WITH the hospitality sector globally reeling from measures introduced to help fight the pandemic, few people would relish stepping in to take over the reins of a property, no matter how distinguished its name or desirable its setting.
Add that to taking on an additional expansive regional role and you might be concerned about the man’s sanity.
But Rami Sayess, who celebrated his 53rd birthday on Wednesday, is crazy about his latest appointment, crazy about being back in Bahrain and crazy about the career he loves and the prospects unfolding.
Unsurprisingly, little should faze the hospitality hotshot after the year he has had coping with civil unrest, revolution, Covid-19, currency devaluation and culminating with the tragic August 4 port blast causing his property to close down for restoration.
“Following three-and-a-half extremely successful years in Beirut during which the hotel achieved record results, the past 15 months were beyond challenging due to the reasons mentioned,” he admitted.
“The hardest part to deal with was having to say goodbye to so many amazing colleagues which was a huge loss not only for Four Seasons but the destination as a whole. Our people are our greatest asset and because of them I managed to cope with the sequence of crisis that Lebanon went through, they were my backbone and without them I wouldn’t be where I am today!
“I’ve always been very clear about my objectives: take one step at a time, do your best in whatever position you are in and enjoy whatever it is you are doing.”
His latest role is regional vice-president and general manager at Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay, taking over the reins from Richard Raab who has been sent to Russia with love, transferred to Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St Petersburg as GM after three years driving the successful launch of the hotel’s private beach, waterpark and additional leisure facilities.
With a proven track record in the hospitality industry, specifically with Four Seasons over the past 15 years, Mr Sayess will be based in Bahrain with regional responsibilities overseeing several Four Seasons hotels and resorts in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.
“I have been in this position (regional vice-president and GM) for the past 10 years,” he said. “Initially in Bangkok overseeing our four hotels and resort in Thailand, then Qatar before moving to Lebanon and now Bahrain.
“Since I moved back to the Middle East in 2013 I have been overseeing a number of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts within the EMEA region and this will continue to be the case while based in Bahrain. In addition, to my position as GM at Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay, my regional responsibility currently covers the following countries: Mauritius Island, Tunis, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Lebanon as well as several hotels in the pipeline within the region.”
He is also in charge of recruiting graduates from hotel schools in Europe to be placed at the group’s hotels and resorts around the world, identifying the ‘leaders of the future’.
His own potential was spotted early ... by his late father. “His name was Zaki which means intelligent in Arabic, and he certainly was!” Mr Sayess said.
“A self-made man who introduced the travel industry in the South of Lebanon by opening the very first travel agency there in the early 1960s.
“Through our travels during the years, my dad always noticed how much I enjoyed staying in hotels around the world and the questions I used to ask about how hotels operate, hence his instinct of guiding me towards this profession.”
His younger years were certainly full of travel. He spent his first 17 years mostly in Lebanon with a few stints abroad in Syria, Cyprus, Czech Republic and the UK – moving four times during the war in Lebanon.
“What was that like? I didn’t know anything different and we had no choice of moving each time the war broke close to home,” he said.
“I guess this made me more intrigued to travel even more and learn new cultures whenever an opportunity presented itself. Of course, this comes at a cost, getting used to new surroundings, making new friends, proving yourself again, changing schools etc., ... but at the same time this was an advantage of preparing me for the future that I had no idea about then!”
He was recently interviewed by Les Roches, the famed private hospitality school located in Switzerland, for a student article, and the class of 1990 graduate was described as the ‘hotelier’s hotelier’.
Asked who had made the biggest impact on his professional career, he replied: “My dad for sure. He suggested the idea of ‘hotel management’ to me and followed my career step-by-step until he passed away in 2005, the year I joined Four Seasons. That was a poignant moment, since it was a goal he had set for me back in 1987 when I started at Les Roches.”
Although Lebanese born he is also a British citizen and is married to Brit Mary Brown, who he describes as ‘forever young at heart and a role model to three lovely children’.
Love was in the air from the moment they met. As the box office film title suggests ‘There’s Something About Mary!’
“I took the right flight from London to Dubai and was lucky to sit next to this gorgeous lady who eventually became my wife,” he said. “Since then I never talk to ladies on flights ... too dangerous!”
The frequent traveller lifestyle of the sector has given their children a taste of the world too. Maher, 22, will be graduating this summer from City University in London (Mechanical Engineering). Mazen, 19, is following in his dad’s footsteps and is in his first year at Les Roches. Mazen was born in Bahrain while dad was working at Le Royal Meridien Hotel, now the arch-rival Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain, as hotel manager between 2000 and 2002. Daughter Lara, turning 16 this summer, has joined Grade 10 at Riffa Views International School.
“Our children have travelled around the world and Bahrain is Lara’s sixth move!” said dad.
With the family settled in the kingdom, Mr Sayess can now concentrate on the task at hand and relish the opportunity. The Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay has just been recognised on Condé Nast Traveller Middle East’s 2021 Gold List, one of the hospitality industry’s most esteemed awards that honours the best hotel and resort properties around the world. The Gold List provides inspiration and authoritative critiques for discerning travellers on where to stay.
As one of only nine properties in the Middle East and the only hotel in Bahrain to be featured, the recognition serves as a ‘fantastic achievement, attributed to the support of the hotel’s ownership together with the kingdom’s long-term vision of building upon its unique strengths to unlock its great potential in becoming a leisure and cultural destination of distinction’.
“In the midst of an incredibly challenging time for our industry, we are humbled to be included in this esteemed list of the world’s best hotels,” said Mr Sayess. “The incredible accomplishment is a result of the collective hard work, dedication, and innovation the team continues to deliver to elevate each guest experience.
“As we collectively respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay continues to ensure that guest, member and employee health and safety remains our top priority.
“Lead With Care, our enhanced global health and safety programme which is being implemented at Four Seasons properties worldwide, leverages on world-class medical expertise through collaborations with international experts to strengthen our already stringent health and safety policies and procedures.
“While the Four Seasons experience may look different, our dedicated team members are committed to delivering the same intuitive service and personalised care for which we are known and trusted for the world over.
“The ones who make the difference are the people who interact with each and every guest day-in-day-out. My job is to lead, guide and support my team members to ensure they are empowered enough to give their best. Sometimes people don’t even know what potential they actually have until someone gets the best out of them, and this is my number one goal.”
But will the hospitality sector ever fully recover?
“We are still in the ‘learning phase’ of what the new normal might look like,” he admitted.
“I personally believe that going back to how things used to be is far-fetched as, through the experiences of this past year, we discovered new ways of doing business and many cases proved even more efficient than before.
“Having said that, when it comes to hospitality, nothing can replace the ‘human touch’ and personal interactions, hence, I do hope that some of what we used to do in the past will resume sooner than later.
“Given the current circumstances around the world, I couldn’t think of a better place to be than Bahrain. Having two sons studying in Europe, family and friends in the US, GCC and other parts of the world, I can safely say that Bahrain would be our preferred home given the way this pandemic has been handled at the outset, thanks to the wise leadership at the top.
“In addition, the renowned hospitality of the Bahraini people speaks for itself making me and my family feel right at home since our arrival in the kingdom.
“I urge everyone to follow the guidelines provided by the authorities so we can protect each other and hopefully get back to our normal lives.
“And, I look forward to meeting my colleagues around the city, as well as all our guests who are missing us as much as we miss them!”
And, he has a few tricks up his sleeve to attract old customers back and entice new ones to visit.
“We have numerous exciting additions to the property coming up which we look forward to soon announcing,” he teased.
“re/ASIAN CUISINE, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant on the 50th floor, is currently undergoing a transformation which is set to showcase a brand new sushi lounge serving an innovative menu in a lively setting.
“Also in the pipeline is the Beach Club: a family-focused entertainment space to complement the recent addition of our kids’ waterpark and private white-sand beach. The Beach Club is a place where families can play, laugh and relax together, encapsulating the warm and convivial vibe at the heart of our hotel.”
Meanwhile, old friends will soon be heading the hotel’s way. The F1 bandwagon will be arriving shortly with the new season kicking off in the kingdom with the opening race of 2021 at the end of March.
The hotel is a favourite with some of the drivers and teams. The keen table tennis player and Manchester United fan is ready and waiting for Bahrain International Circuit’s sporting bonanza. “I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “The team is ready to welcome our guests back soon.”
Stanley Louis Szecowka
Editor/Journalist & Blogger, Restaurant & Motors Reviewer, FinTech Writer, Manager, Trainer.
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