“Supporting our partners is a key focus for Wyndham,” says Vassilis Themelidis, who has recently been appointed as the regional director of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, responsible for south and east Europe.
Speaking to GTP Headlines in the Covid-19 era and while the pandemic has essentially stopped travel with a big impact on the industry, Vassilis highlights that Wyndham aims to to act effectively and at pace to provide its hotel partners with the strong leadership they need in this challenging time.
“As history has shown, the hospitality industry is notoriously resilient and while these are extraordinary times, we remain confident in the strength of our industry in the south and east Europe region and beyond,” he said.
Referring to Greece, which is a country that falls in his responsibility as Wyndham’s regional director for south and east Europe, Vassilis expressed his confidence that when travel resumes he expects the country to again be one of the “most desired destinations” and to pick up from the 2019 season, a year when the country’s tourism saw remarkable progress.
“Greece is extremely important for us. We have introduced several brands in various destinations over the past few years and it will continue to be a key growth market for Wyndham in 2021 and beyond,” he told GTP Headlines.
In this interview, Vassilis tells us all about his new role at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, informs on Wyndham’s response to Covid-19 and gives his thoughts on the “next day” forming for south and east Europe with regard to hospitality.
- GTP: Vassilis, please share some career highlights with our readers.
Vassilis Themelidis: What I can say is that my whole adult life has been dedicated to the hospitality industry. My journey in the industry started almost 30 years ago, with my early hospitality days in Greek hotels and the catering sector.
After my bachelor’s degree in Tourism and an MSC postgraduate degree in Tourism Management from the University of Surrey in the UK, I joined RCI – formerly a sister company of Wyndham – where I worked for over 20 years. During my career with RCI I assumed different roles in various markets from Key Account Manager to Regional Director covering resort operations, business development and brand management. During this amazing journey in the industry I have had the pleasure of meeting many great people that I consider friends and some of them mentors and working and travelling across several markets with different backgrounds and cultures.
- GTP: You were recently appointed Regional Director South & East Europe at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. What are your aims in your new role?
Vassilis Themelidis: As new Regional Director for Europe South & East at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, I am responsible for overseeing operations and partner relations including franchise and managed hotels, whilst also driving brand awareness across the region. That includes Greece and Cyprus but also Italy, the Balkans, Israel and Russia and CIS. My role encompasses all aspects of hotel operations, business development and brand management. I am delighted to have joined Wyndham, a company that I have been affiliated with for many years while I was at RCI. Its mix of exciting range of brands, scale, incredibly talented partners and teams made it a perfect fit and I am looking forward to continuing to adding value to our partners in these exciting markets.
- GTP: This interview is taking place in the Covid-19 era and tourism has been one of the worst affected of all major economic sectors. Just how challenging is taking over this position in these times?
Vassilis Themelidis: Taking over a new position is always a challenge, a positive and exciting one, believe me. Of course, Covid-19 has brought unimaginable challenges to our industry as a whole, and that levelled up my priorities since day one. Supporting our partners is a key focus for Wyndham, we need to act effectively and at pace to provide our hotel partners with the strong leadership they need in this challenging time. Coming from a sister company with a similar culture and thanks to the talented team I joined at Wyndham and Dimitris Manikis, the president for EMEA, whom I’ve known for years, the transition was easier for me despite being very new to the role.
- GTP: How do you see the “next day” forming for South & East Europe with regard to hospitality specifically?
Vassilis Themelidis: It is difficult to say when we will see recovery as each country and region is and has been on a different trajectory since the beginning of the pandemic. However, as history has shown, the hospitality industry is notoriously resilient and while these are extraordinary times, we remain confident in the strength and resiliency of our industry in the region and beyond.
- GTP: What was Wyndham’s response to Covid-19? Can you tell us what kind of changes did the Group have to implement in all of its properties for them to open and operate smoothly after lockdown?
Vassilis Themelidis: We have taken a number of proactive measures to support our hotel partners – from enhanced hygiene and safety measures, detailed operations guidelines and fee relief initiatives. We have provided recovery guides highlighting best commercial practices, marketing tools and resources for navigating through these challenging times. We have provided numerous training sessions with detailed guidelines for enhancing hygiene and operational standards, shared various hotel communications and checklists to support with the recovery process. We continue to closely monitor the situation and adapt our policies accordingly.
We recently launched important initiatives to support the business segment too. Our Wyndham Easy Book, is a new programme to support everyday business travellers, providing small to mid-size businesses across Europe, Middle East, Eurasia and Africa with competitive rates for stays at Wyndham-branded hotels around the globe, with also further discounts for longer stays. To overcome restrictions in travel and meeting size, we also launched a new Hybrid Meeting offering, an alternative solution combining virtual and in-person attendance for corporates until conventional face-to-face events are possible again.
In addition, we recently launched our new mobile app combining best-in-class design with personal experiences, account management, gamification and more. The new Wyndham app provides travellers with a reimagined user experience to inspire upcoming getaways and 2021 travel plans. It also prioritises low-contact in-stay features, as both travellers and hoteliers look for innovative, digital solutions in this new era of travel.
- GTP: What’s your advice for travelers looking to book with Wyndham right now?
Vassilis Themelidis: When travel is safe and possible again, my piece of advice to travellers is to Count on Us. I am referring to our long-term hygiene initiative that goes by this name, which is aimed at building confidence among guests and supporting our hotel partners to welcome back guests.
With Count on Us we have enhanced our broad range of health and safety protocols across properties in the EMEA region, including the consistent use of industry leading disinfectants at hotels, the introduction of robust new training and guidelines, and on-going access to critical health essentials through trusted suppliers.
The initiative is really about providing comfort and also peace of mind when guests stay with us. We want guests to know they can count on us and that their safety, their health, and their well-being is what matters most.
- GTP: Greece is one of the countries in the region you are responsible for. What is your outlook on the industry in Greece?
Vassilis Themelidis: The reality is that the pandemic has essentially stopped travel with a big impact on the industry, which is particularly important for the country. Whilst there is still a lot of uncertainty in Greece and around the world, I am confident that when travel resumes Greece will be again one of the most desired destinations and will pick up from the 2019 season, when the country saw remarkable progress and hosted millions of travellers of any type. After all, we should bear in mind that philoxenia, the custom of offering hospitality to strangers is of Greek origin and Greeks are well familiar with this art.
- GTP: Is it in Wyndham’s plans to expand its presence even more in the Greek hospitality market? What are your strategies for 2021 concerning Greece?
Vassilis Themelidis: First and foremost, throughout these challenging times our focus at Wyndham is on the health, safety and well-being of our guests, team members and partners and we remain committed to this as we continue to navigate the new normal.
However, while these are extraordinary times, we are confident in the strength and resiliency of our industry and the only thing I can now share is that we remain steadfast in our commitment to continued global growth. Greece is extremely important for us. We have introduced several brands in various destinations over the past few years and it will continue to be a key growth market for Wyndham in 2021 and beyond.
- GTP: In your opinion, what do you think will be the long-term effect of Covid-19 on the hospitality industry?
Vassilis Themelidis: Unfortunately Covid-19 has affected many sectors across the globe, and the hotel industry is among the hardest hit. In the long run, it may still have a disruptive effect across the ecosystem, but certain practices have come to stay for good as well. I would highlight the enhanced commitment to safety, the use of digital tools and the need for all industries to revisit their crisis plan as the new standard operating procedures. These changes will be long-term as well.
- GTP: Let’s close the interview with the best piece of advice you can give to travelers in these times.
Vassilis Themelidis: My best piece of advice in these hard times may be ordinary but it’s gold: stay safe. Our travels may have decreased for now, but when necessary, be sure that there are destinations and hotels that are going above and beyond to welcome you and put safety first while providing a great guest experience.