In Conversation with… Mehdi Hanayen

The Cluster General Manager, Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa, talks challenges and triumphs.

Hospitality is known to be a career of long and unpredictable hours and frequent moves. What initially drew you to this sector?
The passion for hospitality came from an early age from my home country, Tunisia, where the tourism industry is one of the most important sectors of the economy. This is what influenced my decision to pursue an international career.
In 2003, I started my Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality, Finance and Revenue Management, from the Glion Institute of Higher Education, in Bulle, Switzerland, and, after that, I completed my education with the Master’s degree in Hospitality Management from Cornell University.

What are the greatest challenges you have faced at Sofitel Bahrain? How have you overcome these?
The pandemic confronted the hospitality business with several new challenges and we quickly had to implement drastic responses to reduce the impact of the virus and mitigate the corresponding loss in business. We understood that business would mainly come from within the country. Staycation offers gained popularity due to the restrictions and risks involved in long-distance travel. At Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa, we invested all our efforts in attracting this segment during the lockdown.
In a highly competitive hospitality environment, hotels need to find ways to differentiate themselves in order to attract different segments. Creating a strong hotel branding is about defining your target audience and adapting your offerings to them. We wanted to position the resort as an idyllic family destination. With the support of our owning company, we managed to adapt the resort and fully prepared it with a range of outstanding children’s facilities such as a Kids’ Club, a Teens’ Club, outdoor Kids’ Pool and an array of services and activities to help parents relax and unwind. Nowadays, we can proudly say that Sofitel Bahrain is the best family hotel in the country.
The food and beverage offerings at a hotel can be a great tool to attract locals looking for a completely unique dining experience. However, attracting the local community to our restaurants and bars was not an easy task for us being located far from the city.
Having this in mind, at Sofitel Bahrain we created an outstanding variety of outdoor and indoor restaurants and bars to satisfy the most exquisite palates of the Kingdom. Thirteen exciting dining options and nightlife are on the menu, from award-winning seafood, Italian, Southeast Asian and Lebanese restaurants to the luxury of seasonal menus and al fresco and all-day dining.
Any new business has its challenges, but spas and salons bring a whole new level of complexity. Our main challenge was our location and, in order to overcome this, we thought of offering our guests and the local community a space that would stand out and have that added value that would make it unique. For this reason, and with the full support of our owning company, we created Thalassa Sea & Spa, the first Thalassa centre in the GCC, offering a vast array of seawater-based treatments, including hydrotherapy, massage, wellness and rehabilitation.
Since the opening in 2011, our main focus has been to offer a well-trained staff capable of anticipating customer needs, offering effective treatments in a wonderful ambiance in order to earn the loyalty of all our clients, enabling us to have an extensive database of repeat guests nowadays.

Similarly, what do you consider your greatest achievements in your role at Sofitel Bahrain?
Since I joined Sofitel Bahrain back in 2018, I have been fortunate enough to have accomplished numerous goals. I have had the pleasure of watching the company grow exponentially and being awarded several times.
Some of our achievements include our popular Friday Brunch, an extravagant event considered the best brunch of the Kingdom for the last years.
We managed to enhance our culinary offering to attract guests from all nationalities. However, I would highlight the opening of Rivaaj, the best Indian restaurant for those who want to experience an unforgettable gastronomic journey tasting authentic flavours of India. Lastly, being able to position Sofitel Bahrain as a leading family destination mastering the art of family holidaying has become one of our most successful achievements. Our hotel has been the most idyllic escape for families in search of a relaxing holiday with their loved ones for the past years.

How do you see the future of the hospitality industry in Bahrain, both short-term post-pandemic and in the longer term?
From my point of view, I feel deeply confident and see a bright future for the tourism sector in Bahrain. The hospitality industry here is set to grow exponentially with all the new hotels joining the market as well as the opening of spaces such as the new Bahrain International Exhibition and Convention Centre, the largest venue of its kind in the Middle East.
Marking a new era for the Kingdom’s aviation sector, the addition of the new airport will be a significant support to the growth not only of the economy of the country but also of the tourism industry.
Thanks to Bahrain’s development plan, including these projects as well as new luxury hotels and public and private beaches, our country will reinforce its position as one of the best beach destinations in the Middle East.
From our side, thanks to the continuous support of our owning company and aiming to expand our offering, we are currently working on the addition of four new villas next year, a milestone that will elevate our room inventory inviting guests to spend quality time with friends and family in a private setting here in the magical south of the Kingdom.

How do you like to enjoy Bahrain when you are not working?
I strongly believe that spending our free time properly can actually help us in our success in the professional world and, in my case, I enjoy spending it with my family. ✤