By Sarah Campbell
Michael Shepherd, GM of London Hilton on Park Lane, on the hotel's new Residents Lounge for ME travellers.
Families, Ferraris and food all get flown over in large supply come July, and the hotel can often see up to 75% of its occupancy deriving from the region by mid-August.
The hotel continues to refine its product to suit this affluent market and recently introduced a dedicated Residents Lounge to enable large parties of Middle East guests or families to socialise in a homely setting.
We take a long-term approach to our relationships with this market. We are always adding new services.
"We have created a Residents Lounge, which serves soft drinks and local cuisine, and provides a place for extended families and friends to congregate. These groups need to be able to meet," explains Michael Shepherd, general manager, London Hilton on Park Lane.
"All of the families call each other while in the hotel and in London, and we have requests for additional rooms every day, so this space gives them somewhere to entertain in privacy," he adds.
London Hilton on Park Lane also offers an individual menu with Middle East influence and most of the rooms are connecting, which is very much required for this market. Suites can be connected to two other rooms to create a suite for up to six people.
The hotel boasts a dedicated team for the Middle East comprising sales and guest relations staff, including George Tooma, guest service manager of the Hilton Dubai Creek, who spent the summer at the hotel on secondment.
"It is about relationships. Every six months, Hasan Barakat, our regional director of sales, will travel to the region.
He also attends the traditional fairs [such as Arabian Travel Market] and goes to the travel agents in the region and visits some of the families and their bookers," says Shepherd.
"We take a long-term approach to our relationships with this market. We are always adding new services, technology or value adds, and the new Residents Lounge is a good example of this," explains Hasan Barakat, director of sales, Middle East & Diplomatic Services, London Hilton on Park Lane.
"This is the first year that we have operated a Residents Lounge, and the first time we have taken an expert from the region on secondment for three to four months. We are always looking for new business opportunities."
In August 65-75% of the hotel's occupancy is from the Middle East. Stays of up to 50 nights, and up to 30 rooms, are commonplace and become an annual event if the group is satisfied with the service they have received.
"We have a lot of repeat guests, especially from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. These guests tend to stay longer than other guests; our average stay is less than two nights, but for this market it is closer to two weeks," says Shepherd.
"We have a family that has been coming every year since 1976. We are now getting the second and third generation through the hotel. We have guests who have had decades of relationship with this hotel and we are lucky to have a stable workforce that are loyal to Hilton to maintain these relationships," he adds.
Flexibility is the key to dealing with the Middle East market, as Shepherd points out: "This is a region that takes a lot of understanding. Sometimes the families will bring their own chef, and ship over containers of food. We have to provide these chefs with space to cook in our main kitchens," he says.
"Some fly over their own Ferrari or Bentley for use when they are here, and if they decide to go on to Europe, we store and look after the cars in their absence," Shepherd adds.
One example of this flexibility was demonstrated when a Middle East guest, who owned a TV station in Saudi Arabia, arrived at the hotel.
"Naturally, he wanted to be able to watch his own TV station during his stay. We brought in a dedicated satellite and receiver to get this station. Now we know the requirements of this guest and he has this service every time he visits," Shepherd explains.
"For another guest we changed a whole suite in terms of furnishing and carpets. He wanted a six-screen mini cinema, so we created a mini cinema in an adjacent suite using a 64-inch plasma screen surrounded by 14-inch screens.
"This represented a huge added value for this guest and shows how we cater to the Middle East market," he adds.