Thomas Schmelter is the Area General Manager of IHG Hotels, overseeing the operations of InterContinental Dubai Festival City, InterContinental Residence Suites Dubai Festival City, Crowne Plaza Dubai Festival City and Holiday Inn Dubai Festival City.
He is a veteran hotelier with over 30 years of hospitality industry experience in the South East & South West Asia, Middle East and Europe regions. His career with IHG Hotels & Resorts began in 1989 and during this time he has held several senior operational and leadership roles, including Area General Manager in Malaysia and Vietnam. Previous to his appointment, he was the Senior Director of Operations for South East Asia, responsible for a very dynamic portfolio of 32 hotels. During his time in the region, he has become member of the board of IHG Hotels and Resorts Thailand.
Thomas brings with him extensive knowledge with pre-opening projects and conceptualization with special expertise in hotel positioning within a competitive market environment. He has a particularly deep insight into market conditions in India, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Singapore where he has spent over twenty years of his career.
Loyal to his passion, he has become a committee member of the Chaine De Rotisseur Thailand and President/Ambassador of Sabre D’Or. Adding to the collection of his impressive professional and personal achievements, Thomas became the president of Rotary Bangkok and got selected as member of GTCC, AMCHAM and the Thai Tourism Board.
Testament to his excellent leadership skills is the collection of awards he attained for the properties under his helm, including World Travel Award – Leading Hotel Thailand, – Best Luxury Hotel Bangkok; World Luxury Award – Best General Manager, PATTWA Award Best General Manager in India and many more.
2020 and 2021 were challenging years for the hospitality industry. In your opinion, how will travel trends change in 2022?
The past two years have been a roller coaster of unprecedented changes brought on by the pandemic. There will be a continued focus on health and safety in 2022, but the hospitality, travel and tourism sectors learnt to adapt to these new circumstances, making us better prepared for the ‘known unknown’. The new rules, standards and values have and will continue to influence consumer behavior. The industry was forced to explore new markets, adopted to new length-of-stay patterns, enhanced its offerings for the evolving domestic traveler and made us at IHG Hotels & Resorts further strengthen our already rigorous cleaning procedures. We’ve adapted our stay experience to give guests peace of mind and help them make the most of their trip. I am optimistic that the world is gradually opening and people look to reconnect and explore new destinations.
At work, which is your most challenging activity and why?
Finding talent can be challenging. Recruiting and retention of talent is crucial in our fast-growing industry. IHG thrives to create unique, personalized experiences for every guest. Added human touches make all the difference between an ordinary and an extraordinary stay. To deliver this highly individualized service, we must recruit the right talent; talent with curiosity and passion. It is vital to create a work culture that supports growth, wellness and provides mentor-ship to our colleagues to retain them. A cornerstone of our culture is our passion and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Supporting this, we have just launched an initiative to increase the number of our women colleagues as part of our gender diversity efforts.
How important is it for a hotel to have a solid gastronomic offering?
Gastronomy has always been a part of tourism and diverse culinary offerings are an inevitable part of the luxury hotel experience. Being a gastronomy enthusiast myself, I am passionate about keeping on top of trends. From a celebrity-chef-led restaurant to curated regional dining experiences at our Hotels in Dubai Festival City, we offer an extensive selection of world-class dining experiences. Three Michelin-starred chef, Pierre Gagnaire is at the helm of Pierre’s Bistro, serving up French delicacies, Karam Al Bahr features exquisite Lebanese dishes at InterContinental, and Belgian Café is another highlight at Crowne Plaza Dubai Festival City, embracing the essence of Brussels, with further options adding unique flavors to our collection. This shows the importance of an extensive gastronomic offering and makes us a truly diverse culinary destination.
Was a career in hospitality something you always dreamt of? What is your advice to aspiring hoteliers?
I am a third generation restaurateur, hotelier. Growing up in a family of restaurateurs gave me an instant appreciation for hospitality and it defined my path. This is the industry to be in if you want to get acquainted with different cultures and see the world. My advice is to define your goals, put your plan in place and stick to the course. Most importantly have passion and love for what you do.
Which cities are your favorites for: 1, food 2, history 3, fashion?
My heart takes me back to my hometown, Düsseldorf. I became a foodie at a very young age and developed a passion for gastronomy. Fresh local produce, innovative cooking and the variety of traditional dishes set the dining scene back home. For diversity, Bangkok comes to my mind, while for upscale culinary offerings Dubai tops the list. With its numerous home-grown designers and plentiful of flagship stores from high-end brands, I see Dubai as one of the most fashion-savvy cities in the world. One of the greatest things about travelling is exploring the history of the given place. My absolute favorite is Rome, where history is around every corner.
What are some of the new measures your team has put into place to deal with the post-COVID-19 situation?
The safety, protection and well-being of our guests, colleagues and partners has always been very important for us. IHG Hotels & Resorts has a long-standing commitment to rigorous cleaning procedures hence the brand launched the IHG Way of Clean program back in 2015. Closely cooperating with local authorities, we further strengthened these procedures and partnered with an industry leading expert to give our guests greater confidence and our hotel team the protection needed.
What would you do if you weren’t a hotelier?
I love what I do, I found my passion and my path within hospitality. Considering that wellness and sports also play an important role in my life, I would probably go into sports event management. It would be still about creating unique experiences.
When are you happiest?
Working with my team, and celebrating achievements together is a continuous source of inspiration for me. It makes me proud and happy.
What makes IHG Hotels in Dubai Festival City stand out from other brands you’ve worked with?
It’s all about the people. I am surrounded by exceptional talents who are passionate, curious and driven to deliver their best every day. And the destination is outstanding. IHG Hotels in Dubai Festival City are urban resorts nestled on the banks of Dubai Creek boasting four distinct accommodation offerings – InterContinental, InterContinental Residence Suites, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn, a plethora of dining options, a world-class spa and temperature-controlled pools with panoramic views of Dubai’s skyline. We also have a direct connection to Dubai Festival City Mall.
You’ve had such a successful career – what would you say has been your career highlight?
Being appointed as general manager for the first time was a cornerstone in my career. It provided me with the tools to make a difference and step up for causes that have been always important to me, such as inclusion, diversity, mentoring talents and giving back to the community. I am blessed to work with a company that shares this vision and enables me to make an impact on the life of others.
If you had to plan a one day itinerary for guests looking to explore Dubai, where would you send them?
Dubai has its hidden gems that provide a deeper insight into the city’s culture. A visit to the city’s Al Fahidi historical neighborhood gives a glimpse of what life in Old Dubai was like. Seeing the contrast between the old and the modern definitely delivers on a unique experience and places the city into a different perspective. The city’s Coffee Museum is a haven for any fan and the right stop before proceeding to Dubai’s must-visit attraction, Expo 2020.