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Sun 22 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

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Fighting for a piece of the festive pie

With so many operators vying for a slice of the action this celebratory season, there's going to be a serious fight for consumer attention among the region's F&B outlets.

Fighting for a piece of the festive pie
Staff will soon be decking the halls at Al Murooj Rotana, Dubai.
Fighting for a piece of the festive pie
CHILLOUT: offering a warm reception with a cool twist.
Fighting for a piece of the festive pie
The Gingerbread House at Courtyard by Marriott.
Fighting for a piece of the festive pie
Turkey dinners are a big festive seller for Renaissance Dubai Hotel.

With so many operators vying for a slice of the action this celebratory season, there's going to be a serious fight for consumer attention among the region's F&B outlets.

The end of the year always holds something of a festive feel for the hospitality industry, with Eid, Christmas and New Year's celebrations all providing prime promotional opportunities for hotels and F&B outlets, and boosting business around the region.

As always, food and beverage play an integral role in these seasonal celebrations. But this year, with consumers remaining cautious about their spending and shopping around for top-value offerings, the region's outlets are going to have to work harder than ever to earn their festive business.

Seasonal success

Featuring several internationally recognised holidays and events, the winter months have long been an important annual focus for the F&B industry.

"During the festive season, people get time off from work and are more likely to plan outings and gatherings," notes Hotel JAL Fujairah Resort and Spa hotel executive assistant manager Rachid Assoudi.

"Plus the festive season means getting together with family and friends for good food, good entertainment and a special atmosphere.

"Consequently those of us in the hospitality sector must target that market by preparing catchy and interesting stay packages, themed food events and entertainment for these customers to have an array of choices," he observes.

Mövenpick Hotel Kuwait communications manager Dina Ghazali adds that this period is "the only season in the year when there are a lot of different celebrations taking place in a very short space of a time".

"These all require a great deal of preparation to meet the expectations of all the different nationalities celebrating them," she says.

In addition to meeting consumer demand, the revenue obtained during the festive season them has a major impact on a company's year-end financials, as Emaar Hospitality Group culinary operations manager Simon Barber points out.

"The festive season is also an opportunity to build relationships, make contact with future customers and drive new business to all our outlets," he adds.

Party time problems

Although special celebratory dinners, events and parties will undoubtedly take place this year, the consumer caution generated by the global economic downturn may well take its toll on the holiday season, with certain F&B operators predicting less footfall and reduced spend-per-head.

Hotel JAL Fujairah's Assoudi expands: "One of the major challenges that may impact this season is the global financial instability that is still a pilot factor in any individual's decision for spending, in both the local and the international market.

"The regular spender will think twice about the price-tag before picking their venue, while others will be either considering staying at home for a more casual and less costly celebration or not celebrating at all.

"This is why we have to take into consideration the actual financial situation and come up with affordable, quality offers to suit everyone's budget.

"But our predictions remain positive," he insists. "After all, figures dropping due to the reduced flow coming from the international market will be picked up by the local market, which has turned to more local offers in the shape of short breaks and dining options."

Mövenpick Resort Tala Bay Aqaba's director of F&B, Hakim Karoui, agrees that "many people won't be travelling like in previous years and the revenue forecasted is lower than before".

However Karoui remains optimistic, predicting people will still be going out to a certain degree and that "Christmas brunch will be as popular as previous years".

By contrast, Mövenpick Kuwait's Ghazali does not expect to see any slide in revenue.

"In our part of the world we do not see that it will really be effected; in fact, some people say that the business might increase here in Kuwait, due to the fact there may be a certain percentage of people unable to travel abroad to celebrate this year," she says.

Parvinder Singh, business manager at Sharaf Hospitality - owners of Chillout, the region's first ice lounge, located in Dubai - says he is also "upbeat about this year's festive season".

"We are looking forward to increased revenue growth compared to last year," he says, explaining this will be achieved through special rates and group deals offering guests a better value proposition.

Emaar Hospitality's Barber expounds on this line, saying business is improving in the region and that people will undoubtedly venture out to celebrate: "The difference is they will be looking for the very best deals," he explains.

"People will naturally want to make the most of the festive season; we just need to make sure that all our promotions are cost-effective and executed smartly."

In addition to dealing with the repercussions of economic turmoil, there are of course more operationally-based challenges to face during this period.

As Al Murooj Rotana director of food and beverage Dominique Jossi points out, this is a time of year when operators must fight to stand out.

"The major challenge is to create a festive atmosphere in a way that exceeds our customers' and competitors' expectations," he says.

Courtyard by Marriott and Marriott Executive Apartments Dubai Green Community assistant F&B manager Stefan Lehmann has also seen an increasing number of hotels coming on the scene, "all offering competitive festive season packages and promotions".

"So our biggest challenge is not to loose our guests to these new outlets," he points out.

Meet the supplier

Five minutes with... Barry Tilley from The Original Candy Company, owner of the Chocca Mocca brand.

Tell us a bit about the lines you supply to the Middle East market.

Chocca Mocca is a new entrant to the HORECA market, both in its home country of England and also in the Middle East. As a supplier of its premium chocolate range to up-market department stores around the world, such as Harvey Nichols in England, Galeries Lafayette in Paris and Mitsukoshi in Tokyo, its award-winning chocolates and packaging have been a hit with consumers for many years. Following positive comments from visitors at Gulfood in 2007 and 2008, it was decided to introduce a Chocca Mocca pack aimed specifically at quality hotels and restaurants. The result is the new 25g pack, with the top-selling ‘Strawberries and Cream' and ‘Cranberries' flavours. The shelf life is 10 months from manufacture.

How do you think your products could enhance an outlet's festive F&B offering?

Chocca Mocca chocolates, whether in the new 25g size or the classic 100g ribboned box, are the perfect treat for the Christmas season - perhaps as a gift to customers in hotels and restaurants or as a show of appreciation for loyal guests.

Executive chefs will want Chocca Mocca as a high-quality decoration, while hotel boutique shops will want 100g boxes to tempt hotel guests - especially the Strawberries and Cream flavour, with its festive red and white colours!

Meanwhile Mövenpick Kuwait's Ghazali notes that, with such a variety of celebrations taking place within a comparitively short space of time, it's a case of all hands on deck for the F&B department.

"The span of time between one celebration and the other is very short, which means shifting from one mood to another must be done in swiftly," she points out.

"But at the same time, the décor for each celebration needs to be given the same level of attention and uniqueness."

At Renaissance Dubai Hotel, executive chef Andy Kurfuerst is preparing for the drama of last-minute bookings.

"Many people tend to book at the last minute over the festive season, particularly for New Year's Eve celebrations," he explains.

Then there are some who face unique challenges all of their own.

"The main thing for us at Chillout is to ensure we have a good  stock of hooded parkas, fur shoes, gloves and fur caps to keep our guests warm, since each item apart from the gloves which are disposable needs to be laundered after use," says Sharaf Hospitality's Singh.

Unique Yuletide

The challenges are clear - fewer consumers, spending less, with more options to choose from.

So what are Middle East F&B operators doing to put themselves ahead of the competition and get themselves a piece of the pie?

At Al Murooj Rotana, Jossi is hoping the property's blend of "theme decoration, fine cuisine and live entertainment" will attract customers, but adds: "I am confident that our New Year's Eve theme party is an event not to be missed."

Hotel JAL Fujairah is catering to the current climate, offering both low- and high-scale F&B options to suit any purse - a sensitive approach also taken up by Mövenpick Kuwait.

Ghazali explains: "This year all of our F&B promotions are somehow focused on discounts in one way or another - early birds, ladies nights, and so on.

"But what we are trying to do to distinguish ourselves from our competitors is to create theme nights in our restaurants that are not available elsewhere," she says.

Mövenpick Tala Bay will run a ‘Turkey to Go' deal, allowing people, to enjoy dinner in the comfort of their own homes, and in-house guests will be able to enjoy themselves while their kids are entertained by a range of festive activities.

Meanwhile at the Courtyard by Marriott, Lehmann reveals a truly original take on turkey: "As unique Christmas promotion, we will offer deep-fried turkey, which is very popular in the southern part of the USA," he explains.

The Renaissance Dubai will play to its strengths, making the most of the Spice Island buffet's variety of food offerings and live cooking stations.

"We started our ‘all-you-can-eat-and-drink' package in 1997 and that combination is still unbeatable to this day, although many have tried to copy it," adds Kurfuerst.

Chillout will be adding to its already fairly unique offering with live ice-carving sessions to entertain guests.

Sharaf Hospitality's Singh expands: "We will also conduct special activities for children during this season, to enhance the festive appeal."

According to Emaar Hospitality's Barber, the various locations of the group's properties are a key attraction - and a point of difference in the crowded marketplace.

"Our hotels are located in vibrant hubs like Downtown Burj Dubai and Dubai Marina, which are already attracting a lot of people," he notes.

"But we will also have celebrations in our leisure clubs - like Arabian Ranches, The Montgomerie Dubai, Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club and Dubai Marina Yacht Club; again all of these offer something different to celebrating in a hotel, purely because of the kind of surroundings they're in," he points out.

As this range of promotions, value-added options and seasonal deals demonstrates, the region's F&B operators are to be lauded for their ongoing creativity and determination to offer value-for-money to their guests.

But they are right to do so: people may be filled with festive spirit over the coming months, but it's going to be an intensely competitive few weeks in the world of F&B.

Those who do not work hard to attract what custom there is will find themselves facing a rather bleak new year.

But for those who pull out all the stops and make the most of their F&B offerings, building revenue in the final quarter of this year, 2010 will not seem nearly so daunting.

Meet the supplier

Five minutes with... Daniel Hutmacher, managing director, Swiss International Chocolates

Tell us a bit about the lines you supply to the Middle East market.

We supply the region with three regular lines, all hand-made by our master chocolatiers.

Firstly there is Taste of Arabia, local products and local vision transformed with our skills as Swiss chocolatiers for local tastes; the Classic line, an international selection of exclusive chocolates with flair, suitable for the true chocolate connoisseur; and the .DOT line of sugar-free chocolates, which is our response to the growing demand for sugar-free products for the diabetic market and those with special dietary requirements.

We also have a Winter Collection - a limited edition of 24 different chocolates to suit the festive season, with products taking our customers back to their childhood favourites.

In addition to our current ranges, which are all proving very popular, we also have plans to introduce a kids' line in the near future, with some surprising ideas for the little ones!

How do you think your products could enhance an outlet's festive F&B offering?

The festive season is the highlight of the year for discerning diners, with all those wonderful traditional flavours to experience.

Our Winter Collection reflects this, featuring spiced gingerbread, candied ginger, dried apricot from Syria, fig and star anis, golden truffle, and other classics - they are a great way to round off a special, celebratory meal!

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