Danish MICE chain Comwell Hotels has partnered with the world’s largest hotel franchising company, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. With outbound tourism from Asia and India set to skyrocket, GUEST magazine talks to Dimitris Manikis, President and Managing Director for the EMEA region, at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, about the boons of teaming with a global brand.

By Kim Wyon

Opening two hotels a day somewhere on the globe, US-based Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is not only the world’s largest hotel franchising company and a leader within hotel management services, it is also a growing hospitality players in underexplored travel destinations from Georgia to Kyrgyzstan – and now Scandinavia.

While many major Scandinavian cities are currently experiencing unprecedented hotel capacity growth and a rising interest from international hotel brands, the region’s wider hospitality market from the Arctic north to the German border is still essentially native.

Whereas most European markets average more than 80 international hotel brands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark still only muster around 20 such brands each. But global players are now exploring new opportunities in Scandinavia as leisure and business tourism expands across the region.

The first Scandinavian hotel chain to partner with Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is Comwell Hotels, which is one of Denmark’s largest dedicated MICE hospitality providers, operating 16 hotels in Denmark and two close to Gothenburg in Sweden.

Initially, Comwell Aarhus and Comwell Copenhagen Portside (set to open in 2021) are the first hotels in the chain to join the ‘Dolce by Wyndham’ family, which boasts around 20 franchise members in North America and Europe. Three yet-to-be-announced Comwell Hotels are also set to follow.

GUEST magazine caught up with Dimitris Manikis in the co-working lobby at Comwell Holte Hotel, located in the woodlands of leafy North Zealand. President and Managing Director for the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East, Eurasia and Africa) at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts since 2018, Manikis’ key responsibilities are maximising the performance of all franchised and managed hotels as well as driving the strategic objectives of the company, including technology, loyalty programme, sales and marketing.

Photographer: Marcelo Barbosa. Dolce by Wyndham Attica Riviera, an oasis on the Athens Riviera, one of two Dolce by Wyndham resorts in Greece offering supreme accommodation.

What brings Wyndham to Scandinavia? 

“It’s amazing how Scandinavia and the wider Nordic region has evolved as a travel destination. Helsinki, for instance, has become a primary travel hub for Chinese travellers – with the main attraction being the fresh air of Lapland. Who would ever have thought fresh air would become a travel-worthy experience?

“Although Scandinavia is only just being discovered as a new and attractive travel destination, the Scandinavian way of life has already captured the world’s imagination. I recently visited a friend who had just refurbished his holiday home on the remote Greek island of Oinousses. He had bought literally all interiors for the home in IKEA!

“Scandinavia offers great stories and experiences. It’s an enviable place to live – and visit – where, like in Copenhagen, ordinary people bike to work and enjoy the open nature around them. Who would 15 years ago have imagined that Copenhagen restaurants would one day share among them 22 Michelin stars?

“But just as consumers are discovering Scandinavian products and experiences, the hotel business in Scandinavia is also becoming more extroverted and open to the world. Our partnership with Comwell Hotels initially covers two hotels – but there are three more in the pipeline. We are also open to expanding into the rest of Scandinavia.

“Our corporate vision is to ensure that travel becomes possible for everyone, which is why we offer a portfolio of 20 hotel brands that cover nearly all price categories. Indeed, as global markets evolve and expand there are no longer places that are off the map.”

Dolce by Wyndham hotels in Europe are often MICE resorts with leisure facilities. How does Comwell Hotels fit into the wider picture? 

“The individual Comwell hotels set to join the Dolce by Wyndham family share a resort feeling and reflect the essence of the brand – they’re amazing places to hold meetings. Comwell Hotels has the right frame of mind. It’s a ‘match made in heaven,’ if there is such a thing.

“After all, business needs the right framework – and backdrop. Recently, I attended a meeting at our Wyndham Grand Istanbul Levent and the first thing we did was draw the curtains aside to reveal the amazing city view. Traditionally, scenic beauty was considered a distraction but nothing could be farther from the truth. There’s no business that cannot be done successfully at a resort.

“We share the same DNA with Comwell and are proud to be associated with a corporate leader within social responsibility and environmental care. Comwell Hotels has won numerous awards for their CSR commitment. We at Wyndham are also constantly evolving and adapting to changing times. I believe that we can learn a lot from each other – it’s a two-way partnership.”

What advantages will Comwell Hotels enjoy from partnering with Wyndham?

“The Dolce by Wyndham brand is a well-oiled MICE machine. It offers quality experiences and a technical focus. For Comwell Hotels, the partnership opens markets they have not enjoyed access to before, including market and sales support and access to over 79 million worldwide members of our Wyndham Rewards programme.

“This is especially important in a time of rising outbound travel from markets where Wyndham is already well established, such as from China and India. Our Super 8 by Wyndham economy hotels in China have, for instance, generated great interest among Chinese tourists travelling to Germany, where we have also established Super 8 by Wyndham hotels.

“In India, we are represented by several brands, including Ramada by Wyndham and Howard Johnson by Wyndham – and are planning to add Wyndham Grand and Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham to the market. One of the fastest-growing demographics in the global travel industry is the Indian middle class. Currently, 90 percent of their travel activity is domestic, but outbound travel is expected to grow from 25 million today to 50 million in the next couple of years.”

Millennials have changed the MICE industry in many ways. What in your view is the most important lesson for today’s hotel operators?

“The most important lesson is to look beyond labels. We used to view businesspeople as belonging to a tribe but today we see them as individuals. As a young man, my father taught me about such tribal stereotypes: what to expect from a military man and from a businessman. But these labels no longer apply.

“Business and leisure are no longer separate parts of our lives. A businessperson may take a run in the morning, attend a business meeting and lunch and then spend the afternoon enjoying cultural experiences.”

Dolce by Wyndham Attica Riviera, an oasis on the Athens Riviera.

What social responsibility topics should the industry be paying particular attention to?

“My prediction is that the top issues we will be discussing and reading about in the industry over the next three years will be overtourism and climate change. It was Greta Thunberg who gave voice to the climate crisis just over a year ago, and since then Iceland has even unveiled a plaque commemorating the loss of some of their glaciers.

“And as we increasingly address overtourism by opening new and untapped markets, it’s especially important that we engage with partners who are industry leaders in environmental management, such as in the case with Comwell Hotels.

“I also believe that we in the industry have a wider duty of care towards our business partners. My father, who was a businessman, once told me that he needed to travel so extensively in Greece because he had 999 mouths to feed. I didn’t understand at the time, saying: ‘But we are only me, my brother and our mum – who are the rest?’

“Naturally, he meant his employees and their dependents. I was very happy to hear among some of our partners that the word ‘family’ springs to mind when they think of Wyndham. You should, indeed, always be ready to hop on a plane and meet partners face to face – and engage with partners as you would family members.

“Naturally, we also have a duty of care towards our extended family of hotel guests – a duty to ensure that travellers who spend their savings and their precious leisure time with us enjoy wonderful, unforgettable experiences. I have noticed that when it comes to sharing photos – not only on social media but also the photos we hang on walls in our homes and those we show to our friends and colleagues – that they tend to be of holiday situations.

“These are some of life’s most memorable moments, and we in the industry have a duty of care to ensure that these travel memories are exceptional.”