In Conversation with… Bruno Hivon

As we enter 2021 holding onto hope for a less complicated, chaotic, and tumultuous year ahead, we take five minutes to chat about the world of hospitality with Bruno Hivon, General Manager of Crowne Plaza Bahrain.

You moved to Bahrain at an ‘interesting’ time – February 2020, the onset of the pandemic in this part of the world. What can you tell us about the experience?

I came into a well-established hotel with a great team, but needed to build relationships and gain trust fast. Experience, like everywhere, was quite unique due to the pandemic and we all had to reset our way of thinking to get through – be it in the way of communication with our guests, clients, and our team or being creative in terms of our offering. It was a constantly evolving process.

What was your single biggest takeaway at the end of 2020, both from a personal and professional perspective?

It was an interesting year to say the least and, surely, one that none of us were expecting when we were setting our goals in 2019. With COVID-19 turning 2020 on its head, it’s safe to say that most of us learned a number of lessons. As we have moved on and found a semblance of ‘new normal’, here are the key takeaways that I value most:

♦ Our team is our most valuable asset. This was especially driven home as many of us faced the difficult challenge of letting dedicated employees go or sending them home and collaborating with them remotely. There’s a lot you can easily do on your own, but running and scaling a hospitality business is hardly one of them. Your team is worth their weight in gold and, after 2020, you likely won’t forget it.

♦ Being firm, but flexible. Flexibility is in the nature of a crisis that is constantly evolving, especially being part of the service industry. We need to be prepared to adapt and pivot our operations according to the latest updates. With that said, staying firm and true to our IHG corporate values is what keeps the wheels turning, whether we’re in a crisis situation or not.

♦ Prior to the pandemic, the simple blessing in life was often overlooked in favour of the hustle. However, postpandemic, the silver lining – time to relax, refresh, and recharge with family – became clear.

I don’t usually make resolutions. I believe you need to make adjustment or changes as and when needed.

Out of adversity comes opportunity, if Benjamin Franklin is to be believed. After leading your team at Crowne Plaza through a highly complicated couple of months, did you find that to be true?

Benjamin Franklin was definitely not thinking of COVID-19 when he said this, but our response to this significant disruption is our ability to share ideas, convey best practices, and develop and nurture relationships. We’re learning to solve problems faster, quickly using new ways of working and engaging our teams in high bandwidth collaborative thinking. One of highlights of this pandemic was the birth of our new outdoor venue The Backyard, which is an extension of the Harvesters Pub & Terrace. It’s an exciting new venue with great food, good music, interesting drinks, and openair seating – and it definitely seems to have grabbed the attention of local pub-hoppers. We also took this time to do soft refurbishments in some of our restaurants.

Vaccine or not, travel and hospitality will look different in 2021 as a result of the events of 2020. What key industry trends do you predict?

Health and safety is first on everyone’s mind, so if we keep that our priority, the trends would be:

♦ One of the biggest challenges for the hospitality industry in 2021 will definitely be restoring guests’ confidence. IHG’s 5-Step Program, IHG Way of Clean, supports IHG hotels with creating a culture of clean, so we’re enhancing the experience of our guests by redefining cleanliness and supporting well-being throughout their stay. Our IHG Clean Promise is to ensure that our hotels provide a safe and clean environment. And with our exclusive brand service behaviour, Dare to Connect, we connect with guests and each other in more personal and thoughtful ways, which is crucial at a time like this.

♦ We’ll definitely see more tech-savvy travellers in the future. During successive lockdowns, most people took to technology to stay in touch with their loved ones, for entertainment, and even to order basic supplies. When travel is restored, our guests will show more openness towards technology, and will probably be more comfortable using it too.

♦ A lot of people will prefer al fresco dining and outdoor venues in a bid to avoid crowded and closed areas.

♦ Local and domestic staycations became increasingly popular last year due to border closures, with people looking for hotels within their own city or neighbouring countries to escape to.

♦ Lastly, there’s one thing we must never forget: people crave experiences. Whether they wear a mask or are separated by an acrylic sheet, the hospitality industry must provide unforgettable experiences – only with a heightened demand for safety now. New Year’s resolutions are meant to be broken – agree or disagree? What are yours? I don’t usually make resolutions. I believe you need to keep moving forward positively and make adjustment or changes as and when needed, and not wait for a specific date or time. ✤