David Singleton on the evolution of the Middle East hospitality industry

Published: 5 August 2020 - 5:30 a.m.

So we’re finally emerging from one of the darkest periods of our time; but we’re a long way from being out by any stretch, and what we once thought might have been a ‘new normal’ simply changes all the time.

I’ve been thinking about my own lockdown, a virtual world where I’ve had such a productive period of reflection and learning, and of 'veeting' new people (Get it?) on webinars or through those who have reached after seeing me speak virtually. In recent weeks I’ve ventured out to finally regroup with my network, dipping a toe in business to look back, prepare and regroup. Business is returning with varying degrees of caution.

I was working with a firm during lockdown. Very early in our blue-sky thinking time we realised that this pandemic is not going away for a very long time. We studied the emotional needs of different generations returning to work, restaurants, bars and more. We thought about the young who think they are bullet proof and have already returned to their own level of normal and about others who are returning with caution, who are still to establish a level of normalness.

How we transform our restaurant and bar spaces has been a critical part of maintaining the excellent environment, service levels and food quality throughout regularly changing rules. We have been lucky in the UAE that COVID-19 has been dealt with enough rigour to ensure long-term damage limitation. However hard it’s been, if we look beyond our shores it’s clear our industry and tourism will emerge stronger than many others. We’ve seen fabulous examples of those who have pivoted, embracing the opportunity that has been presented to them.

And it’s this, opportunity, that I’ve been focusing on in the last couple of weeks. I’ve been so happy seeing patience, determination and operational excellence rewarded. I’m talking to entrepreneurs who have spotted opportunity and gaps in the market and we’re working with them to craft brilliant things. And here’s my “a-ha!” of the last quarter, it’s not just F&B now; its FB&E. E for experience, excellence, entrepreneurialism, evolution, I could go on, but now more than ever you have to have that third dimension, that magic ‘E’ to truly succeed.

Some of the most talented people around are now available for hire. Hospitality and service-trained employees and leaders are some of the best trained in the world.

They are people who will bring the E Factor, which is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s now a have-to-have, and I would really encourage our retail and service sector cousins, to look to the hospitality industry and breathe life onto their businesses with some of the talent that has been set free by others.

The final thing I’ve learned is the power of collaboration. Never before have doors been more open to us. Brilliant brands, people and minds are ready to work together, and if we do so in our hotels and restaurants, The E-Factor will be the element that will bring out the other end to a kind of normal where we’re safe, and perhaps more future proof than we once were. As proof of the power of collaboration, I’m writing this at the Studio One Hotel, where the team has mastered how to collaborate and bring an E-Factor to hotel evolution.

David Singleton has worked in the hospitality and retail industry around the world as a brand builder, creator, operator, franchisee and franchisor for some of the world’s most respected brands. He moderates, speaks, writes, advises and mentors across the hospitality and service sectors globally. Find out more at www.davidsingleton.work and @singletoncity.


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