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Mahmoud El-Keiy: General Manager at Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at The First Residence

He magazine conducted an interview with Mahmoud El-Keiy the general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at the First Residence to get a closer look at the hospitality industry in Egypt

How long have you been with the Four Seasons?

I have been with the Four Seasons family since 2001. I started my journey as a Sales Manager at Four Seasons Sharm El Sheikh, worked at Four Seasons Alexandria for 2 years. I also joined Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza for 8 years as the Director of Sales & Marketing and 1.5 years as the Hotel Manager and Finally, took the role as the “General Manager” here at Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at The First Residence in 2014.

What does the name “Four Seasons” and this Hotel mean to you?

It truly summarizes what every guest looks for in a hotel, to me “Four Seasons” means “a home away from home”. Guest come because they feel the warmth of being at home. This hotel has been my permanent address for the past 8 years. We have a Golden Rule that says “treat others the way you would like to be treated”. By time, it doesn’t become a philosophical quote that we have to abide by, but it becomes more of “a way of life”, the way we deal with our colleagues, which ultimately is automatically translated towards our guests. 

Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at The First Residence has always been primarily famous for its signature “Ocular” window located at the Tea Lounge, can you tell us what does it signify?

Yes! It was actually custom made specially for this hotel, this design is so distinctive that it can only be seen similarly in the St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City or Basilica of St. Denis in Paris. Fun fact, it turns into a darker shade of blue as the sun ascends, the ocular is brightest at noon and takes on a blueish hue as the sun retires for the night.

In your personal opinion, what makes this hotel the preferred destination to every traveler?

Our “People” most definitely! We love welcoming everyone from all around the world. They would come to Egypt specifically to experience the history and culture, warm Egyptian hospitality included; that not only comes out naturally but from the heart. At our hotel, we truly care for our guests, we go the extra mile not because we have to but because we truly want them to have the most memorable experience possible.

We couldn’t help but notice that the brand has suddenly gone colourful and is all about the LOVE language, going widely beyond the guest expectations, can you further elaborate on that?

Yes, the brand is re-defining the term “luxury” into a Love language that we all speak and understand in the way we interact with our guests. We define it be humanity and generosity. The unscripted gestures and the abundance of warmth that we extend to our guests on a daily basis.

Since, “Luxury is the Four Seasons’ Love Language” and the brand now is all about spreading love and unscripted gestures. Tell us a story that went completely off-script and the guest was in complete awe.  

I recall a recent incident that happened in our lobby area where you usually find the hotel flower display and guests walking in and out. One of our Guest Experience team members spotted one of our guests admiring our flower display, and as a spontaneous reaction from her, she immediately contacted our in-house flower shop and handed her a flower arrangement from the same display as a gesture from the hotel and that is something you don’t just teach.

What keeps you inspired?

What always keeps me inspired is my family! I truly enjoy the company of my wife and kids. I’m always inspired by my kids, they introduce me to the latest trends, let me know what’s in and what’s not and they definitely make me feel proud of the people they’re becoming. I also travel to a new destination every year with my family, so being exposed to new cultures, cuisines and meeting new people keeps me inspired as well. 

“People” are such an important factor when it comes to the brand. Please describe your team in one word.

They’re the “Heartbeat” of this hotel.

Managing hotels at this level is super stressful, if you had one superpower what would it be and why?

Apart from being invisible? Mr. Mahmoud asks with a smile. No, I would utilize the power of making people happy, that way you will get to see everyone in a good mood, at peace and surrounded with positive energy, you won’t face any tension, rivalry or wars.  

Tell us the main challenge that he faced in the past few years and how did you manage to overcome it?

The main challenge that we have been facing is the manning/hiring, the hiring percentage is 3-5%, so for every 100 people that come apply, we only hire 3 of them. Because those 3 would have the right calibre, attitude and the technical skills needed, especially if they’re Chefs or Engineers and we try to overcome this challenge by offering them stability, a suitable offer and a good career opportunity.

Walk me through your day. A day in your life how does it usually start?

I wake up usually around 6 AM, have breakfast at 6:30, watch the news, go through my e-mails, I try to finish all my administration work before the hotel morning briefing. Then, I go for a walk inside the property, interact with my colleagues and hotel guests. The excitement to see people from around the world every day, facing a new challenge with an opportunity is really what keeps me going and always ready to take on a new day.

What are the recent hotel achievements?

2022 by far has been the highest in achievements in terms of numbers, and this is all due to our hotel team, starting from our line staff members all the way to the top. This sense of accomplishment has encouraged our “owning company” to constantly renovate and invest in new projects like the First Nile Boat, which is a trendy culinary destination that serves 5 restaurants.  

Do you have a preferred cuisine?

Yes, I am very fond of the Asian cuisine in particular, especially Thai and Cantonese. We have an outstanding Pan-Asian restaurant; Nairu located at the First Nile Boat that offers the best of Thai, India, China and Japan, which I would definitely recommend to anyone who is looking to truly experience the authenticity and quality of the cuisine.

When you host international guests at Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at The First Residence, what local-go to historical destination would you recommend them to?

The Pyramids will always be the Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum is where a tourist would typically visit, but where I would love for them to explore most is the true hidden gems of Cairo; the antique shops of El Moez street, the architectural treasures of Old Cairo, watch a live performance of  an Egyptian “Tannoura” show in Wekalet EL-Ghouri and then, head for a light lunch at Naguib Mahfouz café in Khan El-Khalili where it serves some of the best local favourites.

When traveling, what are the things you can’t travel without?

Apart from my wife and kids, it would definitely be my phone, so I would get the chance to google the best nooks and crannies of every country we visit.

The term “people” is such an important factor, what is your hiring process based on”?

We hire based on the right attitude. Anyone can have “the experience” or “the knowledge” of working in the hospitality industry, yet not have the “right” attitude, maintaining a positive attitude goes a long way. If you ask me what makes the guest experience stand out is that we solely depend on our people, you can find the same product anywhere. However, you will not be able to find the same standard of service. When Mr. Isadore Sharp first established the brand, most of the other hotels were focusing on 3 major factors; 1. product, 2. profit and then, 3. People, Mr. Sharp changed the whole equation, he hired people with the right attitude, then focused on the property which doesn’t necessarily have to be the biggest, thus you will achieve the highest profit.

If your life had a soundtrack, what would it be?

Especially after reading the hotel figures this morning, it would have to be Queen’s “We Are The Champions” soundtrack, I would love to listen to it till the end of the year If I have to. I feel like am walking into a football arena and bringing the win to the home team.

Finally, is there any life/work advice to give to the new generation who are interested in hospitality?

Just be yourself, stay true to who you are and take “NO” for an answer. Always be persistent, develop your interpersonal skills. ultimately when you have the will, you will most definitely have the way.