Ethem Zagikyan, Managing Director & Principal of Continent Worldwide Hotels Group and Continent Hotel Management Services answered the questions of FTNnews.com.
FTNnews: Could you please tell us about yourself and your impressive journey in the hospitality industry starting from Hilton leading up to your current position at Continent Worldwide Hotels Group?
My journey in the hospitality industry began with my first internship at Istanbul Hilton where my father also worked as a manager in the food and beverage department at the Hilton hotel. Since my childhood, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of working in hotels, particularly during my visits to see my father. This passion led me to choose this profession at a very young age. I hold a degree in Hospitality and Tourism.
After completing my internships, I officially started my career in the food and beverage department at Hilton Istanbul. Later, I transferred to the opening team of the Hyatt Regency Istanbul for its grand opening. It was good training for me and, eventually reached the position of Bar Manager.
And then, my journey abroad began… I accepted the offer of Emperyal Hotels and moved myself to Central Asia where I worked on several projects and took different posts such as F&B Manager, Acting Hotel Manager, and so on… Subsequently, I returned to Turkey with the Spanish hotel chain, Iberostar as a Director of F&B in 2003. Following that, I worked with various international brands. I was part of the Hawthorn team in the United Arab Emirates (which was associated with Hyatt at that time), managed hotels in Russia and Eastern Russia with Pacific Hotel Management, and worked in several countries across Asia.
However, throughout every step of this adventure, my father’s establishment which he opened after his retirement, Continent Hotels, was always a foundational presence. In 2016, we took a significant turn by transforming the original company, which primarily offered branding and management consultancy, into a franchise-oriented endeavor. This decision was supported by the idea of “why not engage in franchising?” We expanded the team with valuable colleagues from the hospitality sector, and that’s how our franchise and management company journey began.
FTNnews: And next, please describe us Continent Worldwide Hotels Group as well as Continent Hotel Management Services. How would you describe your hotel group’s brands? What makes your hotel group different from others?
We embarked on a transformative journey that many local Turkish hotel brands couldn’t initiate, starting in 2010. What was initially Continent Hotels (Continent Otelcilik ve Turizm Ltd.) underwent a transition to become Continent Worldwide Hotels. Our motivation was to fill the gap left by several local brands in Turkey by introducing diverse hotel brands and concepts tailored to specific market segments.
Between 2010 and 2012, we pioneered the concept of highway hospitality in Anatolia, albeit with limited success. During that period, prospective hotel investors remained skeptical about the necessity of adopting a brand. Sadly, after a few years of our efforts, International Brands started to entering the Anatolian markets…
However we found new global markets for us and introduced a new formula by venturing into master franchising and regional management overseas. This innovative approach allowed each region to function independently, enabling the sale of hotel brands through licenses or managing hotels under our brands. This approach proved successful.
Presently, Continent Worldwide operates across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, led by experienced hoteliers with a vast international background. Our company has a strong track record in enhancing and managing hospitality assets, successfully establishing robust brands spanning from mid-tier to upscale hospitality segments. We specialize in a pragmatic style of hospitality that offers guests straightforward, authentic, and locally immersive experiences.
In 2020, we identified a significant gap in the realm of independent hotel management and consulting, an area often overlooked. To address this need, we established Continent Hotel Management Services as a dedicated sub-division. This subsidiary aims to provide comprehensive solutions, encompassing every aspect from A to Z, to hotels and hotel development projects seeking expert guidance but preferring to remain unaffiliated with established hotel chains.
Our focus lies in supporting those who wish to maintain their independence while receiving specialized assistance. We offer a wide spectrum of services tailored to the unique requirements of each project, spanning from strategic planning to operational execution. By bridging this gap, we empower hoteliers to excel in a competitive industry without the need for conventional brand affiliations. This initiative solidifies our commitment to driving innovation and addressing unmet needs within the hospitality sector.
FTNnews: How many properties currently fall under your hotel group’s umbrella, and in which regions or countries are they predominantly located?
We proudly oversee a portfolio that encompasses representation of over 90 hotels globally. Among our notable affiliations, we have partnered with Regal Hotel in Asia and Budgetel Hotel in the USA. In these partnerships, we hold their development licenses within the regions where our established offices are present, but not currently covered by their operations. We are also Marketing Partner of Regal Hotels under the Regal Circle Alliance Organisation.
Furthermore, our direct franchise offerings include a unique blend of hotels under the Continent, Ancyra, JOMO and Swiss Inn brands. Our group’s dynamic portfolio spans nine countries, which include Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Gambia and Nigeria. This extensive geographical coverage reflects our commitment to delivering exceptional hospitality experiences across diverse cultures and markets.
FTNnews: Are there any upcoming locations or markets that your group is particularly excited about entering?
The Middle East and Gulf areas are witnessing substantial growth for our group. In the near future, we have plans to inaugurate our first properties in the markets of Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and the UAE. Additionally, we are thrilled to announce that we have solidified arrangements for the opening of hotels in Saudi Arabia; the exact opening dates will be revealed shortly.
In parallel, we are making remarkable strides in Africa. Beyond the recently opened hotel in Gambia, we are preparing to introduce another AncyrA-branded property in Sierra Leone. Moreover, our expansion endeavors continue strongly in Turkey, where we have secured contracts for over 8 new projects.
FTNnews: How would you describe your hotel group’s brands? What makes your hotel group different from others?
We believe that within every brand, a captivating story lies in wait to be unveiled. At Continent Worldwide, we’ve not only embraced the art of discovering these narratives but mastered the skill of narrating them. Our approach to defining our brands is truly unique, characterized by a meticulous process of brand positioning and the crafting of captivating narratives that envelop each one.
Our dedicated team is unwavering in their commitment to thoroughly study the market landscape. We immerse ourselves in the essence of the location and strive to comprehend the aspirations of our esteemed owners and visionary developers. Armed with this comprehensive knowledge, we offer not just a brand, but a brand enriched with a compelling backstory.
Presently, our portfolio boasts nine distinct brands, each tailor-made for a specific segment within the market. This comprehensive range ensures that we can effectively cater to the diverse needs of our partners and clients.
Now, what sets us apart from the rest? The answer is simple: We stand as the epitome of owner and developer friendliness. Our guiding principle revolves around ensuring that the first to reap the benefits of any investment are the owners themselves. We often describe our approach as a hotel management entity that is deeply inspired by the very essence of hospitality. We proudly identify as hoteliers who genuinely support fellow hoteliers. Our philosophy is rooted in this simplicity, as we believe in the value of putting the success of our partners at the forefront.
FTNnews: You mentioned earlier you have Master Franchisee Partners in each Country. What about Turkey? And any other countries, Europe for example do you have any plans?
Indeed, we operate differently in Turkey. As our headquarters, Turkey serves as the hub from which we directly manage our franchise sales and comprehensive management services. The intricate understanding of the local market that we possess allows us to oversee these aspects efficiently. However, while we are centralized in Turkey, we remain open to forming partnerships with third-party management companies and seeking new collaborations here in Turkey as well.
We are also looking for new country partners and alliances that can significantly contribute to our expansion efforts. These collaborations, in essence, enable us to extend our reach into new countries and markets. We actively seek partners who share our vision and enthusiasm for our brands. Furthermore, the allure of Europe is not lost on us. The European market holds significant potential, and we are actively scouting for the right partners who align with our values and can champion our brands with dedication and expertise.