In our latest “Influencer in the spotlight” segment, we are joined by one of hospitality’s finest professional. Safet Dokara, Director of Operations at Valencia Hotel Group, discusses his professional insights, opinions, and views on current technology trends in the hospitality industry.
Safet discusses his personal and professional journey, from arriving in USA without knowing any english to working in the kitchens and ultimately rising to Director of Operations of a major Hotel chain.
Advanced Hospitality Technologies: Safet Dokara, the Director of Operations at Valencia Hotel Group I am very grateful and excited to be interviewing you. You have been in this business for a long time and have vast experience in the hospitality industry. Can you tell us about your professional journey, the secret to your success, and the core values at your workplace?
Safet Dokara: Because of my natural talent to provide service and my outgoing personality I always wanted to join the hospitality industry. My former country Yugoslavia, (mostly Croatia in modern days) had a strong tourism industry and I always wanted to be part of it. After the war in the 90s, I was lucky to get the opportunity to come to the USA, and now I had to plan my career here. Not knowing English, I grabbed the very first job that my agency Interfaith Ministry offered me. It was a kitchen steward job at the local country club, and that is where my hospitality career started. As I learned English, I was able to get the opportunity to lead the team and I was promoted to a management position. After spending three years in that country club, I joined the hotel industry. I moved up quickly through the leadership position and by 2006 I was promoted to the executive level in a luxury hotel. Since then, I worked in various leadership roles in hotel operations and am currently in a corporate office, helping with development and training.
I don’t think I have a secret to success. Early on in my career I created good habits and never abandoned them. A strong working ethic is one of the keys to success, as well as being flexible and willing to adapt to change. I was fortunate to have several great mentors around me and I fully took the advantage of their expertise and willingness to share their knowledge and help me grow my skills. I believe I am a quick learner and open-minded and I learn fast, and I was always eager to do everything that was in my power to acquire new skills. I strongly suggest to young leaders to find not only one good mentor but more of them and use their expertise and guidance as much as possible. As I grew my career, I always tried to surround myself with great people and create a positive work environment, and service culture. An excellent service culture always attracted more talented professionals and made my job easy and helped me be successful.
Advanced Hospitality Technologie: We would like to know more about Valencia Hotel Group, and how your hotel maintains the highest standards in the market to attract guests. Can you tell us about it?
Safet Dokara: Valencia group is a unique hotel company in many ways. It is well known for developing and building beautiful hotels with amazing designs in carefully chosen locations. We are also well known for our excellent service that creates great experiences and long-lasting memories for our guests. We pride ourselves on providing excellent and personalized service that we call “Hospitality with heart”. We continuously focus on the development and training of our teams and that way we are able to constantly maintain the top level of service and be a leader in our respective markets. We also create a service culture where every employee is empowered to do whatever it takes to exceed guests’ expectations and fulfill guests’ requests. We live by “If the guest request is legal, we never say no”
Advanced Hospitality Technologie: In your opinion, how can the hospitality industry benefit from using technology, and what technological innovations have been adopted by your hotel so far?
Safet Dokara: There are several ways hospitality can benefit from technology. We certainly need to take the advantage of technology and offset the labor shortage. We are in the process of integrating multiple systems that will simplify communication not only with our guests but also between our employees. We will use QR code technology to enable guests’ touchless communication without ever using anything except their devices. We are also using a few platforms to streamline the hiring process and assist us in managing labor.
Advanced Hospitality Technologie: Which Hospitality exhibitions and conferences do you prefer to attend and participate in as an exhibitor or speaker?
Safet Dokara: The Lodging Conference is my favorite, it is well organized and has a huge attendance( over 2,500 attendees this year) I also attend HITEC and Hunter conferences. I participated as a speaker at The Lodging Conference and HITEC conference.
Advanced Hospitality Technologie: What challenges did your hotel face post-Covid-19 and do you think the technology has changed the hospitality industry and management? Share your viewpoint with us.
Safet Dokara: Just like every other hospitality establishment, we faced a huge labor shortage. Losing many employees impacted our well-known service culture and we had to train all new employees from ground zero. As I mentioned above, we use technology to assist us to overcome labor shortages and make our operations more effective and efficient.
Advanced Hospitality Technologie: What advice would you give to young talents willing to join the hospitality industry?
Safet Dokara: Hospitality is an amazing industry and offers over 200 different careers. Not only is always fun and dynamic but offers pretty fast upward moving and enables fast career growth.
Hospitality is one of a few industries that is known to promote within and it is common that someone that started as a bellman to become a general manager.
Advanced Hospitality Technologie: What technology gaps are still persistent in the Hospitality industry, and how can technology help hotels improve their guest experience?
Safet Dokara: I believe that many companies are still struggling to determine how to harness technology, hence there are still gaps. Many companies are still using old, archaic systems that are not willing to evolve and improve. I believe that systems integrations and streamlining processes using technology are the way to go, and companies that are flexible and innovative and work closely with the hospitality industry will take a lead and steal market share in the near future.
Advanced Hospitality Technologie: We are excited to know more about your interests, hobbies, and how you spend your free time with your family and friends.
Safet Dokara: I love spending time with my family. We love traveling when busy schedules permit. I also immensely enjoy cooking and spending time on my porch with family and friends.
I love watching and playing sports with my boys, soccer being the top one, as well as hiking when have time. I also enjoy listening to books and leadership podcasts while driving.
Advanced Hospitality Technologie: Can you name some hospitality influencers that inspired you and helped you in your career so far?
Safet Dokara: As I mentioned previously, I was privileged to work with several great hospitality professionals and leaders that inspired me, mentored me, and shaped my career.
1: Saddiq Mir, Hospitality Professional, and my mentor
2: Juan Ruiz, Hospitality professional, and my mentor
3: George Cozonis, Hospitality Professional, and my mentor
4: Roy Kretschmer, Hospitality Professional, and my mentor
5: Fritz Gietschner, Executive Master Chef and my mentor
Advanced Hospitality Technologie: Safet, can you recommend five individuals everyone should follow if they are serious about a career in Hospitality Industry?
1: Horst Schulze, Legendary founder of luxury brand Ritz Carlton and hospitality industry legend
2: Daniel Goleman, Pioneer of Emotional Intelligence science that greatly determines leaders’ success
3: Simon Sinek, American author, and motivational speaker
4: Gilda Perez, Global Chief Executive Officer of JLL Hotels & Hospitality
5: Chip Conley, is one of the iconic founders of the modern boutique hotel movement
Maria Farooqui is Community Manager at Advanced Hospitality Technologies, A leader in technology management in the Hospitality Industry . Maria believes in a dynamic approach to bring the Hospitality community together by starting conversations and exchange of ideas. Her brand of marketing is prioritizing customer centricity and guest engagement. She loves to travel and explore new places while not working.