Interview with Heddo Siebs
By Mihiret Teshome, January 01, 2020
Since its opening on 01 January 2019, Hyatt Regency Addis Ababa has consistently been in the headlines not only for its wonderful interiors and service excellence but also for the sustainable projects it has been undertaking and for its highly successful initiative to source most of its inputs locally. From the locally designed “employee fashion” to the sustainable plastic-free initiative and to its pioneering employee recruitment system, Hyatt Regency has been leading by example to win several awards and recognitions. LinkUp Addis has sat with Heddo Siebs to discuss the hotel’s success in the past few months.
Who is Heddo Siebs?
I am a global nomad – I travel a lot. I am a foodie, a proud father and a Royal Enfield lover. I love Ethiopia very much and I am very happy to be here in Addis Ababa. Being here in the Land of Origins is something great. I like not only visiting and exploring places but also getting to know the culture and what is all around it.
What were your impressions of Ethiopia and Ethiopian society when you traveled here for the first time?
Though I had been to many places in Africa, I had never been to Ethiopia before, and I found it to be a great place to see. I was very surprised to see how green and nice the country is and how friendly the people are. We felt very much welcome to this country. Then we traveled to Entoto. It was wonderful to see the entire city on one side and the vast countryside on the other. As time went on, I started to explore the city and the markets, especially the rich and colorful Mercato, to understand what people eat and what they produce. Looking at the opportunities Ethiopia has to offer, I remember feeling how lucky I am to open a hotel here in Addis.
We heard that you are very outgoing and adventurous. You even go to local traditional markets to shop. What is the inspiration behind this?
To start with, the diversity here in Ethiopia excites me a lot. I believe that when you are in a new country and city, you have to explore its roots to see and understand what items are available and produced.
It is also great to source inputs locally to support the local community. It is easy to import everything, but we feel that we should support local businesses. For instance, you can find people producing beautiful and great-quality napkins and linen products here in Ethiopia. We also find great designers here helping us to design and produce employee fashion locally.
The other reason why I leave Addis and travel to other parts of the country is to see what the farmers produce. There is great quality available here in Ethiopia, but you have to go out and find it. You have to visit different farmers to understand how they produce and how they process. That way we source our inputs locally, but with great quality. Looking at how our restaurants are doing, I think we are successful.
Within a short time, your management has made Hyatt the leading destination in Addis. What is the secret?
Anyone can build a nice hotel; It is the people who make the difference. If we welcome our guests and look after them as we do in our homes, we will make a difference, as the guests will feel that what we are doing comes from the heart. It is not standardized or done by rote. We invest our resources in providing true, honest service.
What is unique about the Ethiopian hospitality industry?
Being hospitable is in Ethiopians’ DNA. You just have to give them the confidence through training to deliver the same in a hotel. We particularly like training the young generation through an apprenticeship system developed together with the Culinary and Travel Training Institute.
Hyatt has been headlining within the hotel scene for sourcing its inputs locally, including the uniforms of your staff. Where did this inspiration come from?
Supporting local communities is a very important commitment for us. With the opening of the hotel, we had a great opportunity to do things right from the very beginning. Instead of importing items, we source them locally. We are very fortunate to work with Anna Getaneh, who designed as well as produced our employees’ uniforms locally. Moreover, companies and NGOs like Sabahar, Salem`s and Muya produce fabulous products, allowing us to support fair trade companies and their colleagues.
Speaking of local sourcing, you dress all your employees with Ethiopian fabric and design. How has the reception been about this?
First, we want to make sure that our visitors feel they are coming to Ethiopia when they come to our hotel. You can find normal uniforms anywhere in the world, but when we design something like this locally, people easily get the feeling of being in Ethiopia.
I think our employees are proud of it because they can easily identify themselves and because it is more of a fashion statement than a uniform. It also makes Ethiopia proud because it underlines that there is more to Ethiopia than just coffee, displaying other areas where Ethiopians excel.
What values has Hyatt added to hospitality in Ethiopia?
We would like to lead by example and out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to local sourcing as mentioned above, but also in terms of food items, employee training and last but not least, being sustainable. We are very proud to be the first hotel not to offer plastic bottles.
Despite its young age, Hyatt Regency Addis Ababa has become the top destination for premium events that have happened during the year. What is your philosophy about hosting events?
As a hotel that values the environment and the local community, we focus on sustainability, zero food waste and live cooking when we host events.
Hyatt Regency has also been at the center of media for the various sustainable environmental initiatives you have undertaken. Tell us about them.
One of our achievements has been using an entirely locally sourced avocado oil in one of our restaurants, The Kitchen. When I was exploring the city, I saw avocados everywhere. Even though the plan was to use olive oil in The Kitchen, a Middle Eastern restaurant, we do not have olive trees in Ethiopia. Therefore, we decided to look for someone who would make us avocado oil and change our recipes to avocado that is locally produced. We received very positive feedbacks from our guests. We are really making a difference. We are currently plastic-free, and we will undertake more initiatives.
Who is Hyatt Regency for? (Who do you serve?)
I think there are two parts to it. On one hand, like any hotel, we invite people who are in Addis exploring the country – it is everyone from this point of view. However, looking at our social spaces, two restaurants and bars, our spacious lobby and gym, we serve people who live in Addis. When a new hotel opens, everyone wants to come and see it. However, we have proven that it does not stop there for Hyatt Regency, Addis Ababa. People in Addis feel that this hotel is for them, and they come here not only for their special occasions but also in their day-to-day lives for business meetings, for a cup of coffee in Cascara or lunch and dinner at our restaurants.
What do you regard as your most remarkable achievement at Hyatt Regency Addis Ababa?
We have received early awards as the best hotel in Addis and in Africa, and we are grateful for them. Awards are important, but so is the implementation of our water bottling system. I am personally very proud that we managed to start our water bottling system. It is very sustainable, and I promise you we will have a lot more in the next year.
What do you like doing in Addis when you are not at work?
I spend my time with my family. I also explore the country a little bit with my Royal Enfield, getting a bit of fresh air in the country and relaxing.
Any last words?
I think if people do anything from the bottom of their hearts and with the concept of “Let’s Make Ethiopia Proud,” we cannot lose.