Sophia Annour, a Vatel 2012 alumnus, is one of these Vateliens who succeeded quickly: for the past two years she has been the Revenue Inventory Executive for the Middle East & Africa Revenue Management Remote Solutions Organization in the Marriott International Group, based in Dubai. Here, she’ll spell out her recipe for success.
Sophia, what made you choose Vatel after your high school diploma?
I chose Vatel because it is an “ultra professionalizing” program with the ideal combination between theoretical courses in hotel management and practical application of this under real life conditions. Vatel Nimes has a four-star application hotel for its students in which we do our practical application work in each department: in the brasserie restaurant, in the gourmet restaurant, in the kitchens, in accommodations and housekeeping, at the front desk and even at the Vatel Gourmet shop downtown. This very down to earth type of training allowed me to have a global comprehension of how a hotel and its restaurants really work. When I graduated, I felt as if I could do several different types of jobs.
I’ve got really great memories of the time I spent at school in general, where I met a lot of great people and discovered new cultures, even though I stayed in France, thanks to Vatel Nimes’ international outreach, with a campus hosting about half of international students. The years I spent at Vatel served to confirm what I wanted to do as a high school student.
In your opinion, how is Vatel’s teaching concept different from other hotel management schools?
Most of the time, when students graduate, they find it hard to land their first jobs, because they don’t have any professional experience. Vateliens don’t have this problem, because the years of experience they’ve accumulated equal the number of years they attended school. In Vatel, we’re working with real hotel guests, as of our first week! Recruitment officers know this, and that’s the reason why many Vateliens are hired by the company that hosts them for their final internship. Many others are hired elsewhere, without even finishing their missions. Personally, I didn’t even finish my final internship: I was hired before!
What are the best memories you have of your internships?
Discovering new cultures as well as being extremely well managed. I did my final internship in Qatar, in the Renaissance Doha City Center, Courtyard Doha City Center and the Marriott Executive Apartments Doha City Center, three Marriott hotels that were located in the same place (3 packs). I worked for nine months in theRevenue Management department.
What really astounded me when I first arrived, was the number of different nationalities working here: over 42! These nine months were very enriching both from a human and from a professional point of view, as I understood that every culture has its own way of working. So I learned how to adapt myself to people who didn’t follow the same management rules as I did, or who didn’t read out situations in the same way that I did.
Very early on, I was granted quite a few responsibilities, and I appreciated the trust placed in myself, as soon as I arrived. The Revenue Leader let me participate in Sales Strategy meetings, and later on, let me prepare and analyze detailed reports. Then I was allowed to lead market analysis projects and I assisted my colleagues in their daily work. I had great contacts with my managerial team as well as with the personnel, and became friends with many of them.
And do you have fond memories of your first two internships?
I sure do! I did my second year internship at the Hotel Le Plaza Brussels 5* as the Assistant General Manager for four months. As he knew that I liked working with figures, he gave me financial reports to compare and make them into presentations to facilitate their comprehension and analysis. I met the Revenue Manager of this hotel and he told me about Marriott International where he had worked for five years and he advised me to join this group, as it is an expert in this field. And I don’t regret having followed his advice and I’m very grateful for it.
In my first year, I did a six month internship in Cap d’Antibes in the Beach Hotel Relais & Chateaux 5*, located in my home town, where I worked in each department; captain in the restaurant, hostess, cleaning lady, receptionist, and sales and special events assistant. This operational experience was very enriching, because as I worked in each department, that gave me a global comprehension of how they worked together and completed what I had started to learn in Nimes. I knew exactly how much time was needed in each department as well as what challenges there were to overcome. This developed my team spirit, my communication skills and confirmed how important it was to associate solid hotel management bases with hands-on applications of them. How can you be credible to a team you’re managing if you haven’t done their jobs on a daily basis before?
Sophia, how did you get this job you currently have?
While I was doing my Revenue Management internship in Doha, I was able to demonstrate my ability and meet the expectations my Revenue Leader had. He told me that there was a job vacancy in Dubai in the Marriott International. This job was for an entry level position, whose role perfectly matched the training I had received in the 3 pack Doha City Center and the recruitment officer was interested in my profile. My first goal was to do a one year internship in Doha, but after nine months, I quit this internship because I was hired by management at the Marriott, for the job I have today. I really love Revenue Management and my trainers did everything possible so that I would continue my professional career with their group.
Can you tell us about your job?
The geographical zone I’m in charge of has 11 Marriott hotels, located in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Algeria. We’ll have a total of 16 in 2015. I’m mainly in charge of the following functions for the four hotels in our portfolio:
- Inventory Management: managing the room inventory through strategic controls.
- Rate Management: I’m in charge of drawing up a structured price grid.
- Analysis of segmentation in order to respond in the best possible way to requests from each category or clients.
- Budgets and commercial action plans: working closely with the Area Director of Sales, Area Director of Revenue Management, the General Manager and the Sales Manager, I study and put in place our hotel goals in terms of quantity, quality and profitability.
- Sales strategy meetings: I prepared and chair meetings where we discuss strategic recommendations to put in place so as to maximize our turnover.
- Demand outlook: I’m in charge of studying the current demand to anticipate future demand using different types of indicators (number of person-nights, ADR, RevPar, etc.).
- Putting in place different prices in each distribution channel of the 11 hotels.
- Audit: I organize several audits to make sure that the hotels are complying with organizational rules and procedures.
- Writing reports with facts and figures and performance reviews.
Outside of the four hotels I’m responsible for, I’m also in charge of drawing up daily and monthly reports for the sales figures of the seven other hotels in our portfolio.
In your opinion, what qualities and skills do you need to do this job?
- You have to have a good analytical spirit, like working with figures and new technologies, but also be methodical, precise and very well organized.
- You have to be able to be a multi-tasker as well as a problem solver.
- You have to be a good decision-maker and be fairly quick in doing this, in order to propose the best solutions.
- It’s also really important to have good listening and communication skills.
- Cross-cultural management knowledge is also highly recommended.
- You have to have a good team spirit, know how to rally your team, be curious and have good observational qualities.
- And last but not least, I’d like to add that you have to embrace each complex situation and challenge, rather than fear them, because this is what builds your knowledge and stimulates you in the process of reaching expected results.
What’s next on your list of ambitions?
Reaching my ongoing goals defined by my managers while continuing to prepare myself to work in a managerial position. I have been living in the Middle East for over two years now, and feel that I’m ready to discover new geographical zones to expand my knowledge in the RM field and quench my thirst for new challenges.
In a few years I’d like to be a multi-hotel Strategic Marketing Manager. After that? I’ve got loads of ideas. Life is made up of surprises and opportunities. Let’s see!