Leonardo is expanding – yet the person behind the plans isn't an uncompromising, aggressive alpha leader, but someone who doesn't even consider himself that important. Daniel Roger prefers to quietly steer the European business of the Israeli Fattal Hotel Group to success.
text: Silke Becker
He comes across as very gentle, speaks with a quiet voice and is extremely polite. It's hard to believe that this placid, unruffled man is responsible for ensuring that the European hotel chain Leonardo sets a new sales record every year. Having started with a single hotel in Berlin, Daniel Roger has built up a group of over 130 hotels in more than 75 destinations within just 12 years. He employs over 5,000 staff, who generated around EUR 365 million in sales in 2017. How did he manage that? "I've got good people," he says modestly. Daniel Roger doesn't want yes-men, but "personalities that I can learn something from". He believes that "people who are strong in their field will themselves employ strong staff".
Daniel Roger enjoys learning new things, is not afraid of change and can adapt to new situations in the blink of an eye. It's what he's done all his life, and it's precisely what is the secret to his success. After his school leaving examinations – "I didn't know what I wanted to be" – his parents decided he should train to work in the hotel industry. Although he spoke only Spanish and school English, having been born in Chile, his parents sent him first to the very prestigious Dr. Speiser college of hotel management in Germany, which has since closed, and later to the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland. "I had to learn German first of all, which was quite difficult."
His first job took him to the reception of a Spanish holiday hotel, and he later worked in various establishments in Switzerland and England. "I enjoyed the hotel industry, no two days were the same." Everywhere he went the charming young man found it easy to make friends, and within a short time he spoke fluent German, Italian, French and, of course, English and Spanish.
In February 1970, by now aged 24, he visited his parents, who in the interim had emigrated to Israel. "Sun, lots of young people, pretty women – I didn't want to go back to the English drizzle." He decided spontaneously to apply to the Accadia, at that time a family hotel near Tel Aviv and today a luxury hotel belonging to the Dan chain. He was able to start the very next day, despite not speaking a word of Hebrew. "The guests were from abroad, they needed people with experience of Europe and knowledge of foreign languages."
Naturally it wasn't long before the talented linguist Daniel Roger had also mastered Hebrew. "I spent my mornings learning the language, then I worked very hard." During this time, Daniel Roger started a family and settled down.
In the years that followed he pursued his career and was soon managing smaller hotels, followed by larger ones later. "It was the early days of tourism in Israel. The staff had no experience, turnover levels were high and working in a hotel wasn't regarded as a 'proper' job," he remembers. Roger quickly learned how to manage employees and to "persuade them to stay and convince them that there is a good future in the hotel industry".
In 1985, when he was almost 40, Daniel Roger joined the brand-new Isrotel King Solomon in Eilat on the Red Sea. The beach resort wanted to expand winter tourism for European guests who found it too hot in the summer. Within about 15 years, he had built up two hotels into a chain of 10 for the British owner. "That was a major feat in this small country." However, the political situation in Israel was becoming increasingly dangerous around the turn of the millennium, and "barely any tourists were coming".
The well-connected 56-year-old wasted no time finding another job, and started a new life in Prague in 2002. "I was good at marketing, and that's where there were deficiencies there." Daniel Roger quickly recognised the potential opened up by online booking portals, which at that time were new. "The airlines were leading the way, and I thought that that was also the future of the hotel industry." When many in the sector could barely spell the word 'internet', the fledgling director was already introducing the new technology and leading the Hotel Duo Prague to success.
Three years later, his telephone rang. On the other end was David Fattal, an old colleague and good friend from Israel, who asked him if he would like to manage a hotel in Berlin. "I knew it would be the start of something big." Fattal had set up the Fattal Hotel Group in Israel within just a few years, which by then had 41 hotels and had recently floated on the stock exchange. Now he wanted to expand to Europe.
Although he was now 60 years old, Daniel Roger took on the challenge and moved to Berlin in 2006. Within the very first year he expanded the portfolio with five new hotels, one of which was a Mercure in Hamburg. "When I saw how much we were paying in franchise fees, I thought it would be better to invest the money in our own brand." The idea of Leonardo was born. "Establishing a completely new brand is the most difficult thing to do. I wanted success."
Leonardo Hotels focuses on centrally located, well-run city hotels in the three to four-star segment and above, with a solid price-performance ratio, a pleasant and comfortable atmosphere and a unified design concept. "The customer expects to find something they recognise." Leonardo is currently promoting this with a major brand campaign with the motto "Good to be here again".
Roger is upping the pace when it comes to expansion. New hotels are being converted to the Leonardo style within a month. In all establishments, he attaches particular importance to having very friendly staff and an above-average breakfast buffet for the respective class. "We want to have satisfied guests." At Leonardo, feedback on booking portals and social media is painstakingly analysed. "Nowadays the internet makes everything very transparent, and we want to learn from mistakes."
Daniel Roger is particularly proud of the Leonardo Academy he founded six years ago, which prepares junior employees for management positions in a two-year training programme. "Young people want and need prospects." Daniel Roger is positive about the future of the hotel industry – at least as long as air fares remain affordable. "People are travelling more and more and know what they can expect for their money."
Daniel Roger wants to combine the quality promised by a solid, well-established brand with lifestyle concepts for different target groups. He is therefore expanding the Leonardo range of brands to include the more exclusive Leonardo Royal Hotels with four-star-plus standards, Leonardo Boutique Hotels with an upmarket design and Nyx Hotels by Leonardo Hotels, which are individually designed by artists from the region.
Daniel Roger knows his figures by heart and prefers to have several hotels in one city, "because of the advantages in terms of costs and volumes". "Smaller hotels will find marketing increasingly difficult in future." He therefore plans to continue his rapid expansion course in the coming years. There have already been three new openings this year, and more are planned; a further 10 hotels are to be added by 2021.
The globetrotter currently lives in London, where he says he has plenty of opportunity to spend time at the races with his wife Yaffa. Along with classical music, it's one of the couple's passions. But the 72-year-old can't imagine leaving the hotel industry, which has been his life for over 50 years. "I wouldn't have a clue what to do all day long if I retired."