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How can we serve you...
September 2014 264

DUBAI’S design leaders assembled at a seminar led by Downtown Design, a new design trade fair in Dubai, concluding that quality interiors will drive the success of high-end real estate projects in the UAE. A report released earlier this year forecast the UAE real estate sector to reach $315 billion this year, with luxury real estate and hotel projects continuing to make up the bulk of the projects in Dubai.

“We are seeing the rise of designer hotels, restaurants, residences and offices in the UAE,” says Cristina Romelli Gervasoni, fair director of Downtown Design. “This reflects the way people live, work and travel today as well as the growing number of design enthusiasts and professionals in the region. It is a trend that is not going away and will shape the evolution of the interiors sector for many decades to come.” According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, key tangible aspects of service quality include the interior design of hotels. 

With the number of hotels expected to double over the years leading up to 2020, and competition mounting, a key value differentiator will be in the service offered.

Take, for instance, The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre, which is taking the art and design theme quite literally. Behind its handsome limestone façade and despite its location in the heart of Dubai’s financial district it positions itself as having great affinity with the emirate’s art scene and justly so: it has its own art collection of over 130 pieces.

The hotel is now extending some artistry to its meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (Mice) offerings, with a range of creative, art-inspired menus known as the Artistry Collection. The food is crafted and presented in creative ways, designed to engage, inspire and wow, the hotel reports. The food and beverages can either be presented on easels and in frames like an art gallery, or decorated on a giant canvas with an array of sweets, chocolates, mini desserts, cakes and candies live in front of guests, or with colourful visuals including artistic presentations on dry ice.

Indeed, intelligent brands are going out of their way to create a unique selling point – a differentiation – in the competitive world of hospitality.

Southern Sun Abu Dhabi recently launched a ‘Bleisure’ package, rightly identifying a gap in the market for marketing ‘blended travel’, combining business with pleasure. The package offers visitors to the emirate a chance to turn their business trip into a leisure experience with a 50 per cent cash back offer on food and beverage, and accommodation.

The first group of Etihad Airways’ unique inflight Butler trainees departed Abu Dhabi for London to receive specialist training at the Savoy Butler Academy. The comprehensive three-week-long training programme will be delivered by the University of West London in conjunction with the legendary Savoy Hotel and the syllabus covers international protocol and etiquette, VIP guest care, valet skills, luxury food and wine service standards and organising travel arrangements.

Butlers for an airline? The 13 men and women, in-flight chefs or food and beverage managers, were chosen to fulfil the coveted role of butler, to serve guests at The Residence by Etihad. The three-room cabin features a living room, private shower room and double bedroom in Etihad Airways’ fleet of 10 Airbus A380s, the first of which is due for delivery in December this year.

Aubrey Tiedt, Etihad Airways vice-president guest services, says this is testament to Etihad Airways’ aim to be the best and to provide levels of discretion, dedication and sophistication hitherto not experienced by the modern airline traveller.

Upon successful completion of the programme and graduation in Abu Dhabi, the first butler will assume duty on the airline’s inaugural Airbus A380 flight to London Heathrow on 27 December. The second group of butler trainees is scheduled to start their Savoy Butler Academy training in early 2015.

And if butler training was not enough, JW Marriott Hotels and Resorts aims to take guest service to a new level, with video training tutorials by Ashley Wheater, artistic director of The Joffrey Ballet. Talk about dancing to the tunes of the guest! The videos focus on the importance of warming up, proper breathing, flow of movement and connecting to the audience while emphasising the importance of both verbal and visual cues including posture, squaring one’s shoulders and two-handed delivery and engagement techniques.

The programme was developed to inspire associates to develop and bring natural confidence, poise and grace to the guest experience. The training series includes exclusive content and tailored instruction that teaches associates how to incorporate the foundations of dance into everyday guest interaction.

“At JW Marriott, we look to identify associates that live the brand vision of orchestrating the exceptional, crafting luxurious experiences for guests that are inspired by their passions,” says Mitzi Gaskins, vice-president and global brand manager of JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts. “Poise and posture are globally recognised cultural cues that reflect the care and dedication our associates provide in every service interaction.”

Inter-cultural intelligence is the ability to have an honest look at your own culture, accurately map and effectively navigate the self-culture of others and your host culture, and use this information to create a common ground where teams, and ‘win-win’ solutions can prosper, says Amal Loring, a counsellor behind MBD, which provides a range of skills workshops for executives. The workshops range from one to two day programmes and cost between $2,000 to $4,000.

Hotels in the region need to be more culturally aware so as to understand their guests better and react to situations in a non-judgemental way or they risk losing business and gaining a bad reputation. It is important to have a cultural understanding of your own culture and the cultures you deal with, especially in places where different cultures come together.

“I’ve been to some three or four star, major hotels in the region and spoken Arabic with the front desk staff, but 95 per cent of them didn’t understand the language,” Amal points out. “I expect some basic things to be right; a prayer mat, a Qoran, but things have often been wanting in that department as well. There have been occasions when I’ve been offered alcohol, when I’m clearly a Muslim!”

With the booming revenues and glitzy new openings, it is imperative for the Middle East to not rest on its laurels and take a step back and ask a basic hospitality question: How can we serve you better?

By Rashi Sen

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