Denys Courtier is the Regional Director of Sales and Marketing at La Mamounia in Marrakech. Frequently voted one of the best hotels in the world, it’s the kind of brand you hear about, even if you’ve never set foot in Morocco.
Admired by the industry, adored by celebrities, royalty and politicians – Winston Churchill famously has a suite and a bar named after him, the Rolling Stones used to love to frolic in the pool – it is the ultimate fantasy getaway. In this interview, Deny Courtier explains how he got his start in hospitality, and what it takes to get to work somewhere like La Mamounia.
Why hospitality in the first place?
I love people. I love travel, design, fashion and gastronomy. In hospitality I saw the perfect opportunity to indulge all those passions. I’ve never looked back.
How did your career begin?
I started out, many years ago, with an 18-month management training programme through the Hyatt International. Here I worked across all the different departments eventually moving into F&B, followed by rooms. But it was only when I came to marketing that I realised I’d found my true vocation.
After 10 years with the Hyatt, where I managed high profile openings like the Park Hyatt in Paris and the Villa Magna Madrid (now a Rosewood property), I decided it was time for a change. So I started looking for opportunities with independent, boutique hotels.
One morning a headhunter called me about a position at La Mamounia, which was a very happy surprise. I love Morocco, and here I was being offered my dream job in one of my favourite cities.
What does hospitality mean to you?
Passion, creativity and attitude. In hospitality we’re all on stage. You can train people to serve, to do check-ins, clean rooms, but being able to bring something extra to this world is essential.
In fact, in Paris we didn’t hire staff from the hotel schools. Instead we went to artistic schools because we wanted people who know how to move, how to express themselves and how to adapt according to the client. Americans, for example, are not like Parisians, so you need to be able to read people. This is crucial in the luxury industry.
What is the most important thing you teach your staff?
To have the sensibility to understand that everybody is different. You cannot be snobbish and you cannot be arrogant, but in the luxury world it helps to be a little bit of a hedonist.
Tell us about your job. What do you love about it?
I’m the Regional Director, Sales and Marketing, at La Mamounia, Marrakech. Originally I was brought to reposition the brand. At the time, the clientele was very French, and mostly aged 70+. My job was to give it a more international reach and attract a younger market.
Today, the average age of our guests is around 50 and the USA, particularly New York and Los Angeles, is our top market.
We had to work on literally everything – brand identity, graphics, website, hiring staff, training staff, food and beverage, spa – to get it done, but it was fascinating. Being given that level of freedom to create is incredibly rewarding.
What is a typical day like for you? And what is the most important thing you do?
It generally starts with briefings with our various departments, reviews of the previous day, any problems that might have come up and just as importantly, all the successes we’ve had.
We dig into financial results, budgets, food tasting when we change menus, planning our upcoming days and spending lots of time with our clients.
Every day is different, but communication is the most important thing.
What are your biggest challenges?
For our team, it’s finding the right people, motivating them, keeping them and providing the tools they need to advance their careers.
For clients, it’s creating experiences. New customers want to discover things they hadn’t imagined, existing clients want to be surprised. They all want exceptional moments. It doesn’t have to be a big thing as such, but it is all about the detail.
What is the secret to a hotel’s success?
When you go to a new country you have to feel the local touch. One of the problems with the big chains is that you could be anywhere on the planet. But we are all human beings, and these local connections are so important.
Looking forward, hospitality will need to refine and develop what they offer. To be successful, they’ll need to give their people the tools to express their passion, creativity and talents. Then you’ll get something really special back in return.
At a time when many people are leaving hospitality, what can the industry do to attract young talent?
We try to offer the best social conditions in terms of wages, attractive retirement plans and career development. We also strive to ensure everybody feels part of the La Mamounia family.
But we need to realise why we are having these challenges in the first place. It’s not only the salaries and schedules, it’s the consideration we show our teams.
I’m not saying I am perfect, but I do know most of the names of the staff, and I say hello to them. If one of my colleagues doesn’t say hello to a chambermaid, or a plongeur, or anybody else working hard behind the scenes, then I think they are missing a basic level of respect.
In our industry you can have the most beautiful hotel in the world, with the finest gastronomy, in the best location. But, if you don’t have the right people, with the right training and the right attitude, it cannot work.
At a senior level, our job is to create the work conditions for this culture to flourish in.
What is your advice to somebody looking to get into the industry?
Be patient. The pyramid is tough, but the industry is wonderful if you like human contact, and if you’re a bit of a hedonist.
Keep on educating yourself, love what you do, don’t have any snobbery – I was, and still am, happy to wash dishes – and recognize that everyone who’s there is equally important.
What excites you about tomorrow’s possibilities?
Hospitality pushes us more and more to create, be quality focused, and be good enough to attract young talent. Our job is to make them happy, develop them and see them fly. When you do, it is an extraordinary and wonderful thing.
If you want to have an exciting sales and marketing hospitality career like Denys, check out the open marketing positions available on Hosco today!