Fairmont Bab Al Bahr general manager and company stalwart Michael Kaile explains why the luxury brand’s future success in the UAE capital is secure.
Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi has been opening in phases since October 2009? What stage is it at now?
At the very beginning of October we opened with one restaurant and a few bedrooms.
During the month of October we opened Frankie’s Italian Restaurant and Marco Pierre White. By the F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, we had our bedrooms open, we had three restaurants plus our pool, and the chocolate gallery on the first floor. Now we’re by no means finished. In January, our big conference centre opened; that’s amazing as it has a ballroom for 900 people and a fabulous glass wall at the end with a view right across the creek and lovely outdoor gardens. We have also one more restaurant that will open this year — the concept looks to be a Lebanese restaurant. And our Chameleon Bar will open in February.
The big thing then is a very significant Willow Stream Spa — it will have 16-17 treatment rooms, a hammam and be self-contained. We’ve taken the health club facilities and made those separate so if a guest wants to use the gym he doesn’t have to intrude into the spa space. And also when club membership opens up here for the beach, there are additional changing spaces for the beach guests.
The hotel has a fantastic Fairmont Gold area. Why was this a priority?
We had to hasten to get ready for F1 and we are going to make some upgrades to this space over the next few months. You need an area to eat, then people want to sit and relax — you need that space — then you really need a proper check in area and greeting space and the butlers need room to move and do all the things that they need to do for the guests on this floor. This is very dedicated. We are finding a huge demand, and we are very lucky because Fairmont Gold manager Arnold Francisco and several of his team here came from the Fairmont Dubai. We have an amazing butler team, probably the strongest butler team I’ve ever had in my career with Fairmont.
You previously opened Fairmont Dubai — how will you leverage this hotel’s established reputation?
Having opened Fairmont Dubai I think that was the springboard that put the name into the region. Subsequent Fairmont hotels on the Palm will follow, Cairo is now open and other Fairmonts in due course will follow too. This hotel will mature quickly because of the market demands, so you are going to have really two hotels to assist the rest of them and to help grow the brand across the Middle East. Do you compete with the hotels on nearby Yas Island?
We do but really what we’re bringing is critical mass. The word competitive set is really marketing jargon but what we’re adding is a critical mass that will enable events to be held here and really the success depends on us physically being here — it’s a growing marketplace.
It only reaches absurdity if the amount of new hotels coming in is out of total proportion to what can be absorbed by the marketplace. Then you get into a different situation; we’re not there yet. We’re going to fill the need of an enlarging marketplace and there is a relationship at the moment, although it’s never perfect, but there’s more of a relationship here between supply and demand — obviously with F1 there has been a little bit of a peak but if you draw the line out over a longer period you’ve got a much more harmonious situation. What markets are you expecting to appeal to?
This is very interesting. The market comes from so many different places, it tends to be generated out of demand for Abu Dhabi, therefore at least 60% of it is driven from the GCC.
This percentage at the moment is a guess because we haven’t had our conference centre going, but I would see at least 60-65% of business originating from the GCC.
Maybe Abu Dhabi might pick up particularly in the European market, if you look at every room sold here for the rest of the world to do 40% its quite an undertaking.
We’re blessed now with Etihad Airways, the new terminal and the airport and these are big wins. Dubai has so dominated the marketplace in this area for the last two to three years and now Abu Dhabi is getting its own share of recognition but it does take time to get some traction.
So do you see Abu Dhabi competing with Dubai now?
Dubai went first, Abu Dhabi is now going through a tremendous amount of change. I think the two are going in quite different directions, which is good. It’s not a case of one emirate competing against the other, they are going to be different.
The raison d’etre to come to Abu Dhabi is more culturally based, it is the capital. We’re quite privileged to be here in Abu Dhabi now. We’re a global company and speaking to my colleagues at Fairmont all over the world they always say ‘you are so lucky to be in Abu Dhabi’.
There’s a feeling that business is happening here, there’s a feeling you can do business here and there’s a feeling there’s business to be had here. In globally difficult times, while we are not immune, you still feel that the lights are still on. There is very much an optimistic feeling here in Abu Dhabi.
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