Maja Bogdanovic's hospitality venture started in Dubai, back in 2013 after her MA studies. Now Maja’s experience covers a total of 9 hotels from different multinational chains, including some iconic properties, and currently, she’s holding the position of Spa and Recreation Manager at Hilton Doha, Qatar. She was also a part of three pre-opening teams and is happy to share her insights with our readers.
During pre-opening, the hotel is in the final stages of construction and handover. This period is when senior management gets on board to join, depending on their roles and responsibilities. I came in 5 months prior to opening. One of the biggest challenges is to go through thousands of CVs and handpick the right team. This is an even challenging task in this part of the world, with several different nationalities living away from their native countries. The junior team joined around a month before opening, to be able to accomplish all training, team building, and development before the opening.
Every department head follows a process that schedules all requirements, where we have weekly tasks to complete in order to build a proper structure of the hotel operation. This includes all SOPs, equipment orders and safety procedures, pricing, and marketing strategies. Another challenge faced is when it comes to taking the handover from the project manager and the contractors, which usually comes along with snags in the final product.
I feel a great sense of achievement in setting up systems and procedures that will be used to run the hotel. I have learned to be flexible, as the pre-opening phase is challenging and you must be a multi-tasker and highly adaptable to change.
I had to build the annual operating budget and staffing guide, support executive recruitment to put in place all job descriptions with property-specific SOPs and training manuals that provide on-site support and training to build up for the opening. I also created a detailed strategic marketing plan with an innovative menu design, to highlight the retail selection and merchandising tactics. As Safety and Security are top priority in recreational areas like the gym, pool, beach, Jacuzzi, steam & sauna facilities additional safety checks are provided ensuring all equipment are safe and ready to use.
The pre-opening experience helped me to run better operations at the Hilton Doha. Hilton Doha’s property is an urban hotel in the heart of the city, with a private beach. In this challenging time, it is important to know how to train and motivate the team, how to adapt to the market and other changes and how to develop current operations.
Overall, the head of a department is key in making or breaking his/her department during the pre-opening stage. Pre-opening experiences are big adventures; you learn a lot, you manage stress to the maximum, finish lots of projects and in the end, you will see what you have accomplished. I believe, my three pre-openings were not the problem on challenges to overcome, yet an opportunity to create a new hotel and develop my knowledge and personality.