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Mon 3 Mar 2008 04:00 AM

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Building relationships

In addition to keeping the hotel operating smoothly, today engineers are being asked to embrace technology and turn their hotels green, as this month's Hotelier Middle East roundtable reveals.

In addition to keeping the hotel operating smoothly, today engineers are being asked to embrace technology and turn their hotels green, as this month's Hotelier Middle East roundtable reveals.

What tasks do you have to do on a regular basis?

We were asked to deter pigeons and bird migrations around the hotel.

Tarek Rashad: Our hotel is still fairly new, so there is still pending construction work to follow up with, especially safety issues. Day-to-day I attend the management meetings, check all the log books, energy consumption and the engineering store consumption of the previous day. I also conduct regular inspection tours throughout the hotel.

Mohamed Zeid: Each day I have to follow up preventive and break down maintenance.

John Madawela: Our hotel is in its pre-opening phase, and during this time the tasks that take up most of my day are contractual, communications and departmental meetings.

Geoff Ward: My role at present is not that of a normal hotel engineer, as Bavaria Executive Suites Dubai is in the final construction phase and I am often required to review other projects from an engineering standpoint on behalf of Bavaria Hotels International.

Due to the complexity of a 5000-bed hotel, which has gone through a massive transition and redesign, we have had to deal with many MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) and design integration conflicts, but I am very satisfied with the progress and the results we have achieved.

My day-to-day work therefore consists of liaising with contractors on design and construction, reviewing sub-contractor contracts, identifying and obtaining required external approvals, and updating the hotel management on pending issues.

Tito D'Costa
: My day starts with meeting the engineering staff from the night shift. Based on the previous day's report, I list down the things to be done for the day. Then, I go to the department heads meeting of the hotel, which is held every morning.

I mention what the engineering department did the previous day and our scheduled tasks for the day.

After that I deal with the pending requests, if there are any, that were not solved the previous day. What follows after the morning meeting usually depends on the urgency level. If there's a guestroom call, whether it's a complaint or request, that is the priority.

Part of my daily routine is the monitoring and inspection of some guestrooms. We check the A-Z of the rooms, like the bathroom, faucets, wall paper, television, electricity, and locks.

Another part of our daily routine and maintenance programme is the monitoring of the chillers and freezers. We make sure that the temperatures are kept as per the standards of HACCP.

Then the rest of the day is spent on physical rounds of the hotel, meeting suppliers, and preventive maintenance on various aspects of the hotel to ensure that all items are in working order.

Ben Bahadori: As we are still going through the soft opening, there are still some projects that need to be completed. A lot of my time is spent working to the completion of our restaurants - Empire, our fine dinning restaurant, as well as our first floor restaurant.

Levels one to 13 are our serviced residences, which are opening floor by floor. Most of my time is spent attending various meetings and following up on all these projects that are still in progress.

Kaiser Khan: On a daily basis I do a joint tour of the property with different managers, such as inspecting the kitchen with the executive chef, or checking technical matters with housekeeping, the front office or F&B.

On a personal level, I make a complete tour of the hotel building and plant rooms along with the assistant chief engineer or engineering supervisor, checking on daily log sheets and the planned preventive maintenance programme.

In addition, I check the guest rooms planned preventive maintenance programme, and follow up on on-going jobs.

Thilak Hewapathirana: We start with a morning briefing, then I review the log sheet to do necessary action and the follow-ups. I also check the pending backlog and assign the supervisors to finish tasks on a priority basis. We monitor utility consumption, repair and maintenance consumption, and equipment efficiency.

I also follow up on the engineering department's objectives, and monitor employee productivity, as well as ensuring the safety and security of guests as well as employees.

What have been some unusual requests you have had to deal with?

Zeid: We were asked to deter pigeon and bird migrations around the hotel.

: Whenever we have a big function for 2000 guests or more we have to hire a large tent from outside suppliers. These tents can be quite tricky to erect, because we are located on top of the hill and often it is quite windy.

We have had occasions where these enormous tents have been blown down.
Madawela: We once had a request to build a trapezium in the hotel's nightclub for an artist performance. It was quite a challenging location, and difficult in terms of safety, but we managed it and everything went well.

Ward: We were had to commission all MEP within six weeks of the transformer's installation. Due to the size of the project, which equals 20 average hotels, we will need our own DEWA (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) transformer.

Our power supply is not dependable, so we have a lot of challenges.

D'Costa: Working in the hospitality industry, we have to be ready for anything and everything. Guests will always have last minute requests, and sometimes, unexpected requests.

One time, we had a guest who requested a [television] channel from his country. We already have 70 channels available in our rooms, but when a guest requests another channel, we provide it.

But since we cannot put channels from all countries available at all times, what we had to do is grant the request and when the guest left we returned the list back to the original channels.

In another instance, we had a guest who called and requested the temperature in his room be adjusted because he felt very cold. We adjusted it to 24 degrees but he said he still felt cold.

We put the temperature to 27 degrees and he was still cold. We turned the airconditioner off and put a heater in the room. The following morning, he told us that he was not feeling well that night and was actually on medication.

Bahadori: Two months ago I was asked to put two cars in our lobby for an event. I actually had to get an Austin Martin up the back stairs and into the lobby. I also had to get a Lexus into our ballroom.

Khan: It's not as much as unusual requests as it is the unexpected issues that arise that are always challenging, especially when we have to fix some areas and we have to take into consideration the noise level.

With a global push to go green, what environmentally friendly practices and devices do you employ in your property?

Zeid: We are investigating the possibility of using solar energy to produce hot water instead of boilers.

: We have fitted ozone generators to our swimming pools and are currently looking forward to working with [environmental benchmarking organisation] Green Globe 21 in the near future.

Madawela: At the Millennium Towers Hotel Dubai all motors are equipped with variable frequent drives (VFD) which ensure a 100% power output.

The effect of this is that no power will be wasted. We also make use of LPG gas boilers that produce only low emissions of CO2.

Ward: Unfortunately, most projects are already well into construction before a hotel operator comes on board. It is therefore a major challenge to integrate ‘green' solutions into agreed designs.

I did however manage to introduce water economisers (heat exchanger) utilising waste heat through boiler flues for preheating feed water to boilers. Additional areas of implementation are currently being reviewed.

D'Costa: We are considering going with solar energy for water heating. But at present, we are going green by using recycled materials in the hotel, like papers. Also, we make sure that our used newspapers, oils, and aluminium goes to recycling.

We are also using eco-friendly chemicals in the hotel's laundry shop. Our stewarding department also uses environmentally friendly chemicals. Of course, we continue to seek for ways to be a 100% environmentally friendly hotel.

Bahadori: Our hotel has several measures to reduce energy consumption; the lift lobby on every floor has a lighting sensor; emergency fire stairs have motion sensors; we have a wind sensor that shuts down all outside water features to prevent water wastage; and lighting systems in outdoor areas and the main lobby are run on a timer.

Khan: At Towers Rotana Hotel we have devices in our property which comply with the green building practice, and are environmentally friendly.

We are currently using special air purification filters, which are installed in our staff cafeteria to help extract the smoke efficiently and effectively. It also desensitises the area and removes the food smell.

In addition, we are using three grease guardian machines that we installed underneath the pot wash area in the main kitchen. It removes oil, fat, and grease from the food waste to be accumulated in a separate container to be disposed off.

It only allows clear water to be discharged in the discharge line which is connected to the municipality drain line.

How are you using technology to cut down on energy and resource consumption in your hotel?

Zeid: We use the building management system (BMS) to control the lighting and the air conditioning, which are the items consuming the most power.

: We use variable speed drives on all our pumps and air-handling units, which helps, and we use water savers on all taps. We can also cut down on unnecessary power through the BMS.
Most specifically though, we are now working with a programme specifically designed for hotels in order to provide a holistic mechanism for analysing the consumption and cost associated with energy, water and waste disposal.

Madawela: In all our hotel rooms and suites we are using remote controlled master switches that can be controlled from each place in the room. Also, the keycard system in the rooms saves energy as the card has to be inserted in the slot for the power to be activated.

Since almost everything now is computerised, the job has become much easier.

So as soon as you leave the room and you remove the keycard from the slot, the lights switch off automatically in the whole room, suite or penthouse.

Ward: We have a dual BMS system, which is interfaced to and regulates and maintains a control on all MEP operating systems, ensuring energy consumption is reduced and set according to the activated systems.

In addition, the lighting switches and AC in each room are energy-controlled, and activate only through a room key card.

D'Costa: We have started replacing regular light bulbs with energy saving bulbs to cut down on energy and resource consumption.

Seventy-five percent of our guestrooms are now fitted with these energy-saving lights. We are presently working on the completion of the installations in all the rooms.

Bahadori: At the moment we have a BMS that controls the whole hotel's air conditioning system and can be pre-programmed so that only occupied rooms and rooms about to be occupied are using air-conditioning.

Also, our lighting control system is based of motion sensors and timers, which hugely reduce our resource and energy consumption. There are plans to incorporate more technology as needs arise.

: In order to cut down or conserve energy the hotel exterior lighting is on photo cell timer, which enables the lights to be switched on with the sun set and it switches off with the sun rise. The elevator landing areas are fitted with image sensing devices.

The public area toilets are fitted with image sensing devices, which remain switched off normally. but as the employee or guest enters the toilet the lights are switched on.

The guest room toilets, faucets, and showers are fitted with water restrictors, and there is a BMS in the hotel, which can start and stop air handling units.

What issues or challenges do you face in trying to make your hotel 'greener'? Is it an expensive process?

Zeid: It's an expensive process if you want to change an existing building, but it's much easier to do it in the new projects.

Rashad: Unfortunately our power supply is not dependable, so we have a lot of challenges there. Our generators do create noise and generate heat 24 hours a day, so we need to sound proof them as a start.

The other area of concern is the swimming pool, which is spread over a large area. As the weather gets colder the pool water temperature drops very low so we need to make it warmer using heaters or a steam boiler.

Obviously this is very costly, which makes our operating costs very high throughout the winter months.

One idea to address this is to recover the heat from the generator system and use it for the swimming pool. The distance between the swimming pool and generator is not that close though, so there would be an initial expensive logistical issue, but once this is done the operating costs would be lower in the long term.

Madawela: The infrastructure of our hotel is very supportive in terms of 'going green' - it's an advantage working in a new property like the Millennium Towers Hotel Dubai. From the ground up the hotel was build to be environmentally friendly and therefore we luckily do not have additional expenses.

Ward: There is still reluctance amongst architects and contractors to consider the available green technology to be integrated at the initial design stage due to initial cost outlay, however provided this is done and the concepts are supported by a real case study and cost analysis, I am confident that we will be able to grow the number of green projects.

I think that the Dubai Government are doing an excellent job in introducing green standards and incentives to developers.

D'Costa: The technology available for this at present is very expensive, and we would like to urge the government and manufacturers to come up with less expensive technology so more hotels could go 'greener'.

Although, as in most hotels, financial issues are the primary challenge we face with regard to going ‘greener', we see the amount to be worth its value.

And since it is Al Diar Siji Hotel's objective to be a 100% environmentally friendly hotel, we are at present on the planning stage on 'going greener'.

Bahadori: There have been challenges to go greener by searching the market for both user- and environmentally-friendly energy saving light bulbs; it is our job to encourage suppliers to supply more environmentally friendly products to be used in the hotel.
Also, to have an internal audit is a critical element for energy management.

The cost has been sufficient but it is a one off, and the savings are much greater.

Hewapathirana: In Saudi Arabia planting trees is an expensive process, due to the geographical condition of the country. The water is the major issue. For Radisson SAS Hotel Jeddah, we planted the trees in plant pots in order to create a greenish look for the hotel within the available space.

More and more female staffs are entering hotel engineering.

What advances in technology have made your job easier now?

Zeid: Using a computerised maintenance management system is improving the quality and accuracy of our services, and minimising human error.

Rashad: We have a BMS in progress, and we are on track with the hotel optimiser programme. We are also using an advanced programme to handle the preventive maintenance.

This gives us the complete history of all equipment services and costs to date. We can even control the engineering store.

Madawela: The best advance in technology for my job is the BMS we are using. This system has made my job easier by allowing me to control the energy system.

We have saved energy, for example, by setting up and planning the lighting of the hotel.

D'Costa: Since almost everything now is computerised, the job for hotel engineers has become much easier. Before, if an air conditioning unit had a problem, we had to check it manually.

It is like you have to diagnose the unit and manually check all parts to identify the problem. Now, since we are using a BMS it is easier. It tells you which part of the unit is malfunctioning and where it is having problems.

For example, if the unit has low oil pressure, there will be an alarm indicating that it has low oil pressure. We will be able to solve the problem faster and more accurately.

Bahadori: We have a control room set up, which we share with security, from which we can control the entire air conditioning and lighting systems using the BMS and the lighting control system.

From here we can have visual access to the entire hotel through our extensive CCTV network. Wireless internet connections and instant messaging have also helped a lot.

Khan: I would quote two examples over here. The fire detection and fire alarm system in our hotel is really state-of-the-art and advanced, with an early warning mechanism.

Also the surveillance camera or CCTV system installed in our hotel in strategic locations provides an enhanced security system.

Hotel engineering is traditionally a field popular with men. Are you starting to see more female staff coming into the team?

Zeid: Female staff are already an integral part of our team and very active on the job.

Rashad: Yes we do. These days, most of the systems - public address systems, banquet equipments, PABX, the BMS and fire alarms - are running on a software system, and are all handled by a female team member. Room maintenance, such as polishing and grouting, can also be done by a female supervisor.

Madawela: In my previous team we had one female team member. When I started at the Millennium Towers Hotel Dubai the first person onboard of my team was actually a female. So you can say that it is changing slowly.

Ward: No, not significantly - but we do have a female MEP engineer on site here who is very knowledgeable, effective and professional.

D'Costa: Yes, more and more female staff are entering hotel engineering. In fact, our IT personnel is female.

Bahadori: Yes, it's great to see more females starting to show interest in this field. So far I have a female on my team, who works as a room technician, and we are looking for more.

Hewapathirana: In Saudi Arabia, female employees are slowing emerging in the hospitality field, but not yet in the engineering department.

What level of interaction do you have with other departments at the hotel? What could be done to improve communication with them?

Zeid: The engineering department is the backbone for all the operation departments, so communication has to be very close. This is why we have a daily operations meeting.
To improve communication I think we need to increase the cross-training between the departments to understand each others' roles comprehensively.

Rashad: As we are the main support department for the entire hotel, all other departments naturally have to work closely with us. We meet regularly to iron out any issues and to discuss and solve problems to ensure the smooth running of the hotel, and we do a weekly tour of all departments to identify problems as they occur.

Our first priority is to deliver engineering standards in excess of expectations.

Madawela: It is essential for me and my team to have a high level of interaction with every department. It is only if we are on the same page that we can understand the needs of the departments and help them achieve their goals.

Nowadays, with email, internet and pagers, it has become more convenient and easier to communicate, but I still prefer to meet a person face-to-face, which in my opinion is still the best way of communication.

Ward: Of course the engineering department touches all other hotel departments and each is interdependent on the other. This interaction is continuous during a hotel's life.

I have always followed and practised the theory of raising the profile of the engineering department to all levels by representing them at senior management level, supporting them publicly, treating other departments as our internal customers and accepting criticism when appropriate.

Encouraging open and honest communication within the whole team and delivering the engineering function on time to the highest quality standard possible is also important.

D'Costa: Al Diar Siji Hotel's engineering department works closely with the housekeeping department in maintaining the physical quality of the guest rooms, like bedframes, wallpaper, bedspread, and bathroom amenities.

Housekeeping immediately reports problems on guestrooms like plumbing and electrical systems to the engineering department for repairs. The F&B department also communicates with engineering if there are problem areas in the restaurants, like fixtures, or lighting.

We are also in direct contact with the front office department, since they are the front-liners in receiving comments and requests from guests.

Bahadori: I have a great deal of interaction with all the departments during managers' meetings, which take place on a daily basis.

What are your future plans for the engineering department?

Zeid: I want to improve the technical scales for the team, by training to improve the service quality.

Rashad: We train most of our team members to take responsibility to optimise performance, and the second in command is developed ready to move into a department head position whenever needed, either in the same hotel or with one of our new openings.

Senior technical employees are also trained to step into a supervisory level role and the technical team get the necessary training to be able to handle a minimum of three types of jobs.

We do arrange english classes for Arabic employees and Arabic classes for non-Arab employees, and ongoing computer classes are organised for all team members.

Madawela: My goal at the Millennium Towers Hotel Dubai is to conduct a lot of training, and develop talents in order for them to take on more responsibilities and duties - the base of their career growth.

I would like to see that one day all of my team members become directors of engineering.

Ward: Our first priority is to deliver engineering standards in excess of expectations. We also want to develop a happy team who are confident and skilled, and who accept ownership and have pride in their work.

This will be accomplished by training, and knowing the boundaries for decision making, having a 'no-blame' culture and a unified team spirit.

D'Costa: At present, we have installed LCD flat screens, an Internet Protocol Television System or IPTV, and broadband internet connection in all the rooms.

Wi-fi is also available in the hotel's public areas. As of the moment, we are planning to provide laptop computers in all the rooms.

Bahadori: There is a strategy plan in place. We want to improve engineering services, with the aim of exceeding the expectations of both guests and staff; maximise the hotel's gross operating profit by minimising expenditure; and improve the building, equipment and plant to the highest possible conditions within a budget.

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