What can the Grand Millennium offer its guests that might not be available in Slemani’s other hotels?
Our hotel is clearly a landmark in Slemani, which makes it very unique among other hotels in the Region. In terms of facilities and services, we offer a fantastic, large conference and banquet facilities, a grand ballroom, which accommodates 750 people, and an auditorium which seats 350 people. All of this is unique for this city. We also have a great gym and a spa, which is equipped with all of the latest technologies. In addition, we have a fantastic indoor/outdoor swimming pool, two squash courts, and two tennis courts. It is a resort within the city.

What challenges have you faced in establishing such a massive project here?
Since many foreign hospitality professionals are not familiar with the Kurdistan Region, staffing is the primary challenge to opening a hotel like this. Once you get people to come here it is much easier—people do like it here, and as more people in the hospitality industry are finding themselves in Kurdistan, the Region's reputation is becoming further established and fielding staff becomes easier. This is already happening: we are already receiving more and more job applications. The hospitality industry in the Region is still young, and not the first choice for people to work in. In coming months, as the hotel becomes increasingly established, we will increase our staff and ensure that our service standards remain high. Ten percent of our current staff is from Slemani. We have been very happy with our local staff, because many of them have lived abroad and recently returned to Kurdistan. These employees are major assets for us, as they are familiar with international standards as well with local habits. This cross-cultural understanding is a great benefit for us, being new in the country.

To what degree does training play a role in dealing with staffing shortages?
To address some of these issues, we have set up a training department to train all new staff. We have an in-house training manager, and we had a good task force of trainers from other Grand Millennium properties fly in and help us to train our staff in international best practice. This included both lectures and on the job training. It is important that our staff operate in a way that is in line with our brand. When we employ people that come from different companies and different countries, it is important that we train them to work in a manner consistent with our brand.

How would you describe Millennium Hotels’ role in developing the Kurdistan Region’s tourism sector?
The hotel itself will contribute to the tourism sector by hosting large, prestigious meetings and conferences in Slemani. We provide a unique and desirable venue where companies, governments, and other institutions can meet and entertain. With a landmark property like ours, people want to be associated with us. The Grand Millennium is and will continue to be a venue for people within Iraq and for visitors from outside Iraq. We have a secure and comfortable environment, with all of the amenities of a luxury resort.

Millennium's strategic partnership with Faruk Group Holding (FGH) has been key to its entrance to this market. Can you tell us about the dynamics between Millennium and FGH?
Our partnership with FGH has allowed us to establish ourselves very deeply and broadly in Slemani—without them, we would not have been able to operate the three hotels within the city. Through the FGH, we were able to target the Slemani market very centrally. This helps us in many ways. First, due to the economies of scale, we are able to operate very efficiently. Our purchasing power is increased, as we can buy necessary goods and imports in large quantities. There are synergies in staffing between the three properties, and there are synergies in marketing which result from the scale. Also, of course, it allows us to accommodate a broader number and a variety of guests, at different price ranges and with differing priorities. All of these synergies are important to us, and as such, our partnership with FGH is instrumental. Our partnership is very powerful.

Millennium and Copthorne now operate three major luxury hotels in Slemani—is there any concern regarding oversupply in Slemani’s hospitality industry?
Oversupply is a concern in the short term. However, we believe that over the medium to long term, it will become less of a liability, largely related to the synergies I mentioned earlier. As we attract conferences, events, and an increasing number of visitors to the city, all of our hotels will benefit. Perhaps our guests will initially stay with the Grand Millennium the first time they come, because of its prominence in the city. When they return, perhaps on business-related visits to the Faruk Medical Center, they will stay in the Millennium Kurdistan, next door to the hospital. Then, if they return in a more price-sensitive capacity, they might stay at the Copthorne Baranan. It really is a win-win for all of our hotels. As our brand is attached to all three hotels, we can provide the hotel of choice regardless of the guest’s needs.

Does Millennium has any plans for expansion outside of Slemani?
We are always looking for new opportunities for expansion. Particularly within Kurdistan and Iraq, we are very well positioned to expand, given our strong presence here already. The Grand Millennium, which opened in March 2014, is Iraq’s tallest hotel, and an unmistakable central landmark in Slemani. Our hotel is clearly a landmark in Slemani, which makes it very unique among other hotels in the Region. When you then enter the hotel, the lobby and overall environment gives the impression of being a decidedly unique place.

What can the Grand Millennium offer its guests that might not be available in Slemani’s other hotels?
Our hotel is clearly a landmark in Slemani, which makes it very unique among other hotels in the Region. In terms of facilities and services, we offer a fantastic, large conference and banquet facilities, a grand ballroom, which accommodates 750 people, and an auditorium which seats 350 people. All of this is unique for this city. We also have a great gym and a spa, which is equipped with all of the latest technologies. In addition, we have a fantastic indoor/outdoor swimming pool, two squash courts, and two tennis courts. It is a resort within the city.

What challenges have you faced in establishing such a massive project here?
Since many foreign hospitality professionals are not familiar with the Kurdistan Region, staffing is the primary challenge to opening a hotel like this. Once you get people to come here it is much easier—people do like it here, and as more people in the hospitality industry are finding themselves in Kurdistan, the Region's reputation is becoming further established and fielding staff becomes easier. This is already happening: we are already receiving more and more job applications. The hospitality industry in the Region is still young, and not the first choice for people to work in. In coming months, as the hotel becomes increasingly established, we will increase our staff and ensure that our service standards remain high. Ten percent of our current staff is from Slemani. We have been very happy with our local staff, because many of them have lived abroad and recently returned to Kurdistan. These employees are major assets for us, as they are familiar with international standards as well with local habits. This cross-cultural understanding is a great benefit for us, being new in the country.

To what degree does training play a role in dealing with staffing shortages?
To address some of these issues, we have set up a training department to train all new staff. We have an in-house training manager, and we had a good task force of trainers from other Grand Millennium properties fly in and help us to train our staff in international best practice. This included both lectures and on the job training. It is important that our staff operate in a way that is in line with our brand. When we employ people that come from different companies and different countries, it is important that we train them to work in a manner consistent with our brand.

How would you describe Millennium Hotels’ role in developing the Kurdistan Region’s tourism sector?
The hotel itself will contribute to the tourism sector by hosting large, prestigious meetings and conferences in Slemani. We provide a unique and desirable venue where companies, governments, and other institutions can meet and entertain. With a landmark property like ours, people want to be associated with us. The Grand Millennium is and will continue to be a venue for people within Iraq and for visitors from outside Iraq. We have a secure and comfortable environment, with all of the amenities of a luxury resort.

Millennium's strategic partnership with Faruk Group Holding (FGH) has been key to its entrance to this market. Can you tell us about the dynamics between Millennium and FGH?
Our partnership with FGH has allowed us to establish ourselves very deeply and broadly in Slemani—without them, we would not have been able to operate the three hotels within the city. Through the FGH, we were able to target the Slemani market very centrally. This helps us in many ways. First, due to the economies of scale, we are able to operate very efficiently. Our purchasing power is increased, as we can buy necessary goods and imports in large quantities. There are synergies in staffing between the three properties, and there are synergies in marketing which result from the scale. Also, of course, it allows us to accommodate a broader number and a variety of guests, at different price ranges and with differing priorities. All of these synergies are important to us, and as such, our partnership with FGH is instrumental. Our partnership is very powerful.

Millennium and Copthorne now operate three major luxury hotels in Slemani—is there any concern regarding oversupply in Slemani’s hospitality industry?
Oversupply is a concern in the short term. However, we believe that over the medium to long term, it will become less of a liability, largely related to the synergies I mentioned earlier. As we attract conferences, events, and an increasing number of visitors to the city, all of our hotels will benefit. Perhaps our guests will initially stay with the Grand Millennium the first time they come, because of its prominence in the city. When they return, perhaps on business-related visits to the Faruk Medical Center, they will stay in the Millennium Kurdistan, next door to the hospital. Then, if they return in a more price-sensitive capacity, they might stay at the Copthorne Baranan. It really is a win-win for all of our hotels. As our brand is attached to all three hotels, we can provide the hotel of choice regardless of the guest’s needs.

Does Millennium has any plans for expansion outside of Slemani?
We are always looking for new opportunities for expansion. Particularly within Kurdistan and Iraq, we are very well positioned to expand, given our strong presence here already.