One Team One Voice

Late nights, early mornings, and working through holidays are all in a day’s work in hospitality. Ignace Bauwens, the new CEO of Hand Picked Hotels, is also no stranger to this. We spoke to him about his passions and inspirations, the importance of teamwork, and the ambitious plans for Hand Picked Hotels working alongside Julia Hands, Chair, and former CEO.

A man with an enviable career record working for some of the world’s biggest names in luxury hospitality. Highly experienced in leading from the top, not only does Ignace boast an impressive CV, but the most obvious thing that comes across when talking to him is that he cares. He cares about the job and he cares about continuing the hard work and supporting the legacy alongside Julia Hands and Guy Hands – owners of Hand Picked Hotels.

When Ignace was first introduced to Guy and Julia, two things were evident to him: they cared about the heritage of these exquisite properties and cared about the people within the Hand Picked family. They stressed the need for continuous improvement and investment in properties to enhance the guest experience, shared values that made Ignace the perfect man for the job. As he explains, “Meeting Guy and Julia, their passion and vision for the group’s future shone through. Julia has a dream, and I am proud to be the person chosen to help bring that dream to reality. I am passionate about carrying on her vision, and we will go from good to better to the best together.”

Ignace joins at a pivotal time, and as the group undergoes an ambitious transformation across its twenty-one strong portfolio to deliver an exceptional guest experience. “It’s a unique group, and to realize our ambitious vision, we need to take each step together,” Ignace says. “With Julia’s patronage and Guy’s guidance, we will elevate our properties to new heights, and we are excited to be already putting these plans in motion. Our gardens, for example, are a big focus, as they are such a passion for Julia and Guy. We have a whole team in place to look at our grounds and the strategy, and we are excited to be driving that forward.” Ignace continues, “We will go through a strategic process for each hotel, focusing on what we call the ‘Hotel Promise’, identifying what the hotel stands for and its promise. Once we understand that, we can consider the investments we need to bring that promise to life, to create magical memories for each and every guest.”

Ignace was so inspired by the individuality of the properties within the Hand Picked Hotels collection that he made the bold move of relocating his family from Dubai to take up the role of CEO, based in the UK. Ignace explains, “Every hotel is individual, and what we will do over the years is showcase that individuality by offering magical experiences that guests will never forget. I believe in the power of hospitality – every moment we create should be a Hand Picked moment, creating timeless stories and special memories for our guests to share for years to come.” Ignace highlights the role of empathy and inclusivity in leadership,

“People are the most important aspect of my life. We need support and teamwork to overcome challenges and achieve success, this applies to our families and our careers – it is all about people.”

I take a lot of energy from my teams, the people who work on the ground, day in and day out, to deliver these memorable experiences. Together, we can achieve great things – one team means one voice.”

He has a deep self-awareness and empathy for people and talks of the impact of his family on his life: the relationships with his wife, Nada, his mother and two daughters, Camille and Morgane, have all shaped his growth and influenced his career. “My grandparents helped shape me to be who I am today, as they raised me for much of my childhood.

“My father died when I was only seventeen and, of course, this changed things.” After his father’s passing, he helped his mother in her restaurant, marking the start of an illustrious hospitality career that took him away from his hometown, Knokke, by the Belgium seaside, to travel the world before setting up home in the Middle East for over 20 years.

“Over the years, I have worked with some great people from all levels of hospitality. Throughout my career, I have touched people’s lives, and they have touched mine in incredible ways. Following decades working with multinationals worldwide, I am pleased to see our world is now adapting and becoming more multicultural: you don’t see race, religion or colour, you just see the person, and everyone is equal. I think the world is a much better place if there is more empathy and respect.”

Ignace talks from a place of great insight, having moved countries while working for the most prestigious hotel groups, he has experienced adversity first-hand, particularly while working in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon during the conflicts. He explains, “It was an awful time, something nobody can imagine, but it also brought about some very special relationships. I was lucky; I flew back to a safe haven at the end of every week, but I saw people suffer and I saw poverty. We kept the hotels open for the teams, not the guests,” he continues. “There was one hotel where over 1,000 colleagues could have a daily meal thanks to its wonderful owners. Our team spirit just grew with the adversity and the hotels in the region increased their guest satisfaction score – for those still operating – and the region even came second in the global overall guest satisfaction performance! I had a team around me that supported me throughout, and although I was the leader, I couldn’t have done it without them. It is an experience I will never forget and showed the strengths of a winning team.”

It’s evident from our conversation that these experiences have profoundly affected his work ethic, and appreciation is a driver for both Ignace and those he works with. He says,

“I believe in counting your blessings every day. My standards are very high because I have to lead by example, but trust has always been the key and it’s how I work with my teams. Believe in your team, be transparent and open, and anything is possible.”

Ignace concludes, “People underestimate by far the hard work behind hospitality. It takes a special type of person to make the sacrifices of long weekends and missing out on special family times. But the satisfaction and inspiration that comes back from caring for others and creating those memorable moments is hugely rewarding. I am very much looking forward to this new journey.”