Being the best

Philip Barnes is already making waves as the new boss of the flagship Fairmont Dubai hotel.
Being the best
By Anil Bhoyrul
Thu 30 Jul 2009 04:00 AM

Philip Barnes is already making waves as the new boss of the flagship Fairmont Dubai hotel.

For a man with a lot on his plate, Philip Barnes looks quite relaxed.

“It’s a people business. And that starts at the top. My people have to believe in me, and what I am doing,” says the Fairmont Hotels’ regional vice president for the UAE, and since May this year also the general manager of the flagship Fairmont Dubai.

So far, just three months into his new role of running the operations side of the Dubai property, his “people” are certainly believing in his leadership. Staff talk openly of a new “buzz” around the hotel, excitement about the future and a boost of positive energy.

“There is a global downturn outside this hotel, and a recession taking place, but our loyalty is to our customers and staff. We have to keep innovating and keep delivering,” says Barnes.

The challenge right now couldn’t be bigger. With occupancy rates sliding across the region, the battle for customers has never been tougher. But with Barnes at the helm, there is no danger of sitting back. On top of the 394-room luxury Dubai hotel, this year will also see the launch of the first hotel in Abu Dhabi, and later next year the much anticipated Fairmont Palm Jumeirah.

“We have an advantage because of the Fairmont brand. Everybody knows the quality of the hotels, but more importantly, once they stay here they generally come back. Our challenge is to make sure they keep coming back, and make sure we are constantly giving them reasons to do so. Whether that means even small things such as changing the pricing structure in our restaurants, what is important is to keep doing things,” he says.

“First impressions count for a lot in a hotel. I have been to hotels in the past as a guest, and within two minutes of arriving, before I have even checked in, I have decided I never want to come back there. It is shocking how quickly you can lose the loyalty of a customer, sometimes from the moment they walk through the door. I never want that to happen here, which is why I am spending a lot of time at the start of my new role getting to know all the staff. I want them to feel comfortable and motivated, so that I am confident they will deliver the kind of service we expect,” he adds.

It probably helps being part of a mega-operation. Since the opening of the first Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco 102 years ago, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has grown into one of the largest collections of storied properties in the world. Celebrated addresses in the Fairmont portfolio include The Fairmont Banff Springs, The Savoy, A Fairmont Hotel, in London, Quebec City’s Fairmont Le Château Frontenac and New York’s The Plaza.

With over 56 destinations. Fairmont continues to be committed to growth, expanding its brand presence globally with a number of exciting hotel and mixed-use projects over the next few years: on top of the UAE plans, new hotels are springing up in Cairo, South Africa and Shanghai.

Recession? Talking to Barnes, you wouldn’t know it. “Everyone wants to know when the downturn will end, but of course nobody knows that. I don’t have a crystal ball, but we see signs of growth, and we have been consistent with our occupancy rates. Of course we have had to adjust our cost base and continue to do so, but every economic cycle also presents opportunities, and this is no different,” he says.It also helps that Barnes is running not just a hotel but very much a top meeting destination in Dubai. Business leaders see the Fairmont Dubai as one of their first ports of calls for lunch. “It’s a very important part of our business. We are more than just a hotel,” he says.

Barnes himself has been in Dubai since 2007, when he was appointed regional vice president — he added the Fairmont Dubai to his portfolio in May this year, re-locating to the actual hotel where he is now based.

And there are not many in the business with more experience: a seasoned hotelier, his career spans over 33 years across four continents where he has held executive positions in several leading hotel companies, including over ten years with Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts.

Barnes first joined Fairmont Hotels & Resorts in 1998 as regional vice president, operations for British Columbia for Delta Hotels & Resorts, a wholly owned subsidiary of Fairmont Hotels, where he also held general manager positions and oversaw the successful openings of three new Delta hotels. In 2001, his responsibilities were enlarged to encompass all the Delta Hotels & Resorts in Western Canada.

In 2004, Barnes was appointed regional vice president and general manager, Pacific Northwest for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, a role that encompassed six iconic Fairmont Hotels & Resorts properties in the region in addition to overseeing the day-to-day operations at The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.

“I’m a hotelier through and through, that’s what I do and that’s what I love,” he says.

Since taking the helm of the Fairmont Dubai, Barnes has been busy bringing his own style of open leadership to the hotel. His door is open to all staff, and he has made a point of getting to know all of his staff personally. “They are our most valuable asset,” he says.

Leadership is something that appears to come naturally to Barnes, and his staff already speak highly of his strong management skills.

“Hotels are a unique industry to work in, and you have to have worked in every aspect of the business to understand it,” he says.

“I have worked for some terrible mangers in the past. I have seen managers talk to their staff and treat their staff in shocking ways. It amazes me that some managers think that by behaving that way, you can get the best out of people. But the experience was good for me because I have learnt a lot, especially about how not to do things. There is a big difference between right and wrong, it is not a grey area,” he explains.

So far, all the signs are that Barnes is on the “right” side of everything he does.

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