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Fri 6 Mar 2015 09:59 AM

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Can all-inclusive hotels really be exclusive?

Should guests expect five-star luxury standards when they check-in at an all-inclusive resort?

Can all-inclusive hotels really be exclusive?

Last February, Hotelier Middle East reported on the upcoming Rixos Bab Al Bahr, Ras Al Khaimah, which promised to fill a gap in the UAE accommodation market.

The premise was ‘all-inclusive, all-exclusive’, a clever marketing strapline for a company that specialises in a concept traditionally viewed as tacky — particularly entering a market known for its five-star luxury standards.

A year later, and another interview with general manager Haytham Omar (which appeared in the February issue of Hotelier Middle East) revealed that the hotel is doing well in terms of occupancy, but it is still struggling to educate guests on its offer — particularly couples, who are complaining about the hotel being overrun by children.

I recently paid a visit to the resort with a group of friends, having purchased a Groupon voucher, which offered a half-price deal. I was curious to see how an all-inclusive resort could pull off five-star luxury and I was already sceptical having read numerous scathing reviews on TripAdvisor.

These stated things such as: “What a pathetic hotel” by a lady who was moved rooms four times due to various issues, and is now threatening legal action.

“Nice hotel; awful management” was another posted by a customer who reported the customer service was “awful” and the food was “very bad”.

“For the money you pay there you could get much better quality and service somewhere else,” he added.

There are also plenty of positive reviews to be fair, but tellingly, these are the only ones Rixos’ staff have replied to. Feedback from dissatisfied customers is ignored.

This reminded me of something Omar had said during his interview with Hotelier: “Out of 650 rooms, I think it’s fair that maybe 10 rooms or guests are not happy, Sometimes it is our fault, but 50 percent of the time, it’s that you came to a place without doing the research, and booked without understanding what it’s all about.”

Rixos Bab al Bahr is marketed as a luxury five-star resort however, and so this is the standard that guests are led to expect.

For those not paying a reduced rate, a deluxe room is AED1367.97 ($372.45) — not far off the grandiose Waldorf Astoria across the shore, which sells its luxurious King Classic room at AED1650 ($449.22), a mere $70 more than Rixos.

Of course, you could argue that Rixos Bab al Bahr includes all food and beverage in its prices, which means it is better value. However, my friends and I were disappointed by the restaurant offering.

Just three of the numerous à la carte restaurants are available to all-inclusive guests (one of which was not open during our stay). A machine must be used to book tables in advance, and spaces are limited.

In the à la carte restaurant where we dined — after persuading the staff to give us a table — we were offered a set menu, which was not up to the standards expected of a five-star resort.

Our experience could have been somewhat rectified by excellent customer service — a key pillar of any five-star experience. However, the most glaring thing I noticed — other than the fact that the hotel is indeed overrun by children — is that the staff are despondent and overworked, signalling a training issue.

As I was leaving the hotel, there were lots of guests in front of me making complaints, some of whom were becoming very angry. However, on the opposite side of the counter, the queue had hordes checking in. I did wonder how many would leave satisfied customers, and if any of them would return.

Omar made this statement in response to my comment: “Just completing our first year, we continue to discover what markets we most appeal to. With that said, we are currently adapting our marketing strategy to ensure we are targeting these guests.

“In recent weeks we have experienced our highest occupancy levels since opening and as a result, we have received some very positive and developmental feedback from our guests.

“Using this, we will continue to develop our product and service offering to exceed our guests’ expectations whilst delivering an exciting ultra-all-inclusive experience.”

Having reportedly hit 99 percent occupancy during the weekend I stayed, the hotel clearly fills some gap in the market, which is what it set out to do. Whether it has fulfilled its promise of offering an ‘all-exclusive’ experience is, however, still up for debate. I do look forward to seeing the hotel improve its customer service, and undergo a marketing makeover that truly reflects its offer.

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Mark Renton 5 years ago

I am surprised that anyone would go to an all-inclusive resort (in the UAE in particular) and expect a relaxing weekend.

It seems pretty obvious that the main market for this type of establishment is going to be either rowdy party people looking to recoup the room cost in "free" drinks, or families that don't want to have to worry about all the extras that will be incurred over the course of a weekend in a normal hotel stay (for a family of four that can quickly add up). In either case it is going to lead to some fairly overworked staff.

Regardless of the business model, it is fairly common to see exhausted and miserable-looking staff on a Saturday lunchtime at any hotel in the Northern Emirates, and for the service to be fairly poor; the staff struggle to cope with the surge in occupancy at the weekend.

Doug 5 years ago

I would have thought the fact that you were able to stay in the hotel with a voucher from Groupon would tell you all you need to know about how exclusive this hotel was going to be.

Also, it IS in RAK, which isn't exactly renowned as a luxury destination unless you're really interested in ceramics.