Rezidor Hotel Group's Wolfgang Neumann

By Danny King
Wolfgang NeumannWolfgang Neumann will succeed longtime Rezidor Hotel Group CEO Kurt Ritter in January. Ritter, who has been Rezidor's CEO since 1989, will hand Neumann a company with more than 430 hotels in 70 countries either operating or in development (though none in the U.S.). Neumann was with Hilton Worldwide for more than 20 years before joining Rezidor in May 2011 as COO. He recently spoke with Hotels Editor Danny King.

Q: How will you approach replacing someone with as long a tenure leading Rezidor as Kurt Ritter?

I'm very much aware that I'm succeeding a legend. He's a through-and-through hotelier, and so am I. This was very much a coordinated transition, and we'll be building on this great platform that he created. And my international experience with Hilton will help me with the 70-plus countries where we operate.

Q: Rezidor has said it's looking to boost profits by as much as 8% by 2015. How will it do this?

The key components are driving commercial revenue generators, optimizing our cost structure and asset management and deleveraging our balance sheet. We also are looking to continue our growth in emerging markets like the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States, former Soviet Republics], Russia, the Middle East and Africa. We have a development pipeline of about 100 hotels and 20,000 rooms, and we've held that pipeline consistently. When you look at Russia, the CIS and the Baltics, we have 10,000 rooms, where our closest competitors have 5,000.

Q: Many international hoteliers say increasing exposure to Russia is enticing because of the economic growth, but also very risky because the laws are far different from the Western world. How do you mitigate this risk?

Yes, the whole environment isn't as stable as the rest of the developed countries, but we have a long experience there, and we've built very solid relationships over the years. Also, we do not invest there, so the exposure is limited on our side. But you have to go in with the knowledge that all emerging markets are different.

Q: In January, Carlson, which has majority ownership of Rezidor, joined up with Rezidor to form Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group as a single operations and management entity that oversees more than 1,300 hotels worldwide. How is your relationship with Carlson proceeding?

The companies are still two separate legal entities, but the partnership allows us to globalize our efforts. From a commercial perspective, we operate as one in terms of exploiting the synergies in global sales and in actively creating loyalty from our customers. We work very closely on things like branding, purchasing, procurement and human resources.

Q:Does Rezidor have any plans to enter the U.S.?

No. We operate in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and the U.S. is covered by Carlson. That's the partnership agreement with Carlson.

Q: Rezidor recently reached an agreement with Regent-brand owner Formosa International Hotels to either develop or co-develop Regent properties in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Why?

With Radisson Blu, we have upper-upscale, and with Park Inn by Radisson, we have midscale, but the luxury segment hasn't been completely on the radar for us. Regent was previously owned by Carlson and Rezidor jointly, so the owners reached out to us. They recognized the in-depth knowledge we have of the territory. That luxury brand has enormous brand recognition and a great heritage.

For hotel and hospitality news, follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly. 
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