The GM of One&Only The Palm, Michael R Payne, discusses the demands of managing a luxury boutique hotel
One&Only The Palm, Dubai has received a rapturous response since its official opening on November 15 last year. The property has achieved occupancies in the 80s, attracted a stronger GCC following than expected - which should help bolster occupancy rates during the summer months - and scored rave reviews for its restaurants. Alongside sister property Atlantis and neighbouring resort Jumeriah Zabeel Saray, One&Only can be credited with defining The Palm as a new luxury beach destination for Dubai, while the boutique nature of the 90-key property adds something different to the emirate for returning luxury travellers.
The success so far has been achieved by a team of 325 staff, overseen by general manager Michael R. Payne, who returned to Dubai to take up the Palm post following nearly four years at the helm of world-renowned One&Only Reethi Rah in the Maldives.
Having survived four years of island life - where “your office is the entire island” and “you have no private life at all” - Payne says he was excited to come back to Dubai, where he was previously working as the resident manager at One&Only Royal Mirage.
“It’s like coming home in a way,” he says of the city in which he met his wife. “Dubai gives you a form of a city lifestyle with hotels that have very high standards, compared with the standards that you get in Asia.... a benchmark of the top hotels when it comes to services.”
With 13 years in Asia under his belt - including the pre-opening of Park Hyatt Tokyo - plus a stint in Europe, Payne has experienced two sides of hotel management and says that as a result of the seasons, Dubai combines both approaches.
“There are certain standards which require a certain amount of staff. Unfortunately in Europe your standards are perhaps compromised slightly because you just cannot afford it,” observes Payne.
His hotel has a high staff to guest ratio for example, but in Europe the ratio would be 1:1 or in Australia, 1:0.8, meaning a property like One&Only The Palm would have just 70-80 staff.
“We are still I would say in a fortunate position here in Dubai where, although you have two markets, the summer being the low season - so now for the next four to five months operationally-wise you take on a European or Australian approach - for the other seasons you are able to really go for your top five-star service,” says Payne.
“I think in Dubai we are aware that your hotel has to adapt itself to the market in summer,” he asserts.
Art of Adaptability
So, in what ways will One&Only adapt to maintain its performance thus far, despite the August drought everyone is anticipating?
Payne explains that the focuses will be on re-energising staff, analysing processes to ensure service ease and consistency, and targeting families and the GCC market.
“Your staff during the high seasons sometimes are short of time to rest and so on, therefore [summer is] very aggressive on holiday leave for our staff and we use the time to analyse, especially as this hotel has just opened, a lot of things that we said we were going to do one way, [when] we’ve noticed that operationally things have to be changed slightly for guest experience, guest satisfaction and also ease of service delivery,” says Payne.
Helping staff to achieve “better consistency” is crucial, he adds, as “consistency is a big key to success”.
“The team’s done an amazing job and my belief is service delivery and successful service delivery is directly linked to both the tools and the way in which we have shown our staff to do a specific task,” asserts Payne. “My focus over the next three or four months is to go back and look at every basic service standard and service delivery element to our guest to make sure that it’s the right way of doing it [and] the easiest way for our staff.”
Taking the resort’s six mansions - each incorporating eight to 10 suites - as an example, Payne says he is analysing the best ways of servicing them from a housekeeping and room service perspective, aiming to avoid a “convoy of buggies” and ensure staff are comfortable.
“We don’t want the staff coming into the villa perspiring so we’ve got to ask ‘have we given the right tools, have we got the right set up?’.”
The aim, he explains, is to achieve even more through reduced effort.