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Fri 24 Jul 2009 04:00 AM

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Beirut’s new boutique

Hector De Galard, the general manager of Gordon Campbell Gray's hotly-anticipated luxury small hotel in Lebanon, Le Gray Beirut - his first in the Middle East, opening this month - explains why the property will bring an edge to Beirut's booming hotel scene.

Beirut’s new boutique

Hector De Galard, the general manager of Gordon Campbell Gray's hotly-anticipated luxury small hotel in Lebanon, Le Gray Beirut - his first in the Middle East, opening this month - explains why the property will bring an edge to Beirut's booming hotel scene.

Hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray couldn't have picked a better time to launch his first CampbellGray Hotel in the Middle East. This is partly because, considering the impact of the economic crisis on the majority of markets worldwide, he also couldn't have chosen a better location.

Le Gray, the greatly anticipated hotel from Campbell Gray, is located in Lebanon's bustling capital Beirut, which in May reported the largest increase in both occupancy (+148.4% to 71.4 %) and RevPAR (+194.6% to US $118.89) in the Middle East.

We are a small luxury hotel offering personalised service.

According to the latest figures from STR Global, the city also experienced a double-digit increase in ADR, up 18.6% to $166.40. Impressive statistics, especially considering that the Middle East/Africa region declined in all three key measurements in year-on-year results.

But in Beirut, business is booming, a fact emphasised by Le Gray's general manager Hector De Galard, who has been working on the project for the past year.

"I have been there for one year and it's a very safe and a very lively destination," says De Galard.

"Lebanon in general is booming, whereas the rest of the world is going into downfall for a while; hopefully they'll see a bit of light in 2010. Lebanon is totally different from the banking sector to the tourism sector though; any industry in Lebanon is booming.

"Even during the tough days, Lebanon has always been a favourite destination for people in the Middle East, from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan - they love it. Even more so now because of the stability, so now there's more places to go, more beaches, hotels and restaurants," says De Galard.

What's on offer

Already tipped as one of the hottest hotel debuts of 2009 by The Times UK and The New York Times, Le Gray, Beirut promises to add an edge to what already exists in the city, asserts De Galard.

Located in Solidere, next to the Gardens of Remembrance, an area that was destroyed and then completely rebuilt, the new-build hotel, created by architect Kevin Dash, is part of the historical Down Town area of Beirut's Central District.

"This is a prime location," says De Galard. "There are views from the sea right to the mountains and it is the area where everybody hangs out; it is a very popular area."

To match this, the design of Le Gray, which is a collaboration by Mary Fox Linton and Gordon Campbell Gray, is "vibrant and sexy", explains De Galard.

The property - already a member of the Leading Small Hotels of the World - features 87 rooms and suites.

"The smallest room is 40m² and our standard executive suite is 60m² and we have 62 of those," says Galard.

Considering the number of rooms, Le Gray has a wide variety of facilities. There are five outlets; Gordon's Café, Indigo on The Roof Restaurant; Pool Bar; Cigar Lounge and Bar ThreeSixty, a glass-enclosed bar with a 360° view of the city.

There is also a chlorine-free, open-air swimming pool situated on the roof top and Pure Gray Spa, potentially the first of a branded spa offer for CampbellGray Hotels.

De Galard comments: "I think the hotel is going to be very unique; I think we're going to bring an edge to what exists right now - that's the intention. Starting from the construction, to the service, the décor and the type of food and drinks we're going to bring, we want to think out of the box. There's a lot of new things right now; they're not there yet in Lebanon and we want to be the ones to bring them [to the market]."

It's all about service

De Galard says that Le Gray, Beirut should be classified as a luxury boutique hotel because of the company's two mottos: ‘everything matters' and ‘it's all about service'.

"We are the only brand like this right now in Beirut. We are a small luxury hotel offering personalised service," says De Galard.

"We have 260 staff for 87 rooms. Mostly the staff is Lebanese; we have six expatriates," he adds.

"We spend a lot of time in recruitment and training. We have our corporate company, our own training system and we also use a training company from London that has been coming every month; for the final training in June they came to stay with us for three weeks.

"They work across all our hotels so they know exactly what we are doing and the person heading up our training was also responsible for our staff training at One Aldwych London," he says.

With reputation and word of mouth doing some of the marketing for Le Gray, De Galard says in addition he is working closely with the Minister of Tourism in Lebanon to promote the destination, as well as attending roadshows and Arabian Travel Market.

"It's amazing because the word is out there and the expectation is too," says De Galard.

He reveals that the company, which prides itself on being small and currently operates just One Aldwych London, Dukes, London and Carlisle Bay Antigua, has plans to expand to other destinations in the Middle East; namely Muscat in Oman as part of the Blue City development and Damascus in Syria.

With good things coming in small packages, so the saying goes, it is highly likely that Le Gray will make a major impact on Beirut's hotel market at just the right time.

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