I meet Michel Koopman in the Eastern Mangroves Hotel in Abu Dhabi. It has been open only a few months but is already making a name as a great business hotel, proving popular with locals and visiting businessmen. Anantara is a hotel operator – the hotels in the UAE are owned by Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC).
We talk about how hotels make profit. I ask about room occupancy. Koopman explains that occupancy is not how a hotel measures profit. “It’s more scientific than that – we have a figure in mind,” he says. “After all, I can sell thirty rooms cheaply or ten rooms for a lot of money. It’s an overall profit although the rooms are a central part of it.”
“We currently sell around 40 rooms a day,” he continues. “Departmental profit is 80 percent on a room. That’s the profit. Food and beverages are 35-45 percent. Then you have the spa where you can make another 45 percent profit. Our costs are fixed. We have administrative and general costs (A&G). Then we have property maintenance and engineering. And of course we have big energy costs even here. But some hotels are built to be energy efficient and those are cheaper to run.”
Koopman is firm about his most important business asset - the staff.
“This is not just something we say, because if our staff are happy, they will look after the guests better. All our staff have a development plan. PDR performance, development, review plan supervisory skills training.”
In addition, the hotel is also proud of its staff retention. Since opening in June 2012, it has only lost twelve employees in what is an industry with a notoriously high churn rate. There is a common belief that hotel staff are paid badly but Koopman says that’s not true.
“Hotel staff are pretty well paid now. We give our staff great perks. They have great accommodation. Never more than four in an apartment. Each apartment is more than 100 square metres with all facilities. People need to be happy.”
He feels that there is an engagement factor with the staff - a factor which helps the hotel’s stated aim to blend in with local culture.
“If the boss is a Westerner, then number two has to be local and vice versa,” Koopman says. “We want to be the preferred hotel for local residents.”
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One thing Anantara does well is manage properties, which is clearly why it has been given responsibility for two other key locations in Abu Dhabi - Qasr Al Sarab, in the Empty Quarter near Liwa, and the property on Sir Bani Yas island.
“We’re not going to manage like other hotels because hotels are inefficient. We wrap your towels so it looks like a gutrah. We try to engage with people when they stay here. We have rose water and every guest gets to wash their hands in rose water. This is us. This is what we do.”
But, as Koopman points out, the object of all this is to pay for the hotel itself. One factor that many hotels in the UAE capital are finding it tough to cope with is the huge number of new properties that have come online in the last twelve months or so.
“Every TDIC hotel is very special to somebody so they, TDIC, are conservative,” the executive says. “They have a very long-term view of the situation. They own the land so they don’t have the bank breathing down their necks. Our hotels are in challenging locations but we make them work. People come to our hotels because they want to.”
“We don’t put any money in,” Koopman adds. “We get a management fee. It’s based on income and profit. So the operation of a hotel is our business. Hotels can fail. They do in China.
“We put a flag where we can manage our brand. We don’t want a hotel where we can’t manage it and nurture. We have a development team. They will go and look at a site if an owner has called us in. Our development plan is five years out. Owners say – I’ve got a piece of dirt and I want to put a hotel on it.”
Koopman clearly loves his job, and it’s obvious that Anantara’s newest project in the UAE has started off on the right foot.
“It’s not rocket science, it’s about sleeping, eating and a bit of entertainment,” he smiles. “We’re just scratching the surface of hotels, Brazil, Russia, India China. We have 38 different nationalities in this hotel and I really believe that our future is to serve the adventure-seeking traveller.”
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