Hospitality Services, an event management and publications company, was launched in 1993 by Nouhad Dammous and his daughter Joumana Salame. The company’s first event was HORECA, a trade exhibition for professionals in the hospitality sector.
Hospitality Services, which today has a team of 30 employees, created a trade publication, Hospitality News, a few years after the first HORECA when Salame says they felt there was a need for a voice of “the industry”.
The company has also diversified its portfolio, from the business to business activity of HORECA and Hospitality News to consumer activities, developing a series of exhibitions such as The Garden Show and Spring Festival, Beirut Cooking Festival and the franchise of Salon Du Chocolat, as well as magazines such as Taste and Flavors and Lebanon Traveler.
In light of HORECA 2016, set to run from April 5-8 at the Beirut International Exhibition & Leisure Center (BIEL) Executive sat down with Joumana Salame, Hospitality Service’s managing director, to get her perspective on the Lebanese hospitality sector today and on HORECA’s latest updates.
E You have franchised HORECA to local partners in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Kuwait and Jordan. In KSA and Kuwait specifically, there is a lot of competition from similar trade exhibitions such as Gulf Food; can you tell us how you differentiate yourselves as HORECA?
We have our own rules and our own systems, and we work closely with all the stakeholders to build each individual event and be the place where all stakeholders network and exchange ideas. HORECA in the region has the same structure as in Lebanon and it is slowly growing as a culture which we are sharing with our licensees.
E Is the presence of many fellow Lebanese in the Arab hospitality sector beneficial for you in organizing your trade shows?
Yes it is, especially in KSA and Kuwait where Lebanese are everywhere in the hospitality industry. In Jordan, however, the locals are heavily involved in hospitality and the impact of Lebanese is less felt.
E These days you see more and more Lebanese in hospitality working abroad.
This has always been the case; the country and market is too small for us. This is our strength, not our weakness as Lebanese.
E Let us talk a little about HORECA Lebanon 2016. What is the sector expecting from your 23rd edition?
We have a nice event shaping up. As we speak (mid-February), we are almost fully booked knowing that we have space for 300 plus exhibitors.
The industry is evolving and professionals want to see something beyond the typical exhibition stands: they want to interact, network and attend meaningful activities revolving around the exhibition.
[pullquote]The industry is evolving and professionals want to see something beyond the typical exhibition stands[/pullquote]
There are so many events happening within it: you have the conferences, the contests, the workshops…we have more than 25 experts [from different areas of the hospitality sector such as chefs or wine experts] coming from abroad to be involved in HORECA. And these professionals can connect with and benefit from event attendees and eventually end up doing business with them.
So basically, if you are a hospitality professional, in one afternoon, you can see what’s happening in your field and network with the key players.
E Have the educational programs, such as the ones exhibiting or giving courses in HORECA, as well as hospitality programs like those at Lebanese American University, improved the quality of hospitality services in Lebanon?
It makes the industry evolve and grow, getting more professional. It is an industry which has a lot of challenges, and we are passing through hard times, and we need to adjust. When you are in a crisis management situation, you sometimes start cutting corners which affects service and this is our challenge as an industry: how not to fall victim to cutting corners.
E What are some of the other challenges facing the hospitality sector and what are its key accomplishments, in your opinion?
In times of crisis, only the strong remain. So this helped the industry in a certain way and forced it to become very professionally organized to be able to survive.
But we have done great things: the initiative to promote rural tourism has been amazing and this has no doubt positively affected the hospitality industry. We are using the downtime, as a hospitality sector, to upgrade our services and so when the situation improves, we are prepared and ready.
E From the exhibitors signing up for HORECA, what do you feel will be the newest trends in hospitality in Lebanon?
Going back to the source, our traditions and food. Sourcing the products is now very important as people are becoming very conscious of what they eat. The Lebanese kitchen is finally getting the recognition it deserves.