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As his role recently extended to encompass the South East Asia Pacific (SEAP) region, we caught up with the Chief of Operations Officer at the Arabian Travel Market.


As his role recently extended to encompass the South East Asia Pacific (SEAP) region, we caught up with the Chief of Operations Officer at the Arabian Travel Market.

Category: Worldwide - Careers - Recruitment / Job / Training - Interviews
Interview made by Sonia Taourghi on 2024-05-17

Tim Cordon, COO MEA and SEAP, Radisson Hotel Group, at the Arabian Travel Market

Tim Cordon, COO MEA and SEAP, Radisson Hotel Group, at the Arabian Travel Market
Photo credit © Sonia Taourghi / Journal des Palaces

Tim Cordon is a busy man. Like many during the Arabian Travel Market, he's been attending meetings after meetings, and yet, like many in the hospitality business, managed to show grace and passion for our exchange. He is British, after all, and therefore always up for a little chat.
Responsible for leading hotel operations across the group’s largest area, with over 220 hotels currently in operation or under development, Tim Cordon has been with Radisson Hotel Group since 2003. Appointed COO for MEA in 2022, he's, since January 2024, also responsible for driving profit and growth in the SEAP region.
Tim Cordon shares his vision of the hospitality business and unveils the ambitions for his expanding region, with a focus on Saudi Arabia.

Journal des Palaces : How did you get into hospitality?

Tim Cordon: I was studying Mechanical engineering, listening to lectures about mass or whatever… But at the same time, I started working in a restaurant, then a bar, and eventually a bar in a hotel, and I absolutely loved it! And I still love it today. Something bit me about running a hotel and being in hotels. It was a feeling like being almost with your family, surrounded by the team in the hotel. It's a different environment.
I was very fortunate, to have the one person that made a difference in my journey. At the end of my studies, this general manager told me, I could go and become a mechanical engineer, or they could give me a job, train me, and after six months if I didn't like it, there would be no hard feelings. And I loved it, and that was it. I went on to manage one hotel, and then several, and here I am today. I worked in all departments throughout my career, but my roots have always been in operations. What I love about Operations is people, the people you serve, providing memorable experiences. I find an enormous satisfaction in that. And of course, the people you're working with. The surrounding teams become excellent friends. You go through intense moments of activity in the hotel, but there are also quiet moments to reflect, allowing you to build strong bonds if you get it right. It's all about people.

What is the secret behind leading operations in many different areas, with their own culture, ways, and needs?

You have to be emotionally intelligent of course, but ultimately it's about respect: respect of cultures, of different ways of doing business no matter where you are. Besides, what you bring to a country being Radisson or any big international corporation is also a way of doing things with some obvious standards or recognition. Beyond these general elements, what you fundamentally need is local expertise. Those local partnerships we develop are extremely important for us to deliver locally relevant specialities. For people like myself, that's how I work and do things, and I agree that you can't take everything with the same approach: you can do business in Nigeria, the same way you do in the Middle East, Europe, or Thailand. You need to be flexible enough to adapt to these markets.
It's a critical part of our job.

Are there markets that you find slightly more challenging than others?

Describing such a situation as challenging is missing the point. You don't go to a place with a specific culture and think it's challenging. You go to a place and ask yourself, "How am I going to adapt to it?"
When I first moved to Dubai, I was frustrated for the first few weeks because I was speaking English, and yet I felt no one was understanding me. So I complained to my wife about it, and she wisely explained that I was speaking my way, the fast British way, and that I needed to slow down and remember that all the slang wasn't necessarily understood. So I was the one that needed to adapt. It was my responsibility to be understood, and I realised that was exactly right. You have to adapt to suit local cultures.

What makes Dubai such a perfect hub for your Operations?

Why not? There are a lot of reasons why you would come to Dubai. Especially in the last eight or ten years, and even more, since COVID, Dubai established itself as an international hub: it's easy to settle here, despite the tax regime getting more expensive, it's still relatively good, and talents are here. A lot of people want to live in Dubai, which means you can attract good-quality people to help run your business. Also, the connectivity, not only within the Emirates but also globally, is amazing. Running Middle East, Africa and now South East Pacific Asia (SEAP), I have direct connexions with all our directors, which is fantastic.
Ultimately, there's no better location to be able to support the teams who sell in those parts of the world.

2024 is set to be another big year, with Saudi Arabia being at the forefront of the expansion in the Middle East. What are you hoping to bring to the country?

Saudi represents an enormous wealth of opportunities and the largest population in the GCC (The Gulf Cooperation Council). It's been closed since the 1950s. There are so many changes happening there: behavioural change, cultural change, investment change, infrastructure change, and an enormous focus on tourism. So it was the obvious thing to do, to establish an office there, and try to expand our portfolio. Right now, we are the 3rd or 4th largest hotel operator in the Kingdom, with about 50 hotels operating or under development, and we want to maintain that presence. I can easily see us growing to 80 or 100 hotels within the next five years. Because of the scale of the spending, of the opening. If you take a comparable country, there are nowhere near enough hotels in the Kingdom. It only takes a couple of events in Riyadh for it to be full. We're lucky we have great partners there to support our mission.

How are you expecting to keep the authenticity with such a rapid expansion?

I agree that it's something to look into and preserve. We have two ways: first the products. We have certain design standards for Saudi Arabia. The architecture and design elements are very specific there, and we want to respect that. And, then it's again the people. 40% of our collaborators are local and offer a local experience. I'm proud that half of those local talents are female. Women in the workplace in Saudi Arabia is relatively new, and we're truly embracing that change.

What skills or abilities are you looking for in the talents you hire?

It's always about the attitude. This ability to say "I love it, it's a passion. I want to work hard, I want to move on, I want to make a difference in the business". These are the people I like working with the most, and this is what we try to fill in our businesses with. In return for that, we have a very empowering approach: you give the right people, in the right place, the right job and the right tools to do that job, and you get out of the way. And when you get the passionate people I was referring to, that environment and approach really works.
So again the right attitude, and culture if you like, is what matters the most. Everything else can be taught, the tools, the system, but it is way more difficult to instil a passion for the business.
Our brand stands for that passion. You can have the most luxurious hotel in the world, but if it's filled with people who don't care, you're still delivering a bad experience. People who care, even in a little or older hotel, will look after you in a way you'll remember, and provide a great service. That's the mark of a successful business.
Our focus is always on how we deliver great experiences through the great people in our business.

How did your CSR evolve in the most recent years, ad what initiatives are you particularly passionate about?

We have Scandinavian roots, so our first environment policy was written in the late 80's so we always behave ethically and in an environmentally sustainable way. We have hotel initiatives around recycling, glass bottles, right to big investments like making our building more sustainable. Furthermore, we are also committed to Net Zero by 2050 and therefore focusing on green hotels, green energy, and green operations.
We look at the infrastructure, the equipment and energy used. It's about how we put green energy into our buildings. From an operations' perspective, we train the teams and outreach programmes with the communities.
RHG, along with other brands, associations, and destination, launched Hotel Sustainability Basics (HSB) – an initiative that drives verified responsible and sustainable travel globally and raises the global starting level of hotel sustainability in a transparent and easy-to-understand manner for all travellers and stakeholders.
When it comes to employees, we mostly do things locally by asking our local teams what is important for them. There's a myriad of different initiatives, whether it's giving internships, sponsoring local school activities, or cleaning local beaches in resorts. We do a lot with education in Egypt, for example, because there's a need there.

What would be your advice for a talent looking to start or grow their hospitality career?

There's no escaping it: like in any business, you need to be prepared to work hard and be prepared to be open. You need to be open to work in other areas of the hotels. Because if you don't look at it that way, you're missing out on so many opportunities and skills. Between front, operations, finance, human resources, F&B, etc. There are so many different trades to discover.

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About the author

A lover of human interactions, Sonia started her journalism career in various media outlets before moving to London and shifting to the digital industry. Listening to her calling, she's picking up her pen to share the passion and ambitions of luxury hospitality.

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