Lars Heesbeen

Multi-Property Director of Sales - Marriott Downtown Abu Dhabi and Marriott Executive Apartments Downtown Abu Dhabi

“My name is Lars Heesbeen and I’m originally from the Netherlands. I’m currently working as the Multi-Property Director of Sales at the Abu Dhabi edition, the Marriott Hotel Downtown Abu Dhabi, and the Marriott Executive Apartments Abu Dhabi, and this is my SMACK story.

I have a bit of an interesting background: My dad was in the military, and we would move to different countries very often, but I enjoyed that. I was born in Germany, lived in the Netherlands, and we moved to the United States, back to Europe, and to Abu Dhabi. When I was growing up, I also wanted to go into the military but seeing my dad tour different warzones and handle post-traumatic stress disorder, that’s not something I wanted for myself.

Then I started looking at what else could I do to still work with people and be able to travel around: hospitality. I wanted to travel and not just visit, but live and experience different cultures. When I was young, I was a very hospitable person and then I interested in hotels because I wanted that glamorous lifestyle or at least that’s the look it had on me. Yes, working in hotels is hard work but I’m super passionate about it.

When I was 16 or 17, my dad had the opportunity to move to Abu Dhabi and at the time I had always been fascinated with the Burj Al Arab hotel, all the Rolls Royce’s, and the butlers. I thought it would be so cool to work in an environment like that. Finally moving there made me see so many more hotels and get to know hospitality. Europe’s hotels are quite small with one restaurant and bar whereas you have these factories with 15 restaurants, massive ballrooms, helicopter platforms, water parks and so much more.

While living in Abu Dhabi, I went to an American Community School with 150 plus nationalities and they offered different programs: I choose the IB program, where you’d have to do community service. One of the services was a trip to a poorer country and volunteering in construction for example. The United Arab Emirates is a bit of a spoiled part of the world, so to do something like that, showed me how fortunate I could grow up. Our school did the entire fundraising: buying the bricks, the cement, and everything else. Then we went to physically build these houses and I loved it so much on the first trip that when I came back, I said to my parents, if I have another opportunity to do this I want to do it again Not everybody is as lucky as me growing up and I contributed to 4 homes in two different countries that people live in now. It was a great learning opportunity. not everybody is that lucky and I’m happy that I was able to contribute even though it’s just a small thing it’s amazing thinking that there’s in two different countries there are houses where I’ve contributed, and people are living there, it was a great learning opportunity.

So, I ended up studying hotel management in the Netherlands after students at a hotel school held a presentation about studying hospitality. I wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted to work in hotels, but I was able to do one of the graduate programs with Starwood hotels for 18 months. I explored different departments: housekeeping, selling signature cakes in the hotel café, front office, reservations, revenue management, and ended up in sales.

I experienced so much while working in hotels, you work at certain events where people pay a lot of money to be there, and you get paid to be there. Yes, you’ll have to work but you’ll also get to experience the event, I was at the Formula One race track event at the W Abu Dhabi – Yas Island hotel, the only hotel built on a Formula One race track or I lived on the Maldives for two years, played tennis with one of the Wimbledon winners, had dinner with a Victoria’s Secret models: these are experiences money can’t buy. With regards to your career if you stay hungry and you stay flexible, you’re willing to take risks you’ll be able to grow very fast as well.

I also did an internship in China and thought it would be very much like Dubai and everybody would be speaking English, but it was super challenging. We had 567 rooms and 15 people that spoke English very well, so they put me in the lobby and greet guests and chat with people. I wasn’t learning anything, and it frustrated me but that was what they were looking for. I also worked in Vienna, and they were looking for a graduate management trainee that needed to speak German they got back to my CV and saw that I did. But I had lived in Germany for a little bit, and I could have conversations but working day in and day out in German then becomes very hard. So, if you’re willing to take these risks if you’re willing to sort of immerse yourselves in these different cultures that will only grow you and you’ll get a better understanding of people and cultures and that will make you good in hotels and being hospitable.

What I enjoyed about the sales aspect is that you have a connection with the guests, different corporate companies, and travel agencies, but it’s more structured compared to the front office or fnb. My working hours are also something I appreciate I don’t have to work on the weekends or public holidays, but if I want to or need to, I can get operationally involved and make contracts or negotiate rates. For me, being in sales is the perfect way of building relationships with people being operationally involved but also not too involved you must be there in the middle of the night or on Christmas or New Year’s.

I take care of three hotels and their entire sales side. I lead a team of 8 to 9 people and together we take care of the hotels. I love to grow people; I love to motivate them and get the best out of the team. If the team is successful, that will make me successful. When I first started working, I was always the person to voluntarily came in on a Saturday and sacrifice my weekend but now I reached a point in my career in which I would have a team to come in for me, but I know how hard my team is working so I will come in on the weekend, so they don’t have to worry about that.

Throughout my journey, two people inspired me a lot. One was a sales executive at the time at a hotel in China, he started his career in Chinese hotels. When he saw how frustrated I got in China, he took me into the sales team as his intern: learning a bit about sales or photocopy stuff. Normally that wouldn’t happen, but he saw what a miserable time I had and tried to make it better for me. I ran into him on a business trip last September to India and we caught up on all the things that have happened and found out we’re both working for Marriott now. I’ll forever be grateful to him for seeing something in me and helping me out.

The other was the director of Human Resources at the hotel in Vienna. I came in young and motivated and felt like I was going to change the hospitality industry, but found it hard to integrate into Vienna as it was another form of communication compared to what I grew up with. I would run into her office, frustrated and hot-headed, and she would just sit and chat about things sometimes I learned something, and sometimes it was just a good chat about things. Nevertheless, she always made me put things into a different perspective to understand better and that’s something I try to do with my team nowadays too. Whenever someone on my team walks in and has a question or is frustrated about something, I try to change their perspective and let them think about it another way. I learned a lot over the past years, but these are two people that I’m still in touch with and that I admire and look up to.

When working in hospitality, you must be passionate; you must find a job that makes you happy; this is what will help push you forward and allow you to grow. I enjoy working with people, motivating them, and getting the most out of them in the team. If the team succeeds, I will succeed as well.”