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The Five Star Feeling How Ammar Hilal is decoding guest emotions at Fairmont Dubai

Money talks Looking ahead to AHIC 2018

JANUARY 2018 | WWW.HOTELNEWSME.COM

How Middle Eastern hotels are catering for A-List celebrities


Contents

January 2018

Contents 10 | NEWS AED4.6 billion worth of deals struck at SIAL Middle East; RAK is the talk of the UN in Geneva; Hotel investment in MENA region is tipped to reach record levels 18 | TALENT Jennifer Pettinger-Haines, managing director Middle East at Bench Events talks about organising the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) 20 | CHECKING IN Radisson Blu’s new resort in Al Khobar opens; IHG launches new resort in Fujairah; ME Dubai announced for late 2018

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22 | OPINION The rise of social influencers and how hotels are dealing with it

10 News

18 Talent

20 Checking in

62 On the spot

January 2018 HOTEL NEWS ME

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Contents

January 2018

Contents

CEO Wissam Younane Wissam@bncpublishing.net

Director Rabih Najm Rabih@bncpublishing.net

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Senior Sales manager James Stead James@bncpublishing.net

Editor Patrick Ryan Patrick@bncpublishing.net

Art Director Aaron Sutton Aaron@bncpublishing.net

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Marketing Executive Mark Anthony Monzon Mark@bncpublishing.net

c o n t ribu t o rs Marouane Al Mandri

Photography Hayder Al Zuhairi

SUBSCRIBE subscriptions@bncpublishing.net

52 28 | COVER STORY How Middle Eastern hotels are catering for A-List celebrities 36 | GM INTERVIEW Amar Hilal, general manager Fairmont Dubai, in profile 40 | MONEY TALKS Looking forward to AHIC 2018 60 | Marketplace

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HOTEL NEWS ME January 2018

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For all commercial enquiries related to Hotel News ME contact patrick@bncpublishing.net All rights reserved Š 2014. Opinions expressed are solely those of the contributors. Hotel News ME and all subsidiary publications in the MENA region are officially licensed exclusively to BNC Publishing in the MENA region by Hotel News ME. No part of this magazine may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the publisher. Printed by UPP


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On the web Keep up to date with all the latest news, features and much more on our website. www.hotelnewsme.com

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HOTEL NEWS ME January 2018

here is no question that Dubai is a destination that is not afraid to flaunt the bling. Many people view it as a millionaire’s playground, a quick search for Dubai on Instagram will show there is a very good reason for that. It also comes as no surprise then to discover that hotels here have provided accommodation for some of the world’s most famous stars. Mariah Carey, Kim Kardashian, Tom Cruise and Will Smith are just some of the A-List names who have visited the region for various reasons - work, rest or play… this region has it covered. Obviously, given the high premium hotels here place on guest privacy, there is only so much that can be divulged but that hasn’t stopped us from picking the brains of some of the region’s most highly regarded hoteliers about what it takes to provide an A-list service for A-list names. It isn’t just Dubai that features though as we also speak to the general manager of Anantara Al Jabal Akhdar Resort in Oman – Darren Darwin. His comments are timely, not least, because Darren and the gang have joined the team here at Hotel News Middle East. Each month we will have a guest column from Darren and his senior team. There is no

question that great things have been done at the property and that’s why everyone at Hotel News Middle East is over the moon to be working with them. Elsewhere in this issue we speak to Ammar Hilal, the general manager of Fairmont Dubai. Our chat with Ammar offers a fascinating glimpse into life in charge of not only one of the most famous hotels in Dubai, but right across the world. It is a star-studded line-up this issue and I can’t wait for you to read it. Elsewhere in the very same issue we take a sneak peek at Arabian Hospitality Investment Conference (AHIC) and Gulfood – two events that are absolutely crucial to the hotel sector here in the Middle East. Big things are going to be happening here in the hotel sector of the Middle East – rest assured that you won’t miss a thing with Hotel News Middle East. I would just like to take this opportunity to personally wish you a happy new year and I look forward to spending 2018 with you – it’s a year that, knowing this industry, will be nothing short of eventful. Regards, Patrick Ryan


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Regional News

NEWS

For News, features and more, Visit www.hotelnewsme.com Follow us on twitter for breaking news: @hotelnewsme Follow us on Instagram to see what we’re up to: @Hotelnewsme Follow us on Facebook for up-to-the-minute breaking news Read the latest issue on: issuu.com/hotelnewsme

AED4.6 billion worth of deals struck at SIAL Middle East Organisers of SIAL Middle East have confirmed that deals worth AED4.6 billion were recorded at the eighth edition of the three-day exhibition – boosted by an increase in participants which attracted more than 26,000 visitors and experts from the food, beverage and hospitality industry. Thamer Rashid Al Qasemi, chairman of the organising committee for SIAL Middle East, said the results underlined SIAL’s regional and global position as the fastest growing business exposition strengthening the local food economy. Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Presidential Affairs and Chairman of Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA), the exhibition concluded on 14 December by honouring the 600 exhibitors that took part in donating the UAE Red Crescent’s Preservation of Grace initiative. The exhibitors were awarded certificates of appreciation in recognition of their participation in the initiative which was launched by ADFCA in line with country’s the Year of Giving, and saw roughly 30 tonnes of food exhibited at SIAL Middle East donated to charity. Al Qasemi said: “The in10

HOTEL NEWS ME January 2018

troduction of the Red Crescent’s Preservation of Grace programme was to help promote the Year of Giving initiative both locally and internationally, as well as to introduce a culture of tolerance and giving.” Believing SIAL Middle East to be a crucial event for industry professionals, Al Qasemi said it is the key component to addressing ways to narrow the gap between supply and demand across the region, by providing innovative and diverse alternatives to meet the needs of the consumer. He said: “By hosting SIAL Middle East over the last eight years, the emirate of Abu Dhabi has demonstrated its exceptional potential in organising large-scale international

events and exhibitions, and its excellence in their management to compete with similar global events. “The results of this year’s edition show the emirate’s leadership in adding value to the events it hosts and organises. SIAL Middle East has become an ideal platform for international companies operating within the food and hospitality industries, and is a driving force for entrepreneurs to expand their projects and investments.” ADFCA has already begun its preparations for the ninth edition of SIAL Middle East in order to maximise return for exhibitors and to increase the number of visitors in line with the agenda of Abu Dhabi’s activities. Co-located with SIAL,

the Abu Dhabi Date Palm Exhibition is set for a significant expansion in terms of space and number of exhibitors in 2018. Al Qasemi added: “Expanding the Abu Dhabi Date Palm Exhibition stems from ADFCA’s enthusiasm to develop the date palm sector in the country and to provide local producers with an opportunity to build new partnerships that promote the Emirati dates worldwide, enhancing the national economy and develop date palm industries.” One of the highlights of SIAL Middle East was the victory of Emirati citizen Ibrahim Al Mallouhi who took home the top honours in the prestigious National Competition for Preparing Coffee.


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Regional News

Hotel investment in MENA region is tipped to reach record levels The Arabian Hotel Investment Conference 2018 (AHIC) is forecasting significant opportunities for hotel investors targeting the Middle East in light of new data from MEED Projects, which predicts that more than US$14bn worth of hotel construction contracts will be awarded in 2018. According to MEED Projects, the online projects tracking service, the value of new hotel investments in the MENA region could hit a record high in 2018. Ed James, director of Content and Analysis at MEED Projects, said: “After a relatively subdued 2017 up to end of November which has seen US$5.45bn worth of new hotel construction contracts awarded, the value of hotels due to be awarded next year is more than US$14bn. “This total would comfortably exceed the US$8.5bn awarded in 2016 and the previous record of US$11.9bn awarded in 2015.” James added: “On the back of its forecasted performance, investment in hotels will comprise about 7 per cent of the total US$200bn scheduled projects spending in the MENA region next year, making it one of the most important construction subsectors.

“On a country basis, the UAE will be by far the largest market, with an expected US$8.4bn worth of contracts, followed by Saudi Arabia at US$1.9bn and Qatar at US$1.7bn.” These figures will be discussed at the 14th edition of AHIC, which will be held from 17-19 April 2018 at the purposebuilt AHIC Village in the grounds of the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, in partnership with Ras Al Khaimah Tour-

ism Development Authority (RAKTDA). Jonathan Worsley, chairman of Bench Events and Co-Founder of AHIC, said: “These new figures are exciting for the Middle East hospitality investment community, which gathers annually at AHIC. With oil prices now trading significantly higher than the January 2016 lows, we expect to see signs of recovery and stability in most regional economies.” He added: “There is still enormous potential for hotel development in this region, particularly as the industry seeks to diversify and we foresee significant growth in the mid-market and serviced apartments segments, particularly in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. With ‘Focus on the Future’ as our theme for AHIC 2018, the programme will include conference and networking sessions that tackle how to capitalise on these opportunities and maximise returns for the years ahead.” AHIC 2018, which promises to further knowledge, deepen existing relationships and forge new ones among the leaders of the hospitality investment community, will attract around 800 hotel investors, major developers, leading financiers, and C-level hotel executives to attend three days of content, networking and events.

RAK is the talk of the UN in Geneva Tourism in Ras Al Khaimah was very much on the agenda when Haitham Mattar, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) spoke on a panel at the closing ceremony of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, 2017. The panel, which was held in Geneva on 19 December, and Mattar participated in the session which aimed to reflect on the achievements of the the campaign against the three objectives set: 1. Raising awareness on the contribution of sustainable tourism to development 2. Mobilising all stakeholders in making the sector a catalyst for positive change 3. Fostering change in policies, business practices and consumer behaviour in tourism. “With a clear vision, RAKTDA is transforming its natural gifts into tourism assets to benefit all,” Mattar said.

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HOTEL NEWS ME January 2018

“In 2017 we sought investment and operation for the creation of three new ecofriendly adventure based projects on the UAE’s highest mountain Jebel Jais – positioning it as the nature adventure hub of the middle east, and complementing the offering of the neighbouring emirates.”


Regional News

GCC hotels to target Indian market

GCC hotels are making a concerted effort to target the Indian market. That’s according to Simon Press, senior exhibition director, Arabian Travel Market. He said that Indian millennial tourists are opting for a little and often approach when it comes to traveling, according to a recent survey. He urged GCC hoteliers and travel professionals to use Arabian Travel Market 2018 as a platform to showcase their facilities and promotional offers, in an attempt to capture a share of this multi-million visitor, market niche. Press said: “There are more than 400 million millennials in India. In terms of short break deals and offers this is sure to alert travel professionals and hoteliers throughout the GCC, being in such close proximity to their Indian neighbour. “The travel time from Mumbai to Dubai, in particular, is just over three hours, and from Mumbai to Muscat, just under three hours, putting both cities on the radar as prime short break destinations.” Olivier Harnisch, chief executive officer of Emaar Hospitality Group, said: “India has been a key market for us, as we continue to welcome visitors, especially millennials and entrepreneurs, on short and long-haul stays in our properties. The findings of the survey will further energise the UAE’s hospitality sector to diversify their offering – as we do at Emaar Hospitality Group – to offer unique choices that appeal to the young travellers. “Our brands Vida Hotels and Resorts and Rove Hotels in particular are preferred by millennial travellers from India, and we are also focused on expanding our footprint in the country, as we enjoy strong brand recognition in this important and fast-growing market. ATM is a key platform for us, and we will use the findings of the survey to showcase our strengths.” ATM takes places at Dubai World Trade Centre from 22-25 April 2018.

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Regional News

Supply and demand grows in Dubai

STR’s preliminary November 2017 data for Dubai, United Arab Emirates, indicates significant growth in supply and demand. Based on daily data from November, Dubai reported the following in year-over-year comparisons: • Supply: +5.6% • Demand: +2.7% • Occupancy: -2.7% to 87.0% • Average daily rate (ADR): -1.1% to AED754.11 • Revenue per available room (RevPAR): -3.8% to AED655.84 Demand (room nights sold) reached an all-time high for a November in Dubai, and occupancy was well above the November average (83.6%). Occupancy also eclipsed 90% four consecutive nights around the Dubai Airshow, which was held 12-16 November. STR analysts cite supply growth as the reason behind the year-over-year decreases in occupancy and ADR. STR provides clients from multiple market sectors with premium, global data benchmarking, analytics and marketplace insights. 14

HOTEL NEWS ME January 2018

New MD for Raffles Dubai and Sofitel Dubai Wafi

AccorHotels has announced the appointment of Ayman Gharib as managing director for Raffles Dubai and Sofitel Dubai Wafi. In his new role, Gharib will oversee two of the group’s Dubai based flagship properties which are part of the AccorHotels Luxury Brands portfolio. He will continue to lead the iconic Raffles Dubai where he oversees the property’s overall performance and strategic direction in addition to being tasked with the opening of Sofitel’s largest property in the Middle East, which is scheduled to open in 2019. Sami Nasser, chief operating officer, Luxury Brands, Middle East commenting on Ayman’s appointment said: “I am confident that Ayman’s expertise will be inspirational for the opening of Sofitel Dubai Wafi, as well as successfully continuing the next chapter of Raffles Dubai, following its milestone 10-year anniversary.

“Ayman’s charismatic and forward-thinking leadership approach enables the hotel to set industrywide benchmarks across all performance indicators and measures.” Gharib brings over 20 years of luxury hospitality experience in the Middle East to the role. Prior to joining Raffles, he worked for Ritz Carlton as executive assistant manager, Sharq Village & Spa in Doha, and later relocated to Dubai assuming a similar role for the pre-opening of The Address Dubai Mall by Emaar Hospitality Group in 2008. He joined Raffles Dubai as hotel manager in 2011 and three years later he was promoted to general manager. Gharib holds a Bachelor Degree in Hospitality Management and Tourism from Notre Dame University and a Master’s of Science in International Hotel Management from the University of Surrey, Guildford, UK.


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Talent

Looking ahead to AHIC Jennifer Pettinger−Haines, managing director Middle East at Bench Events talks about organising the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) What inspired you to launch AHIC? AHIC came into being after Bench Events’ Chairman, Jonathan Worsley, acted as an advisor to WTTC’s Global Travel & Tourism Summit in Doha in 2004. The event highlighted the enormous, and as yet untapped, opportunity for tourism in the Middle East and specifically a more focused event on hotel development and investment. What differentiates AHIC from other hospitality events in the region? AHIC differs from other hospitality events in that it is the only annual gathering specifically aimed at the Middle East’s hospitality investment community, rather than the travel or hotel industry. AHIC creates a knowledge and networking platform for global and regional investors of all backgrounds, offering essential insights to investing in hotels, showcasing regional and international hospitality investment opportunities and facilitating direct connections with hospitality industry stakeholders. Who is the person who has inspired you most in your career? I have been very fortunate in that putting together events such as AHIC & the Global Restaurant Investment Forum (GRIF) has given me amazing access to people who are really, really good at what they do and I genuinely find their passion and drive inspiring on an almost daily basis. However, I have to say that Susan Harmsworth MBE, the Chairman and Founder of ESPA has always been my benchmark. She is such an accomplished entrepreneur and business leader. Early on in my time at Bench I spent some time with her and advice she gave me has al18

HOTEL NEWS ME January 2018

ways stuck with me. Now she is on the Global Advisory Board for Bench Events and I am looking forward to working with her in a more formal capacity. How do you view the hotel scene in the region? When you are talking about the region it ranges hugely; from uber luxury, exciting openings and sexy hotels in almost oversupply in some markets, whereas there is a complete dearth of decent products available in others. However, it is still a young and inexperienced market which brings some challenges, such as owners who don’t have the same experience as they do in other parts of the world. This can be a blessing and a curse – in some cases, it results in a much higher stan-

dard of product – for example, it is not uncommon to see high quality specs and facilities in three-star properties that would make them a five-star in most other markets, whilst in other cases it can result in poorly managed and operated assets. It is one of the key reasons why AHIC is committed to facilitating conversations that help investors to make better informed decisions, so they can maximise their asset management. What is the biggest challenge of your role? The hospitality industry moves at such a fast-pace that there is always so much interesting content I want to include in the programme but there is only so much time over the course of the conference.


Talent

What is your favourite aspect of your role? Meeting such interesting people who are all excellent at their jobs and very passionate about what they do. Almost everyone I deal with is in the industry because they love it which I find incredibly inspiring. What is new for AHIC 2018? For the first time, AHIC is on the move, with the 2018 edition being held in Ras Al Khaimah in partnership with Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA). Together, we are creating a purpose-built AHIC Village on the beach of the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, which will feature purpose-built spaces for more than 800 delegates to conduct prearranged meetings onsite; pop-ups from innovative restaurateurs; activities for attendees to break the ice and strengthen relationships; informal beach bar networking areas and much more.

Bench Events has a long track record of delivering hotel investment conferences and forums across Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America – what factors stand out as being very specific to this region? In terms of the industry, it is still fairly young so behind the established markets such as Europe but, through time and forums such as ours, that is changing quickly. In terms of running events, the quality of the hotels and service is outstanding in the Middle East compared to other regions. We really are spoilt here. In Africa recently, we had a situation where the Head of State was due to arrive in five minutes and the conference room was dark as we had no power. In a lot of the world, you can’t take even the basics required for running an event for granted. What personal ambitions would you still like to fulfil? I am determined to learn Spanish! Bench Events recently acquired 50% of the

Work Experience

September 2014 – present: Managing Director Middle East at Bench Events, Dubai, UAE November 2008 – September 2011: Production Manager at Bench Events, Dubai, UAE September 2006 – October 2008: Project Manager, Terrapinn, London, UK July 2005 – August 2006: Researcher, Network Ten, Sydney, Australia South America Hotel Investment Conference which last year held events in Cuba, Buenos Aires and Costa Rica. I would love to be able to work in these markets and take the opportunity to travel around the region. Pero mi español es muy malo.

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Checking in

Radisson Blu’s new resort in Al Khobar opens Radisson Blu has opened its first resort in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Radisson Blu Resort, Al Khobar Half Moon Bay is home to 137 rooms, suites and private chalets. Tim Cordon, area senior vice president, Middle East, Turkey and Africa, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group said:“We are delighted to bring the Radisson Blu brand to Al Khobar, and increase our presence across the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. “The Kingdom has been and continues to be a key strategic focus for the group in line with the Saudi Vision 2030, which promotes economic diversification

and tourism growth. We are proud to be making our own contribution to this sector growth with 38 hotels in operation or under development across the Kingdom.” Wassim Tarabay, general manager of Radisson Blu Resort, Al Khobar Half Moon Bay said: “We are very proud to open this beautiful Radisson Blu resort in Al Khobar. I am confident that the unique combination of the resort’s location, its facilities and of course our renowned Yes I Can! service will prove to be a compelling option for family holidays and travelers looking for a perfect weekend getaway.”

IHG launches new resort in Fujairah

The InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) has announced the opening of its new resort in Fujairah. The InterContinental Hotel Group Fujairah Resort will be home to 190 guest rooms, 44 Club InterContinental Rooms and 38 suites. Pascal Gauvin, chief 20

HOTEL NEWS ME January 2018

operating officer, India, Middle East & Africa, IHG said: “We are delighted to announce the opening of our first InterContinental Resort in the Middle East. This marks an important milestone in our journey in the region, as we expand our luxury portfolio to ca-

ter to our luxury guests which include international visitors, residents of the UAE looking for an escape from their daily, hectic routine as well as business groups looking for corporate retreats and unique meeting destinations. “With its dazzling coast-

line, majestic mountains, palm orchards and deep wadis, combined with a rich heritage, Fujairah is fast emerging as a tourist haven that lures the most discerning travellers. We are looking forward to our guests experiencing the sophistication and style of the InterContinental life we have become renowned for.” Rabih Karam, chief executive officer, Al Ain Holding added: “We are delighted to partner with IHG to bring the first InterContinental Resort in the Middle East. Fujairah is fast emerging as an exciting travel destination in the region, and the opening of this landmark hotel is adding a new dimension to the luxury offering and will contribute to the tourism development of the Emirate.”


Checking in

ME Dubai announced for late 2018 Luxury lifestyle hotel brand, ME by Meliá, has announced its debut property in the Middle East with the launch of ME Dubai – which is expected to open at the end of 2018. ME Dubai will consist of 93 rooms and suites, across 19 floors, the Suite ME, as well as 98 serviced apartments. Gabriel Escarrer, vice chairman and CEO, at Meliá Hotels International, said: “We are incredibly excited to open ME Dubai, our first property in the Middle East. Dubai is a fascinating, exciting city, known for its progressive feats of design; all of which are characteristics that resonate with ME by Meliá hotels and the high standards we offer our guests. We are incredibly excited to open ME Dubai, our first property in the Middle East, in partnership with Omniyat to bring Zaha Hadid’s vision to life. “We’re confident that our unwavering commitment to exemplary service, coupled with Zada

Hadid’s remarkable design and ROKA’s sumptuous cuisine will make for an unparalleled experience for our guests in Dubai.”

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ME Dubai will take residence in the 95-metre high Opus building, situated in the upcoming Burj Khalifa district in Downtown Dubai. Mahdi Amjad, chairman and CEO at Omniyat, said: “The architectural wonder of The Opus requires a hotel partner that can resonate with its design and lifestyle appeal. We’re very proud and happy that ME by Melia is that partner and look forward to the first ME hotel in the region opening in The Opus.” There are currently ME by Meliá hotels in Miami, Milan, London, Ibiza, Mallorca, Madrid and Cabo, with further openings in Sitges in 2018 and Barcelona in 2019.

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Opinion

The rise of social influencers In the first of a series of monthly columns from the team at Anantara Al Jabal Akhdar Resort, Firas Rashid, director of sales and marketing looks at the rise of social influencers…

W

ith social media now dominating our media consumption, influencer marketing has become one of the most effective ways for hotels to attract guests, opening up a new channel to connect directly and increase buzz. In the past, we have turned to Hollywood and Bollywood actors, musicians and athletes to spread our message, however in recent years this has begun to change. “Influencers” normal people who are trusted by a large audience - are increasingly overshadowing celebrities and traditional media to become powerful marketing tools due to their online fame and credibility. Let’s go back a few years to recall how all of this started. Facebook was founded in 2004, followed by Instagram in 2010. They developed their platforms and apps based on consumer behaviours, providing guests with the ability to record their life experiences instantly and share with their followers. This has turned the traditional model on its head, limiting TV, print and radio and connecting audiences in real-time campaigns. Unlike a celebrity who has been in the public eye for many years, influencers are far more relatable and approachable, resulting in their followers tending to trust their recommendations. The most effective platform for hotels is currently Instagram as it relies on visuals, providing the opportunity to showcase the best of a hotel product through photos and real live videos (Instagram stories). However, when working with influencers we do aim for an integrated approach, using multiple platforms to ensure maximum effectiveness for a campaign. Firstly, it is important that we find the right influencers to engage with. They 22

HOTEL NEWS ME January 2018

don’t necessarily need to have the highest amount of followers, however they do have to fit with our brand and drive engagement with people who are likely to stay with us. As you can imagine, we receive a huge amount of requests from people claiming that they are influencers, so it is vital that we have a strong PR and marketing team who can evaluate each one by researching their demographics and target markets in order to determine whether they are the right fit

for our brand. Unfortunately in this region, influencers who buy fake followers are a common problem, so we have the tools in place to spot this too. Once we’ve identified influencers to work with, we need to decide how to compensate them for their posts and content. At Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, we are fortunate enough to have a valuable offering when it comes to influencers due to the fact that we’re relatively new and the resort is luxury and photogenic. We are therefore able to work with influencers on a barter basis, with most influencers enjoying a complimentary stay alongside meals and an array of tailored activities. However, because no payment exchanges hands, we have no control over the content and number of posts received. We work closely with our PR agency to navigate this, and more often than not the risk pays off. If done right, influencer marketing can be the most cost-effective and fastest growing channel to build awareness and revenue. That being said, a significant part of our marketing campaigns still relies on traditional media. Since opening last year, Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort has been reviewed by a multitude of journalists from high-profile publications, which not only reach our target audiences but also add third party credibility from a reliable and professional source. To summarise, working with social media influencers is a great way to drive engagement and sales, however it is vital to choose who you work with carefully and incorporate it as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy that integrates both traditional media and digital media.


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Opinion

The connection game Frederick Sabty, vice president of Hospitality Solutions, Avaya International on how upgrading communications can empower employees and enhance the guest experience

A

s the popular Maître d'hôtel, Fred Sirieix, quintessentially described the art of service, “If you get the hospitality right, the food tastes better". This can also be said about the hotel guest experience. Once you get the hospitality right, a night in your hotel becomes much more memorable. For today’s hyper-connected guests, getting the hospitality right increasingly means delivering a digitalised experience. The opportunities to create memorable experiences before check-in, during a guest’s stay, and even after the guest has left the property are all owned by hotel employees - they just need to have the right tools to innovate. Based on findings from our recent GCC Customer Experience in Hospitality Survey, Avaya has determined three ways hotels can empower employees to deliver memorable experiences throughout their guests’ hotel stay. Facilitate communication beyond phone and email With GCC countries having some of the world’s highest smartphone penetration rates, it comes as no surprise that 89 per cent of GCC travellers say they use hotel mobile apps for a variety of tasks. Today’s travellers also prefer to book their rooms digitally, with respondents selecting online travel agents (OTA), hotel websites, and hotel apps as their top three preferred booking methods, emphasising the importance of supporting multichannel communications within the hotel booking process. Global OTAs such as Trivago and Hotels.com have already started to offer Arabic language platforms aimed at attracting this growing digital population of the region.

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Upgrade your in-room experience Many properties feature outdated inroom devices that are only capable of connecting guests to basic services, such as the hotel reception. Smart devices connected through the IoT, however, provide a much wider range of functions that enable guests to not only communicate better, but to control their environment, too. Today four in 10 hotel guests in the GCC expect to control in-room hotel amenities such as entertainment, lighting and temperature from their room phone. Beyond this, 36% of guests would like to use the phone to engage with hotel staff via chat and messaging apps, not just over voice. Integrate mobile into daily workflows Empowering hotel employees with unified communications and collaboration solutions on the go is one of the highest-impact drivers in building a superior guest experience. After all,

rarely do hotel employees stay in one spot, and yet they constantly need to be in contact with each other. The solution here is integration. For instance, putting a call on hold from a distressed guest, trying to locate a missing item, may be the only thing that a services agent with limited communications capabilities can do. Imagine if that guest is about to board a flight, and the agent has a limited amount of time to contact hotel security. Upgraded communications tools and mobile apps could simultaneously connect the guest with the security lead on the property, who in turn would find the lost item while the guest remains on the call or chat. Not only will this prompt the guest to leave a positive-review online, but the hotel will also grow their brand equity. This is what guests are willing to pay a premium for. Getting the guest experience right is vital, with 44% of GCC consumers saying they wouldn’t give a hotel a second chance in the event of bad service. Keeping Up For GCC’s hyper-connected guests, seamless service is a must if hotels want to boost their revenue per-available room (RevPAR) rates. Keeping up with the rapidly developing digital world and meeting the demands of today’s guests is more straight forward than it may seem. The goal should always be to greet guests at their convenience, personalize their stay and create unique moments they will recall when they need a place away from home. A significant part of that involves empowering employees to be agile and equipping your property with streamlined communications solutions.


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Cover Story

An a-list service

Hotel News Middle East talks to some of the industry leaders about how they cater for A−List celebrity guests...

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Cover Story

Diana's Point at the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort was named after the famous British Princess who stood at that very point.

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In recent years, Oman has entered the world stage as a luxury destination thanks to government efforts as well as its stunning landscape, rich culture and welcoming hospitality,” Darren Darwin, general manager, Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort It is not uncommon to turn on socialmedia and read that celebrities such as Will Smith, Justin Bieber, Mariah Carey, Kim Kardashian and Tom Cruise are currently spending some much-needed vacation time in the Middle East. The region’s hotel industry is synonymous with glitz and glamour and is the envy of the world, and rightly so. With that mind, Hotel News Middle East decided to discuss how the industry manages to cater for world-famous guests. The first question that had to be asked was, despite some negative headlines about challenging conditions across the globe in terms of the fiscal climate, is the Middle East still popular with A-List celebrities. “Absolutely. Although A-list celebrities have the means to visit any destination imaginable, they choose to come back to Dubai time and time again – and it’s not hard to see why. Dubai’s reputation as the ultimate luxury destination is well deserved,” says Seema Pande, 30

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commercial director at Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates. “The city has an exceptional range of hotels, villas and resorts offering elegance and – most importantly – privacy.” Pande says that when you add the weather, architecture and luxurious spas into the mix, plus incredible shopping, dining and nightlife opportunities, and an assortment of world-class sports, arts and entertainment events, you really do have the ideal destination for celebrities. Darren Darwin, general manager, Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, was equally ebullient about the Middle East’s standing – adding that Oman, in particular, has strengthened the region’s hand. “In recent years, Oman has entered the world stage as a luxury destination thanks to government efforts as well as its stunning landscape, rich culture and welcoming hospitality,” he says. “This in turn has resulted in it attract-

ing the attention of high profile celebrities, both from within the Middle East and across the world, who lead the pack by visiting the latest ‘on-trend’ destinations that offer world-class hotels and excellent flight connections.” Darwin says that Anantara Al Jabal Al Akdar Resort has garnered significant attention throughout the world, due to its spectacular mountaintop location and sensational views. It is this unique offering, Darwin says, that has made his property such an attractive prospect for celebrities. “Our remote location means we’ve had the opportunity to host several celebrities at the resort, the majority of which are looking for somewhere to escape for privacy and exclusivity,” he says. “With a large selection of villas complete with private infinity pools and personal villa hosts, we are the perfect choice for those seeking discretion. Several of the villas even have private en-


Cover Story

Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort Royal Mountain Villa Master Bedroom

trances for cars so they can arrive without being seen and spend the entire time relaxing and in the seclusion of their villa overlooking the canyon.” Darwin points out that he takes a handson approach to VIPs and celebrities. “I personally handle all enquiries and arrangements to ensure they have a memorable and peaceful stay, away from people asking from autographs and photographs,” he says. “We normally work closely with their teams to devise an itinerary based on their preferences, whether it’s activities, spa treatments or dining. For example, we recently had a high-profile celebrity and his family stay with us and he wanted to spend as much time as possible doing fun activities with his children so we arranged mountain climbing, a guided trek to the nearby villages and a special dinner in their villa.” While celebrities can be demanding, Darwin says, the key is to make sure

they are treated the same as all guests – and that all patrons at the property are given a service that is second to none. Pande says that each guest is different, including celebrities, which means each guest has a unique set of requests. “That said, our experience of hosting celebrities is that most don’t come with a wild list of demands, more a request to have everything as normal as possible,” she says. “From our side, there is obviously a need for specific communication around in-house VIP guests to ensure recognition of their needs, and we always recommend celebrities stay in the exclusive Aspen Chalets, which affords them more space and privacy.” Celebrities, like anyone else, appreciate that extra personal touch, says Pande. “We will often prepare customised amenities, which could be anything from their favourite flowers or their favourite drink or perhaps a sweet treat specially

Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates

customised by chef. It’s really about the little touches that make their stay more memorable,” she says. It is a sign of their professionalism that both Darwin and Pande refuse to discuss the identities of some of the celebrities who have stayed with them – much to Hotel News Middle East’s disappointment. However, we did get to ask how do other guests react to celebrities in their midst. “From time to time a guest might want to take a photo, but they generally appreciate that, just like them, the celebrity may want some privacy,” says Pande. “Of course, some celebrities are very open and willing to do it, especially if they are in town for work reasons, and you can tell if they are comfortable with the situation.” It’s a similar situation in Oman according to Darwin. “We tend to find that celebrities can enjoy the resort without guests disturbing them,” he says. January 2018 HOTEL NEWS ME

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“They may ask for the odd photo, however this doesn’t happen often as the majority of our guests are used to spending time in environments where they might rub shoulders with celebrities.” Darwin gives the example of a famous British actor who stayed in the property with his family and how the hotel staff were able to make his stay more enjoyable. “They’d booked two different room/ villa categories so he and his wife were located on the other side of the resort from their children,” he says. “Luckily, our three-bedroom Royal Mountain Villa was available, so we managed to upgrade them and provided them with a barbecue dinner on the terrace. He was overjoyed, particularly as his job involves a lot of time away from his family, so he really relished this quality time with them.” It sounds like smooth-sailing with celebrity guests but as Darwin and Pande illustrate – it is not without challenges. 32

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Aspen Pool Chalet, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates


Cover Story

Aspen Chalet Living Room, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates

“Depending on the celebrity, they may come with some specific security arrangements but, in those instances, there is a detailed briefing to ensure any plans are effectively implemented,” says Pande. “Aside from that, it is no different to how we approach all our discerning guests – we want them to leave having had a memorable stay and looking forward to coming back again.” Darwin adds: “There are often last-minute changes due to their busy schedules, whether it’s a late arrival or change of dates. “Also, they tend to book very last minute over busy periods such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve or Eid, which makes us hard to secure the room type they want or extras such as spa treatments and activities. However our teams are very well versed in handling these situations, and always manage to pull it off for them.” It seems that the Middle East is still very much high on the celebrity radar when it comes to vacations.

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January 2018 HOTEL NEWS ME

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GM Interview

The

5-star Feeling At the iconic Fairmont Dubai, general manager Ammar Hilal is decoding guest emotions to create the ultimate luxury experience

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hen it comes to measuring a hotel’s performance, the conventional indicators are closely tied to the bottom line – the number of guests in the property, the rate they pay per night, etc. However, figures tell only half the story. Demand peaks could drive a full occupancy but, if some guests leave unhappy, reputation will soon reverse the results. So imagine if hoteliers could measure – and instantly act on – the emotions of each guest in order to create superior levels of engagement and satisfaction for each and every check in. According to Ammar Hilal, general manager of Fairmont Dubai, this might be the future of hospitality: no guest feedback form, no happy face buttons on the concierge desk and no “twominute” mobile survey. Up to the digital revolution, Hilal foresees the implementation of an emotional measurement tool which uses a web-cam and software to detect micro-movements in facial expressions, the temperature of skin and even a person’s heart rate – crucially the technology does not include facial recognition. Simpler versions, with a more plug and play approach, are a simple barometer of an individual’s positive and negative energy. It’s a favourite within the advertising industry and a tool of intrigue for academics around the world. Cementing its place in the business tech repertoire of the future, Apple, Facebook, Google

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and Amazon have all invested in the technology. Is it simply a matter of time before it reaches hospitality? Hilal says: “Customer experience has made significant progress in using metrics to measure overall satisfaction, but when it comes to emotions, this approach doesn't work. Traditional metrics are simply not enough. If you want to understand your guests' emotions, you should consider instant solutions or constant unobtrusive interaction in order to pre-empt their needs and desires and to take care of them before they reach a potential “pain point” during their stay with you.” “I think the future is all about how you measure emotions. We have a Minister of State for Happiness in the UAE, which showcases the government's commitment to provide services that achieve customer happiness and I believe, hotels should also invest in designing intelligence platforms and advanced tools that allow you to measure the guest’s experience and drive high satisfaction ratings.” Positioning ahead of the curve, Hilal would like to prioritise such implementation at Noire, Fairmont Dubai’s ground-breaking dine in the dark concept, which starves the sense of sight in order to heighten taste, smell and touch. Guests will be invited to measure their positive and negative energy by placing their finger on a sensor before and after the meal, to demonstrate how stress levels decline during the experience.


GM Interview

A clear strategy can only be formulated once you have a good understanding of the existing operation and a good idea of the competencies of the team, so you can achieve your targets.�

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Hilal explains: “Noire has been extremely popular because it removes visual cues which overstimulates the other senses that contribute to taste. The philosophy is if you are in the dark you have a much higher sense of taste, texture and smell. We will soon add a feature to measure guests’ emotions on arrival and departure at Noire, and demonstrate how stress levels decline after the meal. It really completes the Noire story.” Creating wow factor Recognising guests’ emotions is only part of the plan to keep ahead of the competition, as Dubai opens more than 120 new hotels in the run up to 2020. Celebrating its 15th anniversary in May 2017, Fairmont Dubai was the first Fairmont hotel outside the US and Canada and the first true 5-star property on the emirate’s arterial Sheikh Zayed Road. A default flagship in the global portfolio of more than 70 properties, Fairmont Dubai’s reputation is founded on spacious rooms, great social scene, excellent dining and a strategic location. Since arriving to lead the hotel’s 540-strong team in June, Hilal has been heavily engaged in learning about the building, its people and guests, leading open and closed discussions with team members and laying down the groundwork to truly create a roadmap to success. Hilal begins: “A clear strategy can only be formulated once you have a good understanding of the existing operation and a good idea of the competencies of the team, so you can achieve your targets.” In doing this, Hilal draws on a vast experience working in four continents, nine countries including, London, New York, Hawaii, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Mauritius, to name a few. He has twice worked at Burj Al Arab, most recently as hotel manager. He says: “I am delighted to be taking the helm of Fairmont Dubai, especially at such an exciting time in the hotel’s legacy. I am also fortunate to work with a very dynamic and motivated team.” After months of observations, and 36

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GM Interview

The increased competition among hotels is necessary and healthy but we prefer to believe that we are not in competition with anybody but ourselves.�

January 2018 HOTEL NEWS ME

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with next year’s budget now in place, Hilal’s collaborative roadmap for the future of Fairmont Dubai is now in execution mode, and he wants each team member to feel a sense of pride and ownership over the plans. Work will focus on F&B and to maintain Fairmont’s relevance in Dubai’s highly competitive social scene. This includes a plan to renovate Bridges Sports Bar; expand the popular Pronto café, a day-time favourite catering to the residence and office tower; and add new dining concepts, including an afternoon tea in the lobby lounge and a family brunch. In Q2, 2018, the all-day dining restaurant, Cascades, will potentially undergo an upgrade to enhance interaction between chefs and diners. Although a full refurbishment is planned in the coming years, the hotel recently completed a multi-million dollar lobby renovation and made some adjustments to its rooms and suites. With demand for extended stay accommodation on the rise, kitchenettes have been installed in some one bedroom units, 38

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with many removable to retain flexibility to the market’s needs. Explaining the approach, Hilal says: “Every hotel has to renovate from time to time, whether it be minor improvements or a complete facelift. What is even more important, however, is to consider the timing, competition, market economics, latest trends, which all enter the equation as to when a renovation should take place. Hence, we are currently studying all factors that can achieve the strongest returns.” Leading from the heart If there was a guide to being a hotel general manager, it might begin with tips such as “forge a strong team ethic” or “focus on providing an exceptional guest experience”. For Hilal, joining a hotel that already meets many of these criteria, that’s only the start. A significant part of his focus over the coming months will remain on the team, identifying those who are ready for their next career progression and, as always, making sure everybody is happy.

Always keeping an eye out for the next leader, Hilal prides himself on driving team members’ development, saying: “I often push people to go out of their comfort zone. When people challenge themselves, they find more opportunities to make a difference and turn up amazing results.” The focus on happiness is already generating ROI. The hotel has enjoyed strong performance in the second half of the year, scooped prestigious awards underlining the team's commitment to delivering consistently high levels of service and, with a spectacular festive season and a packed events calendar for Q1, the hotel is looking forward to more success. Hilal concludes: “The increased competition among hotels is necessary and healthy but we prefer to believe that we are not in competition with anybody but ourselves. Therefore, our goal is to always beat our last performance. With this sustained level of energy, passion and the amazing family feel we have here in this hotel – I’m confident we will achieve more next year.”


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AHIC Preview

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AHIC Preview

Money talks

The forecast for hospitality investment next year is positive, according to speakers at AHIC 2018, the annual knowledge and networking platform for the hotel investment community

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he Arabian Hotel Investment Conference 2018 (AHIC) is forecasting significant opportunities for hotel investors targeting the Middle East in light of new data from MEED Projects, which predicts that more than US$14bn worth of hotel construction contracts will be awarded in 2018. According to MEED Projects, the online projects tracking service, the value of new hotel investments in the MENA region could hit a record high in 2018. Ed James, director of content and analysis at MEED Projects, said: “After a relatively subdued 2017 up to the end of November which has seen US$5.45bn worth of new hotel construction contracts awarded, the value of hotels due to be awarded next year is more than

US$14bn. This total would comfortably exceed the US$8.5bn awarded in 2016 and the previous record of US$11.9bn awarded in 2015.” James added: “On the back of its forecasted performance, investment in hotels will comprise about seven per cent of the total US$200bn scheduled projects spending in the MENA region next year, making it one of the most important construction subsectors.” These figures will be discussed at the 14th edition of AHIC, which will be held from 17-19 April 2018 at the purposebuilt AHIC Village in the grounds of the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, in partnership with Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA).

Jonathan Worsley, chairman of Bench Events and Co-Founder of AHIC, said: “These new figures are exciting for the Middle East hospitality investment community, which gathers annually at AHIC. With oil prices now trading significantly higher than the January 2016 lows, we expect to see signs of recovery and stability in most regional economies.” He added: “There is still enormous potential for hotel development in this region, particularly as the industry seeks to diversify and we foresee significant growth in the mid-market and serviced apartments segments, particularly in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. “With ‘Focus on the Future’ as our theme for AHIC 2018, the programme will include conference and networking January 2018 HOTEL NEWS ME

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sessions that tackle how to capitalise on these opportunities and maximise returns for the years ahead.” Partner of AHIC 2018, Haitham Mattar, CEO, RAKTDA, told Hotel News Middle East that hotel investors would need to rise to the challenge of meeting the shifting demands of travellers and the specific requirements of certain demographic and geographic groups, such as millennials, families, and baby boomers, as well as halal travellers and those from emerging markets such as China and India. “Investors need to understand these requirements and must also take into consideration from the outset which type of technology will drive the sector in the future – they need to consider this right at the beginning or risk becoming rapidly irrelevant,” said Mattar. He observed: “The biggest risk for hotel investors is not embracing the changes and challenges outlined above and expecting traditional business to keep on coming. It’s no longer a case of build it and they will come. It’s more a case of build what they want, and they will come. There’s a lot of competition on the global scene for the business of the new emerging markets. The hotel guest is now very much in the driving seat from the very design and product development phase.” Market specifics Drilling further into the data from MEED Projects on a country basis, James revealed the UAE will be by far the largest market, with a projected US$8.4bn worth of contracts expected to be awarded in 2018, followed by Saudi Arabia at US$1.9bn and Qatar at US$1.7bn. He observed: “Tourism growth in the UAE and Qatar has been boosted by Expo 2020 and the FIFA 2022 World Cup, while recent initiatives by Saudi Arabia to position itself as a tourist destination are also expected to act as a substantial catalyst for further hotel investment going forward.” This was backed up by Alain Debare, CEO of Action Hotels, a sponsor of AHIC, who said: “We believe that hotel development in Saudi remains the 42

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Haitham Mattar, CEO RAKTDA

Maad Hospitality Towers, Makkah

largest opportunity across the region. There are solid prospects in the Kingdom and the accelerating reforms are certainly a strong opportunity for midmarket hotels. “The UAE and specifically Dubai are also very active and leading the way in promoting the region. Expo 2020 Dubai is clearly a strong opportunity and an excellent showcase for the entire region.” One of the cities in Saudi Arabia in need of additional room supply is Makkah, where Jeddah-based Maad International is working to add 11,000 rooms to the market. Chief hospitality

officer at Maad International, Abdellah Essonni, a member of the AHIC Advisory Board who will be speaking at the event in April, is optimistic that the Kingdom’s bold efforts to diversify its economy away from the current dependence on oil will put tourism centre-stage. “According to the Saudi Council of Economic and Development Affairs, tourism’s contribution to the GDP will go from a current 3.5% to over 10% by 2030,” Essonni told Hotel News Middle East. “This will be made possible in part


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AHIC Preview

Alain Debare, CEO Action Hotels

by capitalising on religious tourism to promote non-religious destinations, cultural cities and archaeological sites.” Essonni added: “The ongoing expansion of the two holy mosques, the soonto-open King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, the recently launched high-speed Haramain railway linking Makkah to Madinah are just a few of the government’s infrastructure initiatives that are aimed at achieving the 30-million-pilgrims target by 2030 and at bolstering confidence in tourism investment, which, according to the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage (SCTH), is currently estimated at over SAR 151bn.” Looking at the opportunities by segment, experts forecast further growth in the mid-market. Jalil Mekouar, chief executive officer – Majid Al Futtaim Hotels, commented: “Given how saturated the Middle East markets are with luxury developments, there is great potential for the mid-tier hotels to grow and thrive, especially as they tend to be more resilient to economic ups and downs. “In addition to this, short stay business travellers are a growing group, creating a need for hotels to offer varying experiences that are easily accessible – such as is the case with our integrated in-hotel services and mall packages. By expanding our four-star segment with 44

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Jonathan Worsley, chairman Bench Events

Jalil Mekouar, CEO Majid Al Futtaim

new hotels, like the Hilton Garden Inn Dubai, Mall of the Emirates and Aloft City Centre Deira, Dubai, we found that customers care more about tangible entertainment and lifestyle experiences, over basic amenities.” Commenting on the outlook in general, Mekouar concluded: “We share a positive outlook for the Middle East’s hospitality industry in 2018, with strong market fundamentals in place and at-

tractive investment opportunities on the horizon, especially with regards to the mid-segment hotels. In a marketplace where tourists are increasingly seeking more meaningful travel experiences, there is scope to create additional demand by offering innovative services.” To find out about hotel investment opportunities, don’t miss AHIC 2018. Visit www.arabianconference.com to register.


Event preview

G ul food meg a sh ow to co ns o l i d at e UAE ’ s l ead r ol e i n gl obal f o o d agen d a

The first major global food industry event of the year will showcase thousands of new-to-market suppliers, innovative channels to market and benchmark global commodity prices‌

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Event preview

The 2018 edition of Gulfood, the world’s largest annual food and beverage trade event and the first major international food industry trade show of the year, will further strengthen the UAE’s lead role in setting the global food agenda, according to the exhibition organisers, Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC). Citing the long-established reputation of Gulfood as a key driver in fostering innovation across the local, regional and global food and beverage supply chain, DWTC officials revealed on-site sales generated by 95,000-plus buyers and visitors at Gulfood 2018 - which runs from 18-22 February - will contribute heavily to a global food market expected to generate revenues of USD3.03 trillion by 2020, according to Research and Markets, a Dublin-based market research company. With the global food market due to register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.5 per cent from 2015 to 2020, the UAE food and beverage market alone is anticipated to reach a valuation of AED82 Billion (USD22 billion) by the end of the decade, according to Euromonitor International. “In attracting the Middle East’s largest trade industry audience, generating huge transactional volumes every year on the show floor, and setting global foodstuff commodity prices, Gulfood is the region’s premier food and beverage industry platform – it underlines Dubai’s leading role in the global food sector,” said Trixie LohMirmand, senior vice president, Exhibitions & Events, DWTC. “With regional investment in food production on the rise, international manufacturers see the Middle East as a lucrative market for their products. In this dynamic climate, Gulfood continues to empower the global food and beverage community as an unmatched trading and knowledge platform that offers unrivalled market overviews and insights to industry professionals.” The bright forecast for Gulfood 2018 follows hundreds of major deals struck and initiatives launched at this year’s event, including US Beef regaining eligibility to ship beef products to Saudi Arabia, a USD31 million market. US January 2018 HOTEL NEWS ME

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exhibitors at the show reported on-site sales of USD85.5 million with forecasts of a further USD722 million in direct sales as a result of their participation, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS). The FAS also recruited 47 potential food and beverage suppliers - with a network spanning Asia, Africa, South Asia and the Middle East - to service US exporters at Gulfood 2017. In the UAE, Dubai-based gourmet snacks specialist Hunter Foods signed a lucrative deal with Chinese importers, while the Emirates Authority for Standardisation & Meteorology (ESMA) hosted the pioneering Global Halal Industry Platform. Following a successful debut in 2017, Gulfood 2018 will continue its sectorised approach to further increase accessibility and trading potential. Tens of thousands of finished food and beverages will be featured in halls dedicated to eight of the biggest commodity trading sectors: beverages; dairy; fats & oils; health, wellness & free-from; pulses, grains and cereals; meat & poultry; power brands and world food. With the pulses, grains and cereals and fats & oils sectors already close to being sold-out amid unprecedented demand, the meat and poultry sector is also tracking strong sales two months before the show. “For United States red meat exporters, Gulfood has a well-established reputation as the premier marketing event in the Gulf region,” said Philip Seng, President & CEO, US Meat Export Federation (USMEF). “Over the years, Gulfood’s footprint has expanded considerably and it’s now a key venue for exporters looking to grow their business in emerging markets in Africa, Asia and Europe.” New to the 2018 event is the Gulfood Discover Zone, where exhibitors will be able to apply for recently-launched products to be showcased in an exclusive and interactive lounge. The Gulfood Discover Zone will also feature a dedicated area for companies that have never conducted business in the MENA region before and are using Gul48

HOTEL NEWS ME January 2018


18 - 22 February 2018 Dubai World Trade Centre

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food as a market-entry opportunity. Finalists for the Gulfood Innovation Awards, which also return in 2018, will also be showcased in the Gulfood Discover Zone. Another new feature is the Gulfood Start-up Competition, which is designed to foster further innovation in the food and beverage supply chain. Open to aspiring food industry professionals or students, the competition will reward sustainable development and sociallyimpactful ideas that are either disrupting the old ways of doing business, or promoting healthier and environmentallycorrect practices. “Gulfood Start-up promises to be the region's most influential innovation enabler for the next generation of food industry pioneers,” added LohMirmand. “The competition will connect impassioned food technology entrepreneurs from across the Middle East with the region’s largest food technology and product buyers.” With more than 5,000-plus exhibitors expected at the 23rd edition of the event, Gulfood 2018 will feature more than 120 national pavilions including first-time participants from as far afield as Estonia, Serbia and Slovakia. The show will also see hundreds of international heads of state, ministers, government officials and scores of national trade associations eager to ink lucrative bi-lateral trade agreements among tens of thousands of anticipated visitors. Gulfood 2018 will also see the return of perennial features including Halal World Food, the world’s largest annual Halal food sourcing trade show; the annual Emirates Culinary Guild International Salon Culinaire; the world’s largest singleentry chef competition; and the Gulfood Innovation Awards, which recognise bestin-class excellence and innovation across the region’s food and drink industry. Gulfood 2018 is a trade event open strictly to business and trade visitors. The show is open 11am-7pm from February 18 - 21 and 11am-5pm on February 22. Visitors can pre-register for AED250 (USD68) at www.gulfood.com to save AED150 (USD40) on the on-site entry fee of AED400 (USD108). 50

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In Focus

Staying ahead of the curve

Despite now holding the title of the world’s sixth most visited city, Dubai’s strong hotel pipeline means that, with crowds, comes competition. General Manager, Glenn Nobbs, reveals how Copthorne Hotel Dubai is preparing to compete with 2,500 new rooms… within a five-kilometre radius

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n 2017, Dubai was named the world’s sixth most visited city in Euromonitor’s Top 100 City Destinations report, underlining the steep increase in visitors to the emirate over the course of the decade. Following an ambitious development agenda and the introduction of dozens of new attractions, arrivals soared from 8.4 million in 2010 to an estimated 16.5 million in 2017, placing the 20 million in 2020 target firmly in the crosshairs. This same agenda has spurred equally rapid development in the hospitality sector and currently Dubai tops another list – for the largest number of hotel rooms under construction across MEA. Historically, rapid development of any kind is what Dubai does best, but the increase in hotel stock is headline grabbing. The opening of Intercontinental Dubai Marina, in September 2015, took the emirate’s total inventory to 65,000 rooms. By October 2016, Dubai had reached the 100,000 milestone. Currently, the city leads regional pipelines, with 23,816 rooms under construction in 18 new hotels, and projections the emirate’s total stock could reach 134,000 rooms by 2018-end. While it’s great news for the near 18 million tourists expected to arrive this year, the hoteliers face another year of heightened competition and muted growth, compounded by the regional introduction of VAT. At Copthorne Hotel Dubai, part of the Copthorne Collection by Millennium Hotels and Resorts, general manager 52

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Given the current market and macro-economic scenario, 2018 will be tough. Locally, general spending habits following the introduction of VAT are unknown and will take some time to become the new normal.” Glenn Nobbs has rolled out a comprehensive strategy to keep the hotel ahead of the curve. In doing so, he draws on 25 years of operations experience, including three years at Copthorne Hotel Dubai, which earned him the title of General Manager of The Year from Millennium Group in 2016. In addition to Dubai, he has worked in Sydney and Muscat across mid-market and luxury resorts, city hotels and serviced apartments, as well as operating properties, new openings, and re-brandings. Historically, Copthorne Hotel Dubai enjoys strong performance across all

metrics: firmly within 5% of its GOP budget for the year; with a colleague engagement result of 86%; a 24% increase in guest satisfaction; and a year to date RGI above 100 within the STR compset. Enjoying a leisure dominant guest mix averaging 75%, the hotel’s key markets include the GCC, China, India, Germany and Iran, with a small percentage of extended stay guests. Positioned to offer views of Dubai Creek, the hotel offers 210 rooms and suites within a short drive of Dubai International Airport and major shopping and business centres. Despite the established surroundings¸ an estimated 2,500 new rooms will open within a five-kilometre radius of the 4-star Deira property in 2018. Looking to mitigate the impact and retain market share, the hotel is completing renovations across F&B, gym and pool facilities, with room enhancements due in the summer. Looking ahead, Nobbs says: “Given the current market and macro-economic scenario, 2018 will be tough. Locally, general spending habits following the introduction of VAT are unknown and will take some time to become the new normal. For 2018 overall, I think the hospitality industry will be flat compared to 2017. F&B outlets will find it tough to gain their market share, and each hotel will have to work extremely hard to win each piece of business. I think you can forget about loyalty – of both the customer and the colleague – unless you have something of real value to offer.”


In focus

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In focus

He continues: “This is already happening, but as each hotel is more and more aggressive with rate, and being more dynamic in its offering, guests will not value brand as much as a good deal. In addition, colleague loyalty will continue to be challenged with the number of new openings that will be created through the year.” Creating balance Although the supply and demand imbalance has clear-cut effects within a hotel, its impact beyond is far more complex. During the current period of oversupply, Nobbs has observed a change in booking patterns and has introduced new sales and marketing strategies to soften their bottom line impact – pioneered by a new sales team. He explains: “We work on an overarching annual strategy, along with our regional office, outlining our segmentation and target markets. This also includes our rate strategy for advance purchase, non-refundable offers, market specific offers, and so on. The sales team 54

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We work on an overarching annual strategy, along with our regional office, outlining our segmentation and target markets” then go to work with that plan in mind, and tailor it month to month based on seasonality, global events that increase or decrease certain segments from travelling, city-wide events, and other factors. Our revenue team then regularly update the rates on our website and the OTA’s.” The hotel has also increased its social media engagement, outsourcing to a dedicated agency and achieving a 250% increase in F&B followers in 2017, driving new customers to restaurants and

lounges. Building on the reputation of its F&B, outside catering will continue to grow, supported by recent investments in new kitchen equipment. Observing the influences of the wider market, Nobbs continues: “The traditional wholesale market has also moved online with many having both a B2B and B2C presence, so it is important the revenue department keeps involved here also. With this in mind, rate parity is going to be a big talking point in 2018, which I think will cause more disruption to the current OTA landscape than what Airbnb has.” Through his leadership, Nobbs has instilled a can do culture across Copthorne Hotel and this will provide an important USP in the coming months. Using flexibility to deliver what competitors cannot, Nobbs illustrates his point by highlighting the possibility of a boardroom meeting in a 12th floor penthouse, a banquet served in Jebel Ali or a day-long function in the restaurant. He comments: “Main priority is to ensure we continually work to improve our


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In focus

guest satisfaction results.” To do this he had adopted a “leadership by example” approach, based on empowerment, guidance and honesty. He explains: “If someone has the talk, then let’s see it in their walk also. In this region, there are a number of people who talk a great game, as they are so eager to climb the ladder quickly, but put them in the position and then see their efficiency and effectiveness. You need to be humble enough to know that every day we learn no matter what level you are at, and there is no race to the top. Take the time to learn all you need in the position you are in now.” New Year, new start With civil building work, refurbishments and redesigns underway, Nobbs is looking forward to a bumper 2018. The gym will feature the latest equipment by Cybex; the poolside terrace, Gazebo, will re-launch with new menus and furniture; and room fit-outs will include the latest technology and new furnishings. 56

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Importantly, Dubai will also welcome its fair share of new attractions: the 150-metre Dubai Frame, Mohammed bin Rashid Library, Bluewaters phase one and Deira Night Souq to name a few. With each positioned to wow a different market segment, this continued development will be a key component of rebalancing the supply/demand dynamic across the emirate. Nobbs says: “We have amazing new facilities across the UAE for the leisure travellers, and the government works hard to keep it attractive for corporate business also. Hoteliers have a big part to play in destination marketing. Every step you take, every sale you go for, each trade show attended is marketing not only for the hotel, but the destination. Why should someone stay in your hotel? Because they are first choosing the destination.” Dubai’s visitor numbers received a boost in 2017 with the visa process eased for Indian, Russian and Chinese travellers. Overall, arrivals increased 7.5% in the first nine months of the year with

23.81 million occupied room nights over the same period across 106,272 rooms. Dubai has a packed events calendar in 2018 across business, entertainment and music, and is re-gaining popularity with the Russian market, which recorded a 98% increase in visitors last year as the Ruble gains strength. India remained the number one source market, with an additional 19% growth, and Saudi Arabia took second place, despite a 3% decline. Nobbs adds: “In 2017 we saw the supply of hotel rooms out pacing demand, and if the STR forecast is correct, it will continue into this year as well. This naturally puts downward pressure on the rates, so it is a buyer’s market and, as mentioned earlier, 2018 will be a very interesting one to say the least.” Despite this, Nobbs is “quietly confident” about the year ahead, concluding: “We are enjoying RevPar and occupancy percentages that would make many other international city jealous. We have visitor numbers that continue to grow, so in all fairness, while business is challenging, it remains quite healthy.”


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Marketplace

Blue Ribbon leads the way with launch of new showroom Hotel News Middle East speaks to Blue Ribbon managing director Prakash Menon about his company’s new showroom. Menon believes the showroom sets Blue Ribbon apart as leaders when it comes to supplying top-end luxury to the hospitality industry – from fine china and premium cutlery to linen, furniture and more.

What sets Blue Ribbon aside from other companies in the same sector? It is the fact we are a people-driven company and our belief in assisting every client individually. We strongly believe in our company values, which is followed whole-heartedly by each member of the team. How important is this launch? This is surely a landmark and a historic moment in the story of Blue Ribbon. A showroom in the heart of the city on the Sheikh Zayed Road is something 60

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have been visualising for years and it is truly a dream come true. What are the trends you are experiencing at the moment in the industry? The market is like a cycle as what goes out comes back again. Currently the market is focusing more on Latin American flavours combined with a family style sharing concept. Another important change is the requirement and development of many budget hotels and also standalone premium restaurants.

What can you tell us about your company's plans for the next 18 months or so? Blue Ribbon has performed exceeding well since its inception seven years ago. The best part of our success story are our team members who have total commitment and we are proud to highlight that our staff turnover is zero. Success comes with team spirit and a crucial role has been played by our suppliers who have given us unprecedented support. With this team, we plan to march ahead and capture newer markets such as the growing restaurant business. We also have a new strategy for India, a market where we expanded to two-years ago. What are the products that you wish to highlight the most? It is more about the unique qualities of each of our brands, the flexibility to adapt to clients requirements and the focus to ensure quality is of top priority. I would like to highlight four brands in particular Narumi, C&P Celadon, La Tavola and Bed & Beyond (Our home grown bed linen).


Marketplace

Fonterra in the spotlight

Alastair Bruce - General Manager - Fonterra (GCC) speaks to Hotel News Middle East about what’s new for his company…

What is your latest product launch? Anchor Food Professionals Soft Style Cream Cheese What makes it unique? Full dairy ingredients from New Zealand processed in Saudi Arabia to formulate as per Middle East chefs’ demand. Globally trusted dairy, customized and made available locally. Why should businesses purchase your product? The new Anchor Food Professionals Soft Style Cream Cheese is the only cream cheese you will need - blends in perfectly with a wide range of sweet and savoury flavours, in both hot and cold applications. The soft, creamy texture allows fast mixing and together with its delicious, rich cream cheese flavour, consistently produces

the perfectly finished creation. It is designed for convenience - ready to use whenever needed, straight out of the refrigerator without the need for tempering, significantly reducing preparation times. Its outstanding bake stability and moisture retention assures a velvety texture and an appetizing glossy sheen. All these, for a much affordable price than other brands. What’s next for your company in 2018 and onwards? We continually find ways to drive performance to our customers’ businesses through new product development. We’ve also just recently launched another type of shredded mozzarella from Europe and few more new products underway. We also have trainings and workshops scheduled for our customers in our Innovation Centre.

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On the spot

Not sweating the small stuff

Seema Pande, commercial director at Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, is under the spotlight this month… What's the best thing about your job? The best thing about my job is that there is never a dull moment. Our industry is incredibly dynamic and things are constantly changing, so you always have to be on your toes and prepared for anything and everything to change at the last minute.

What made you choose this role? I love what Kempinski stands for, with its strong European heritage and commitment to luxury. This particular hotel, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, is also the flagship for the brand in the Middle East so the role naturally comes with high expectations and ambitious targets. To me, that makes the role even more appealing – I have the experience and the right team to deliver strong results but there is enough of a challenge to push me outside of my comfort zone. That is really important to me as the only way to grow is by finding out what you’re fully capable of.

What do you do when you're not working? When your days are spent always on the move, it is important to take the time to relax and recharging your batteries. For me, there is nothing better than spending proper, quality time with my family and hanging out with my friends. I also love to read and can always be found with a book nearby.

What's the best bit of advice you've ever received in the workplace? Very early on in my career, someone told me that ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get’ and it is a mantra that has guided me ever since.

a genuine Ottoman Imperial Palace and is simply stunning. It is located right on the Bosphorus and has a fabulous winter heated infinity outdoor pool which, I’m told, gives the sensation as if you are floating right there on the river. What a feeling!

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Can you tell us why you wanted to join this industry?

One of the things I love most about the hospitality, especially in this region, is that it is continually evolving, with new and unexpected opportunities around every corner. The one thing I can say for sure is that I will be surrounded by people I enjoy working with, who inspire me to do more and do it better.

I never had a plan to work in hospitality, I just fell into and have been on this fantastic journey ever since. The truth is that I wouldn’t have had it any other way – you could call it a very happy accident!

Tell us something that none of your colleagues know about you?

There are two things I always say to my team – the first one is to always expect the unexpected and, secondly, to roll with the punches (which really helps you to deal with the first).

I have a secret passion for horse riding. I have ridden for years and don’t have the chance to go as often as I would, but it really is one of the best feelings in the world.

If you could stay in any hotel in the world right now, where would you go? I love winter in Europe and, if I could, I’d hop right on a flight to Istanbul. I visited the city some time ago for work but didn’t get chance to explore and have always promised myself I’d go back. I would stay at the Çırağan Palace Kempinski – it is

What would you say to anyone who is starting out in your sector?

What's the worst thing about your job? I feel very lucky that I can honestly say there is nothing I dislike about my job. Of course, there are always days which are more challenging than others, but I have always looked on such times as opportunities to learn or perhaps even change, which makes me stronger and the job more interesting.

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