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Mark Willis plans to balance Fairmont’s heritage with a flamboyant future

Mark Willis plans to balance Fairmont’s heritage with a flamboyant future

When Mark Willis left his role as CEO for Accor in the Middle East, Africa, India and Turkey to become CEO Of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, the global headquarters of Fairmont also transferred operations to Dubai.
During Willis’ time as regional CEO of Accor, properties such as SLS Dubai and 25hours One Central Dubai opened, part of the new Ennismore arm of the company, while Accor itself opened hotels such as Banyan Tree AlUla, Raffles Palm Jumeirah and the joint Raffles-Fairmont Doha in Qatar.

In 2022, Willis’ Accor opened 19 new hotels in the MENA region, accounting for almost 6,000 keys. He oversaw landmark deals such as those with Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Development Fund and an accommodation deal with Qatar authorities during FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.

He now plans to have the same impact on the historic Fairmont brand.

Mark Willis’ modern approach
Willis’ role was officially announced in January 2023. At the end of 2022, he signed the Fairmont Skyline in Dubai, one of the brand’s most modern hotels in its 90-property portfolio.


His approach for the Skyline, and other Fairmonts to follow, is to balance “the romance of Fairmont” and the demands of the modern traveller.

“I was very keen to get this role,” he told Hotelier Middle East at this year’s Arabian Travel Market. “Hopefully, I bring enough energy to the table to bring the brand forward.

“Lifestyle is growing superbly, but if you look at Fairmont, it has a heritage like no other. Some of the things it has achieved, we can never forget.”

Those ‘unforgettable things’ include the time Lennon and Yoko Ono booked into Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth in Montreal in 1969, when the former Beatle penned the lyrics and recorded “Give Peace a Chance”, during their Bed-in for Peace movement.

A flamboyant and tenacious future
Willis said there is a rich history of Fairmont to celebrate. He explained: “You need to reflect on the heritage we have, but always take the brand forward. We’re obviously creating modern hotels, you can only have heritage hotels by take-overs. You can’t build heritage, but you can take the ethos, the service culture, into newer hotels.”

“The partners behind Fairmont Skyline are super flamboyant and forward-thinking. That being said, the heritage will be reflected in as many ways as we can.”

As far as business is concerned, maintaining that heritage of 116 years makes commercial sense, too.

Willis added: “The appeal comes from its heritage. There are so many details in each property. I’ve never read so much history about a brand. 116th anniversary this year, there’s so much history, legacy and association across our hotels.”

Not only is Fairmont benefitting from a fresh set of eyes and a more modern approach, but moving to Dubai has also helped Willis create one of the most “tenacious” teams he has ever put together.

He said: “To recruit for Dubai isn’t as difficult as other locations. It’s an interesting topic. I’ve travelled all over the world; recruitment is a real issue for hospitality globally, but in Dubai, it’s not the case. Recruitment at a hotel level has been amazing. I look at the difficulties elsewhere and I don’t see a recruitment squeeze at all.

“We have a wonderful skillset in the team, we’re very luxury-focused, and it’s also a great location geographically. We made the right decision. It has visionary leadership.

“I’m really comfortable here.”

Source: Hotelier Middle East