Longstanding friends, Julien Haroune and Benjamin Vacher, Vatel 2013 alumni are now respectively the Operational Manager and the Communication and Marketing Manager of the Palais Sebban. A true gem of Moroccan-Andalousian architecture, with 25 rooms and suites, in one of the most beautiful riads in Marrakesh, right in the heart of the Medina. In this interview with both of them, you’ll see what friendship can do and read two success stories.
What did you want to do when you were little?
Benjamin: When I was little I hesitated between the two things I loved the most: soccer and cooking. I dreamed of being the Head Chef - something my mom conveyed to me - or a soccer player. Well actually I thought I’d really like being a sports journalist, influenced by my dad. Both of them taught me the importance of working well and I thank them for that.
Julien: Me too, there was a ball in my childhood dreams, but it was an oval one. My family put a rugby ball in my hands when I was just a little kid. We’re not even close to working in hospitality.
What did you like about international hotel management?
Benjamin: The word “international” which, alone, makes you think of a lot of things. Especially exchanges, traveling, discovering other cultures, and so on.
Julien: And the words “hotel management,” which consists in pleasing and serving others by a perfect understanding of a subtle art, the art of hospitality.
What made you choose Vatel?
Benjamin: For me it was when I went to an Open House Day in Vatel Lyon, when I still had another year of high school left. The fact that this school is internationally known, with a mixture of theory and practical applications, having a degree recognized all over the world, four months of internship at least. All of this, which for me was essential, convinced me.
Julien: Vatel is a business school that is well known in France and in many other countries. As I wanted to learn hotel management after high school, this seemed natural to me. Anyone who is really interested in this field puts all chances on his or her side when they choose Vatel.
What is your best memory the time you spent at school?
Benjamin: We could probably write a book, there are so many of them. Not only for courses that we took, but also because we were involved in campus life at Vatel, as we were active members of the Student Services Department. I think what most impacted me is how the mixture of theoretical courses and practical courses fits our jobs so very well. We sort of feel that it will, when you understand Vatel’s educational concept, but when you haven’t done it, it’s hard to imagine how good this really is. Vatel is really a springboard giving you a head start for your first job! Today, I realize this. To succeed as a manager in a hotel or restaurant, you have to be able to do all the jobs of the people you’ll be managing, without underestimating any of them. And I’d like to take advantage of this opportunity to thank the Vatel Lyon practical application structures: the Restaurant, the Vatel Gourmet boutique, the Cafe Vatel , because of the great professional and human experiences I had there.
Julien: If I had to choose only one, I’d say that it was our end of the year Gala that Benjamin and I organized, assisted by organization committee, a great bunch of friends. From the organization of the event to the Gala dinner itself, everything was superb. A great human adventure as well as an enormous professional challenge. Everyone said this evening was a complete success and really paid tribute to our five years of studies, full of emotions. Vatel is a great school and I’m sure that it’s going to gain renown, because it really does everything possible so that its students succeed. When we start in our first year, we’re not aware of all the skills we’re going to learn. When we graduate from Vatel, we’re capable of managing a hotel or restaurant any place in the world and in all different types of hotels.
How did you get the job you currently have?
Benjamin: In jobs involved in the international hospitality industry, more than in other branches, recruitment takes place using a professional network. I would say that it’s both the result of a strong friendship with Julien but also a family affair that allowed us to have the pleasure of working together.
Julien: When I graduated, I went back to Morocco to help my parents manage the Palais Sebban. And don’t, even for a second, think that it’s easy to take over a family owned business, because you have to prove you’re capable of it, even more than others. You have to find your legitimacy and you have to show that you deserve this job and that people can trust you. I quickly felt that I had to be surrounded by the best team members, and hiring Benjamin seemed evident to me.
The Sebban Patio and the Oudaya Suite
What does your job consist in?
Benjamin: I’m the Marketing and Communication Manager. On a daily basis I work in close cooperation with Julien on our hotel’s global strategy. This was a job that didn’t exist before I came, so I had to design and put in place:
- a short, mid and long-term marketing plan;
- communication tools for our hotel (a presentation booklet, being present on Facebook, TripAdvisor responses)
- adding value to our internal events (Riad current events and external ones (our city’s events such as the International Marrakesh Film Festival, and the Marrakesh du Rire [Comedy Show], etc.
As well as ensuring the sustainability of these actions on a daily basis, my job consists in increasing room occupancy rate as well as the number of people served in the restaurant. That means we need a sales strategy (customer loyalty program, promotions, participation in trade fairs, etc.). A varied and exciting job!
Julien: I’m the Operational Manager. It’s about the same thing as the Hotel Manager. In my case this means making sure the hotel is in good hands and managing and training the personnel. At the same time, I try to remain close to our guests to know them better and be able to anticipate their needs. In our jobs, we never stop learning: for the past few months I’ve been working with designers and architects because we are reinvesting and have started to do work in the hotel. I’m still learning a lot from them. Two months ago, the challenge laid in renovation, then last month it was to build the Relaxation Area. Renovating or building from scratch isn’t the same thing in terms of investment, commitment and time it will take. In this field we have to have an eye on every little detail, so we never get bored. And that’s what I love about it.
And in the midst of all this work, you both created Hospitality Agency.
Benjamin: Hospitality Agency is both a management company and a Marketing and Sales consultancy, specialized in hotel and restaurants in riads and luxury hotels. We founded it as a complement to our activities for Palais Sebban. We got this idea after having studied the Marrakesh market and its many professional needs. Marrakesh is a city that thrives because of tourism, but where there is a lack of qualified personnel to manage its many hotels. In the Ochre City, as that’s Marrakesh’s nickname, no one has services like ours. We’re ready to develop them with our peers in the profession.
Julien: The idea of founding this company came after we met up with several hotel managers in Morocco. We quickly realized that many of them were international investors who didn’t know much about running a hotel. There are true needs in terms of auditing, advice, training and support in this profession. And our first customers are rushing in, so for the moment at least, we’ve picked the right niche market!
What do you like the most about hotel management?
Benjamin: The fact that nothing is fixed and that we always have to change, learn and discover new tools. That’s the beauty of this job.
Julien: Hotel management is really general, it’s not just one job but several at the same time. When you can do two different jobs in the same day and you don’t have a routine to follow, this is a true joy.
The Palais Sebban Restaurant and Pool