Hotelier and Real Estate Executive, George Dfouni remains positive and hopeful. “Great things sometimes come out of tragedies like this”

Now that the pandemic is almost in control and NYC has begun to open its doors to business travel and tourism, we reached out to one of the industry’s leading consultants for a personal interview. 

George Dfouni, has more than 25 years’ experience in the hospitality and real estate fields, covering the Middle East, Europe and the United States. Prior to establishing his consulting and management company, Dfouni was the Chief Operating Officer of a company that owned and managed a group of 11 hotels and three dozen residential properties in New York, Florida and North Carolina.

  1. As we all know, businesses around the world took a big hit, do you think new businesses will open up despite not having the pandemic under full control?

It’s very clear and evident that COVID19 crippled many industries worldwide, some more than others. The hospitality industry which is very dear to my heart suffered the most, and when I refer to the hospitality industry, I mean hotels, restaurants and the airlines. Many of those establishments closed for a short period of time, and others shut their doors forever, one example is the iconic Roosevelt Hotel here in the heart of NYC, it’s really sad to see. It’s a very tough decision for a business owner. I don’t believe any businessperson would want to shut down or walk away, A business to its owner and investors is a breathing and living organism. As far as new businesses emerging now, all I can say is that I am very hopeful. I consider myself an optimistic person. I believe that great things sometimes come out of tragedies like this.

  1. What changes in the hotel industry have you seen over the past 12 months?

The changes we’ve seen over the last year were dramatic, some of them will eventually change again but others will remain with us. I think Local travel will be favored over international travel If you’ve considered a “staycation” or domestic travel in the last 12 months, you’ve hopped on this trend.  Contactless is now everywhere. Staying at a hotel is a drastically different experience than it once was. Avid travelers were accustomed to visiting the front desk and having contact with hospitality personnel through nearly every stage of the process. However, to promote social distancing and elevate property-wide hygiene, hotels have rolled contactless programs. If contact between guests and employees can be avoided, it will be. In many cases, this means using an app to check-in, get your key, or request services and finally sustainable travel will be prioritized, do you remember the first few weeks during the pandemic last year? No one was commuting to work or flying across the world, and carbon emissions were at an all-time low. The positive impact of this on the environment was so significant that it made national news. As travel makes its come back, sustainable travel will undoubtedly be a priority. Hotel and other hospitality organizations will prioritize sustainable measures and regulations for an eco-friendly future. 

  1. Do you believe hotel companies will be able to recover and get back to business as usual?

Recovery to pre-COVID19 level could take until 2023 or later for some. Many investors are providing similar views of hotel companies’ prospects, as seen in the underperformance of US lodging real estate investment trust (REITs). Hotel owners, as well as operators will need to adapt to this new norm. I expect the economy class hotels to have the fastest return to the pre-pandemic levels, and the luxury hotels to have the slowest. Some smaller hotel chains that are micromanaged and not heavily leveraged will do fairly well. One group in particular intrigues me, is Rami Zeidan’s Life House Hotels. Their approach and business model are unique and ahead of its curve.

  1. What is George Dfouni’s plan for the future?

Despite the current situation, I truly believe that the future is going to be a bright one. My immediate plan is to remain focused and positive. Grow my consulting and management business or simply join a team that can help me grow further and I can inject them with my experience to further their success. I am very open to whatever opportunities the future may hold. I pride myself in being flexible and adaptable. I think the best way of planning for the future is to make the most of the present. My professional experience and accomplishments cannot be ignored, I plan to use them to rebuild a new chapter that I can be proud of. 

The key is to ensure the goals I set are aligned with the five SMART criteria, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Bound, I have an anchor on which to base all of my focus and decision-making.