Leonardo Hotels – Driving Post-Covid Hospitality

The hotel industry has seen tough times recently, but as the market picks up once more, Leonardo Hotels is adapting quickly to the new normal.

Leonardo Hotels was founded in 1998, with just one hotel in Israel, quickly becoming the main brand of the Fattal Hotel Group. Over the last 24 years, the Group has grown to include 240 hotels under the Leonardo brand, as well as the Royal Leonardo brand for high-end establishments.

A few years ago, the Group added 35 Jurys Inn hotels, giving Leonardo Hotels a strong market presence across the UK and Ireland.

“The majority of our hotels in the UK and Ireland are Jurys Inn but by the first quarter of next year they will all be under our main brand, Leonardo” explains Ronen Nissenbaum, CEO of the Fattal Hotel Group for Western Europe. “We also have an additional high-end lifestyle brand called “NYX”. The first hotel under this brand was built in Israel. It is a boutique, more artistic, whimsical high-end hotel. We opened one in London, in Holborn, and we’re building one in Dublin and one in Edinburgh. It is younger, hipper, with outlets like a rooftop bar where possible. NYX will complement our existing brands.”

In its home country of Israel, the Group has 50 hotels, often seven or eight in a city like Eilat or the Dead Sea area, alongside 85 hotels across Germany and Eastern Europe, and another 85 across Western Europe.

The Group also owns a selection of unique properties, including a waterpark resort in Israel. As Nissenbaum explains, the key to the company’s growth is the success of our existing portfolio of hotels.

“We have great locations in each city where we’re present,” Nissenbaum says. “We prefer to cluster a few hotels and brands in a location so that we’re available at various levels for different customers with differentiated experiential needs. We have three in Manchester, 7 in greater London, several in Brighton, Southampton, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin and Aberdeen, and we’re building a second in Liverpool and a third in Dublin. It is about putting the right product in the right city and location. Our brands are very accessible and very friendly. These are not intended to be a Ritz or Dorchester; our hotels are not pretentious. They are affordable, friendly, with excellent team members and service, with great value for money and did I mention, in great locations.”

Growing Recognition

It is an approach that has earned Leonardo Hotels a reputation, and its international footprint means it is often seen as a familiar friend in foreign climes.

“I asked our managing director in the Netherlands how they achieved their results during the Covid times. He reiterated that since we rebranded the hotels to Leonardo, we’ve had a tremendous influx of German guests,” Nissenbaum tells us. “We have been in Germany for the last 20 years. Our brand is now well-recognised and appreciated. In addition to the Dutch local business, we do incredibly well because the German market recognises our brand and prefers to stay with us.”

Leonardo Hotels has achieved a level of recognition in the UK too, but the rebranding of its Jurys Inn assets will “put that recognition on steroids” according to Nissenbaum.

“That’s why we focused on growing in Europe, making our brand recognisable while growing sustainably,” Nissenbaum says. “We’re taking that approach to other markets including the Americas soon. Now that we have a strong foothold in Europe and Israel, we are ready for further expansion.”

Even now, Leonardo Hotels is one of the five biggest hotel brands in the UK, a small brand but with serious plans to continue its growth. The Group has just opened a third hotel in Manchester, next to the Piccadilly Train Station, but the growth strategy goes beyond simply buying hotels. We develop and build them too. When we speak with Nissenbaum the Group has a significant development underway in Edinburgh, next to its Jurys Inn hotel, and near Edinburgh Castle, the company is building an NYX hotel, as well as another one in Portobello, Dublin, the third in the city.

“What’s unique about us is that we are very much a one-stop shop. Some of the larger hotel companies are more franchisers and managers on behalf of owners. They are marketing organisations, where we own hotels, lease hotels, and manage our own hotels. All our hotels carry our family of brands, and they are managed by us,” Nissenbaum says. “We’re unique in our geographic expansion. We’re publicly traded, and the majority owner is Mr Fattal. As company CEO and Chairman he is intricately involved, especially in development. There are three regional CEOs that report to Mr Fattal, myself and my counterparts in Germany and Israel.”

Rising to the Next Challenge

Leonardo Hotels’ growth has been rapid, but it has also faced its challenges, including the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The hospitality market has largely recovered from the lockdown and its after-effects, but in its aftermath, there are new challenges.

“All the industries are facing shortfalls in recruitment, especially in the more line-level employee areas such as receptionists, cooks, servers, and housekeepers,” Nissenbaum acknowledges. “The market has forced us to adjust the way we hire, be flexible and considerate to the requirements people are looking for in the workplace.”

In the post-Covid world, potential recruits have a different set of expectations from those of job hunters before the pandemic.

“This generation is looking for jobs that are more flexible or allow for more virtual work, which you can’t do as a server, but back-of-house work can be done from home, with more flexible hours,” Nissenbaum says. “Pay levels for most employees have increased but money is only one element. How do you treat them? Do we give them a purpose? Do we meet their needs for a good work-life balance?”

Staff shortages are only one of a mesh of interconnected new challenges, however. This industry, like others, is experiencing escalating energy costs, a supply chain slowdown, and an increasingly urgent focus on corporate, environmental, and social responsibilities. These issues don’t just affect the business, but its team members and their personal life too.

“We’re all grappling with how difficult it is for team members. In the same breath, you can talk about inflation, utility costs are surging, buying bread and milk, chicken, and other essentials, all are increasing dramatically,” Nissenbaum points out. “One of our biggest challenges is attracting talent- but also the additional costs that come with running hotels.”

The newest generation of workers also holds their employers to higher standards when it comes to environmental issues.

“We’ve recognised that doing the right thing, not only by your employees but as a company, is essential,” Nissenbaum says. “It relates to whom we hire. They want to know what we’re doing, that we’re a company with a conscience. The younger generation, more than any other generation, are asking about what we are doing to make their world better and more sustainable.”

Ground Up Leadership

The current business levels are reaching pre-Covid levels and Leonardo Hotels is using its decentralised leadership structure to meet these challenges.

“You can’t have a top-down ‘this worked in the US, it will work in Paris’ attitude,” Nissenbaum says.

But while having that hands-on insight is invaluable, Nissenbaum speaks highly of the guiding vision of Fattal Hotel Group’s founder.

“David Fattal is a relatively young entrepreneur in his mid-sixties and has achieved this incredible result of 240 hotels in less than 25 years. He has always been able to attract great people that remain loyal for many years. It is a testament to his natural character; How easily he connects with all levels of the organization, internal and external. His drive to grow the company is palpable,” Nissenbaum says. “I can sense it when I’m sitting with him, this motivation to grow the company is inspiring”. “At the current development rate, within the next five years, we could hit the 300 hotels mark, but it is not a numbers game, it’s a commitment to developing, growing, and understanding that the larger and more substantial the company is, the more geographical coverage we achieve, the more it strengthens our existing legacy hotels.”

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