Hospitality from the Heart – Mikael Svensson, CEO of Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts

Mikael Svensson considers himself a world citizen as he has lived and worked in 12 countries and 15 cities across Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East. He is a career Hotelier with over 25 years’ experience in international luxury hotels. Mikael was promoted to his present post of Chief Executive Officer of Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts within just a year at John Keells Holdings PLC, while he was serving as the Sector Head for the City properties – Cinnamon Grand, Cinnamon Lakeside and Cinnamon Red.

He is a dynamic and result-oriented senior leader with strong analytical and problem-solving capability. This combines with a solid understanding of financials and the ability to communicate into simple scenarios to individuals at all levels within an organisation.

“Being a Hotelier was something I always aspired to as I was fascinated with the diversity of the business and the ability to create experiences for guests and employees. I spent 21 years with Hyatt, starting in Food and Beverage through to General Manager. It was this mindset of never becoming too comfortable or complacent that led me to take on, as GM, a new challenge of opening an ultra-luxury hotel in Dubai and later expanding my entrepreneurial side by teaming up with former colleagues in developing a hotel management and consultancy firm. It was through this venture that I found myself in Sri Lanka, and was introduced to the John Keells Group. I had such an immediate connection with the organisation; their values and vision and as such – it felt a natural opportunity to join them.”

Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts is a leading hotel chain in Sri Lanka, with its footsteps in the Maldives as well. It owns 15 properties, three hotels and eight resorts in Sri Lanka, and four resorts in the Maldives. According to Mikael, the chain is unique due to its culture and character from which the brand is derived. “‘Distinctly Sri Lankan’ is our DNA, and regardless of where our hotels are now or will be in the future, ‘distinctly Sri Lankan’ is at the heart of our brand and at the core of our values.”

The Hospitality industry in Sri Lanka is a major contributor to the economy, and hence the industry must ensure global competitiveness. Speaking of the same, Mikael stated that the Sri Lankan culture itself could be promoted to ensure competitiveness on the global stage.

“The Sri Lankan culture has inherent warmth and is naturally hospitable. If we can deliver this personable approach in a high quality and efficient way, we are competing with some of the best in the world. As the industry expands and new luxury hotels are introduced into the market, it creates a natural elevation in service expectation and efficiency. Establishing parameters of expectation for every employee and how we engage with our guests, is critical to ensure that we deliver personalised service. When Cinnamon Life opens next year as the first integrated resort of its kind in Sri Lanka, and a significant landmark of the city and country, we will see further support for these improved standards.”

Furthermore, Mikael emphasised the need for improved infrastructure and the enhancement of attractions, events and entertainment in Colombo to boost tourism, and stated two more critical points.

Improvement in Infrastructure

To boost tourism arrivals which is necessary to support the current and increased supply of hotels, there is a need for improved infrastructure in certain key areas, most importantly the airport. 

Attractions, Events & Entertainment in Colombo

We need a focused cooperation around the enhancement of attractions, events and entertainment in Colombo, and other tourist destinations in the country. This is a necessity to support the increase in MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions) to the country. Large conferences require that there are sufficient activities, and these form a major part in the decision between one city versus another. We are up against heightened competition in the region, and must ensure that we strengthen our offerings in this regard.

Connectivity

Sri Lanka has diverse and exciting natural destinations in relative proximity, from exciting safaris, beautiful beaches, and breathtaking mountain landscapes to a vibrant capital. Improving the connectivity between these would make it easier for travellers to experience the country. This interconnectivity would also support our MICE business, as it would increase activities and attractions available to this segment.

Cooperation

Cooperation between the Private and Public sectors should be increased as it is pertinent to the Tourism industry. There is, of course, already a lot in place, which is excellent, but as we look to grow the industry, there is always room to improve. It is also important that we see initiatives such as effective tourism campaigns rolled out in conjunction with the Private sector. We need the message of ‘Sri Lanka being the destination of choice’, to be loud and clear.

Stating global hospitality trends for which Sri Lanka should prepare, Mikael remarked the importance of following the health and safety protocols to ensure the safety of the guests, sustainability, health and well-being and digitalization.

Confidence & Safety

Due to the devastating impact of COVID-19, some of the most evident and important trends are not surprisingly health and safety related. As the world adjusts to the virus and seeks to contain its spread, it is essential that procedures and safeguards are of utmost priority. These efforts need to be conveyed effectively to ensure guests feel confident and safe. 

Sustainability

As governments, industries, and society tackle climate shifts, it is imperative that our industry adapts and follows suit. Investors are conscious of the risks associated with non-sustainable practices, and changing attitudes in society are influencing the way in which travellers choose within the leisure sector. Sustainable hotels look to reduce our carbon footprint by using sustainable construction methods and materials, and making energy saving and waste management practices a priority.

Health & Well-being

Health and well-being are clear trends, as guests are increasingly taking charge of their health. Hotels are responding with well-equipped fitness centres, pools, spas, and innovative wellness concepts, in order to meet travellers’ expectations. Vegan and vegetarian options and meat substitutes are growing in demand.

Digitalization

Virtual Reality and augmented reality are setting their mark on the Hospitality industry. Virtual Reality replaces the real world with visual and audio input, while augmented reality layers virtual elements onto the real world. Customers who want to ‘try before they buy’ can take virtual tours of your property and even parts of the destination. With Augmented Reality, a hotel might use something like an interactive map to deliver information to guests.

Mikael believes that the Sri Lankan Hospitality industry will boost once the new normal of a post COVID-19 world settles and Sri Lanka will be a world class destination. Moreover, Mikael, as the newly appointed CEO, perceives a successful future for Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts.

“Our recent strategic realignment of Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts supports our ambitious vision of expanding the Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts brand within the region, whilst maintaining our position as a hotel brand with a true sense of Sri Lankan hospitality. It is an opportunity for us to combine our resources and talent from what was previously operating in silos of City Hotels, Resorts (in Sri Lanka) and the Maldives, under a unified organisational structure, and to ensure an even more focused leadership and synergised approach. It enhances our competitive abilities and better equips us to cater to our customers’ needs, and to provide even more compelling experiences across the brand.”

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