are discovering a lot. I've worked a lot in the last two or three months to get to know my hotel, the team. So, I haven't seen enough yet of Bahrain, but I can tell you already that I find the local people and overall community extremely warm, extremely friendly. They are very open-minded and accepting a lot of the foreigners that are working here, which I really enjoy.

Here some Bahraini work at the front office, in housekeeping, in reservation, in sales and marketing also, so it's a very nice integration between the local and the expat communities.
Bahrain was the first one country in the UAE to be opened. People are extremely friendly, very social, and there's a very nice nightlife restaurant scene.

What advice would you give to young people just starting out in their careers?

Find a company whereby you feel comfortable, aligned according to your culture or your values, and whereby you can learn a lot. Don't focus on the monetary benefit when you come out of school the first two or three years. Your payment for the first few years is knowledge, experience, is making errors and learning from those errors. Once you hit GM position, you are not really entitled any more to make an error.

So, I would say find a company that allows you to do that, not because they pay you $100 more, or they promise you to be a GM within five years. All that doesn't work.

What advice would you give to luxury hotel professionals who want to work abroad?

Firstly, try to do your detailed research: which hotel company? Which country?
Then, go and don't be afraid of the unknown. It's an amazing experience. You obviously need to keep an open mind, to be flexible, to be adaptable. You can't expect people to accept you, you are a visitor in their country. So, you need to adapt as well to their customs and their way of doing things.

And for those who would like to work in Bahrain?

Specifically for Bahrain, it is very easy. You need to do some research, to understand what the Muslim religion is, the basics of the local cultures, the local heritage, the local traditions, the local ways of doing things right.
People can apply, we are recruiting. From a visa point of view, it's fairly easy to get a work permit, as the company will do this for the applicant. Then there is a quick security check, which is standard procedure.

Regarding the housing, it depends a bit on what position you are coming in for in the hotel. For our rank-and-file we have an apartment block, we provide everything: flight, accommodation, food and beverage, laundry, insurance, everything is covered from A-Z. Once you go into a more middle management position or senior management position, you get a housing allowance, a transportation allowance, some benefits that will help you to live according to your level of employment success. And then of course for management, there's HR that will help you organize everything.

Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa

Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa by night
Photo credit © Rami Mansour / RAMIMANSOUR2022 / Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa

The Obab al Bahar restaurant at the Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa
Photo credit © Rami Mansour 2022 / Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa

Lounge Majlis Al Fajiri at Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa
Photo credit © Rami Mansour / Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa

More about...
Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa
Building 278, Avenue 63
1067 Jazaer Beach
Groupe : Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts

About the author

As a journalist and luxury hotel expert inspired by the men and women who embody it, Vanessa aspires to enhance and sublimate the beauty and elegance of palaces through her writing. "In a palace, simplicity serves the quest for excellence" she admires.

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