Four Seasons Tenure
- First hired 2002; now since 2018
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Internship -- bartender, Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris
- Hilton Hotels, including Hilton Paris Charles de Gaulle; Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, Dubai; Kempinski Nile Hotel; Trianon Palace Versailles, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel; Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris
- Carthage, Tunisia
- Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management at the École Hôtelière de Lausanne, Switzerland
- English, French, Arabic, conversational Spanish
Mehdi Zaanoun has come a long way and shared a lot of hospitality since launching his career as an intern behind a cocktail bar with Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris. Now, following a 14-year detour that saw him advance in management through food and beverage with various international hotel groups in France and the Middle East, he is back as General Manager of Four Seasons Hotel Casablanca.
So how did Zaanoun spend the first months of his new assignment? “Being on the floor with the team, observing, asking questions, and understanding their challenges.” What he noticed, he says, was positive and promising. “There is a lot of talent here, as well as opportunities for improvement. The best way to ensure consistency and creativity in our services is by empowering our people with training and giving them freedom to express themselves.”
Casablanca is one of the largest cities in Africa. While Morocco’s other big destination, Marrakech, is better known for luxury hotels, including a Four Seasons, the city that Zaanoun now calls home has a lot of promise for commercial growth. “Several markets are bringing business here right now,” he says. “China is getting bigger and bigger, and India and other emerging markets offer a huge opportunity for us. The US does, too, as more and more North American leisure travellers are stopping over in Casablanca.”
Then there’s the local market, perhaps the Hotel’s most important. The Casablancans and the city’s ex-pat community have very high expectations for hospitality, says Zaanoun, noting that his job is to make sure that they are not only taken care of, but that the Hotel’s offerings and prime location on the Atlantic and near the city’s landmarks remain attractive to them. “The key to our success is having people here saying, ‘Oh, you have to stay at Four Seasons – that’s the best place to be!’”
Whether they’re ushering guests into the lobby, offering therapies at Le Spa, or serving Moroccan specialties at Mint or fresh seafood at Bleu and Latitude 33, Zaanoun wants his team to feel involved. He likes giving team members direction and letting them be a part of the decision-making process, he says. “Asking people what they think is the way to get them on board.”
Zaanoun’s earliest experience with luxury hospitality occurred close to home – at Carthage Palace, the Presidential palace of Tunisia, no less, which his grand uncle Habib Bourguiba occupied while leading the country from its independence in 1956 until 1987. Living for a time at Carthage Palace, Zaanoun was intrigued by the sight of arriving and departing diplomats.
He travelled with his family quite a bit as well, staying in “beautiful hotels” that fascinated him with luxury and constant scenes of staff catering to arriving and departing guests. “That was the start of it for me – I was attracted by the people,” he recalls. “Ninety percent of this job is spent interacting with guests and employees. You welcome people from all over the world. You’re always learning something.”
Zaanoun still travels quite a bit, now with his own family, taking in historical sites, exploring cultural destinations, and cheering for sports together as time allows.
Meanwhile, his return to Four Seasons was only a matter of time. “I thought it was good to see how the competition operates, but I always knew this was the company I wanted to work for.” The most striking difference is Four Seasons focus on its people, he says. “Our talent is our major asset. The way we get them to follow is by treating them well.”