As the team at Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri in Abu Dhabi gears up for the launch of yet another addition to the complex - the four-star Traders Hotel - its sales & marketing (Levent Tekün), F&B (Joseph Matar) and spa (Nancee Ong-Wee) managers highlight their priorities for 2009.
Director of sales and marketing
Having been part of the pre-opening team at Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri, director of sales and marketing Levent Tekün has seen the hotel develop from "virtually nothing" at an incredibly fast rate. Since launching the property back in 2007, Tekün has been part of an equally fast expansion at the property.
"We had Chi the Spa come on line, the Villas, the Residences, Pearls and Caviar, the Souk and now Traders Hotel, which is due to open in the third quarter of this year," says Tekün.
"We will be the first Shangri-La Hotel & Resort complex to house four of our brands on one site - the hotel itself; the luxury Shangri-La brand, the Residences, Chi the Spa and Traders, our leading four-star brand that will have 301 rooms, all-day dining and its own gym, swimming pool and beach, but all connected within the same complex," he says.
Tekün reveals, however, that Traders wasn't part of the plan when Shangri-La was under development.
"Initially, when the commissioning was done, the building was going to be an extension to the Residences; however, with the current trends, especially of 2007/2008 and the boom in the market, there was certainly an interest in getting more hotel rooms on line. We looked at the possibility of this, we proposed it and here we are, a year and a half later, it's been redesigned and reconfigured inside from apartments to a hotel," says Tekün.
The priority now will be to create awareness of the Traders brand in the local market, says Tekün, who describes the concept as a "hassle-free hotel facility".
Meanwhile, at the original property, the focus is on maintaining client relationships and the strong positioning the brand has developed.
"We've started to obtain a strong client base and our repeat guest ratio is growing. Our established Shangri-La hotels average 42% repeat custom, which is actually quite high for a hotel company.
"At the moment our hotel, which has only been open for a year and a half and six months as an entire complex, has a repeat guest ratio of about 36%, which is above the industry norm [for that time period] and we are confident we will be in line with the brand by the end of this year," asserts Tekün.
Also high on the priority list for 2009 is promoting the Villas at Shangri-La, three of which are family-themed and three of which are themed to suit events or private functions.
"The villas are unique in themselves; they are probably the most luxurious part of the complex. Three have cinemas and they all have their own swimming pools; it's basically a self-contained unit with butler service, car parking and direct access into the hotel beach," Tekün explains.
"These are of importance to us and we need to create a larger awareness of them, which we've started doing, especially for the local and Middle Eastern market with larger families," he says.
Director of Food & Beverage
Heading up a team of 220 staff with five restaurants, three bars and a comprehensive room service offer is Shangri-La director of food and beverage Joseph Matar.
Following six years working for Shangri-La in Sydney, Matar joined the Abu Dhabi property a year ago, and has since overseen the launch of the latest addition to the resort - Pearls and Caviar.
"Pearls is the bar upstairs and Caviar is the restaurant below. It serves a combination of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, with the emphasis on sea food," says Matar.
"It's a hidden secret at the moment, the awareness is not 100% there, and my main priority for the next season will be to get Pearls and Caviar to the next level," he continues.
"I believe by the end of the year it's going to be the most popular place to have a drink in the whole of Abu Dhabi," asserts Matar.
The classy establishment, which has already caused quite a stir thanks to a lavish media launch, does bring with it some challenges, however.
"Shangri-La is quite a large operation and being a large property as well we have restaurants quite far away like Pearls and Caviar and we also have challenges with the room service, the Residences and the Villas," says Matar.
"It can happen that on one weekend, the hotel is full, the Residences are full and the villas are full; this is where there is tension and you have to make sure you balance it well.
"It all comes down to planning, briefing and communication to ensure that everyone is in the same page, making sure that cascading information to the line staff is done," says Matar.
Great service usually guarantees repeat custom, and at Shangri-La's F&B outlets, 70% of guests come from outside the hotel.
"We work on the repeat guests and look after our business," says Matar. "I would say our main advertising is word of mouth. We didn't have to work hard to promote the place; it's a good thing and we have left room to advertise later."
He says that this will become more important as new hotels open "because people like to try new things".
"Definitely we are now the best hotel in Abu Dhabi and we have to work hard to maintain that, as everyone knows it is easer to get to the top than to maintain being at the top, so the next year is going to be quite challenging to maintain the success and keep it going, to be ahead of the competition," says Matar.
He adds that there is also room for new outlets in the F&B division, citing the Plaza Bar, as an example. Currently used for outdoor functions - such as the GIBTM party that catered for 530 people last month - the location "provides the opportunity to have something permanent," says Matar.
"Definitely I've got a plan for that place - a chill-out venue with low seating and weekend beach parties," he reveals.
Director of Spa
Shangri-La director of spa Nancee Ong-Wee is passionate about the chain's Chi the Spa brand, having worked with it previously in Cebu in the Philippines, the second ever Chi Spa, and launching the Abu Dhabi version.
And the ongoing development of the spa has been a great success, she says, with the team increasing to 35 and with no sign at all of the operation being impacted by the economic crisis.
"Business has been even better and regular guests are coming in more often", says Ong-Wee, adding that, as with the restaurants, most business comes from outside the hotel - with 60% of customers repeat visitors - but that the guest capture rate has improved to about 5-6%.
"After being open for a year and a half now we know more about the market and what they are looking for, which is the typical authentic Chi rituals," adds Ong-Wee.
As a result, she is developing some new treatments specifically for Chi at Shangri-La in Abu Dhabi, at which 20% of the treatments are bespoke to the property.
"We have a new Himalayan treatment with water therapy in the hammam," she says.
"We call it the Chi Himalayan Ritual; it's actually a two-way process of detoxification and revitalisation using the Tibetan range of products."
Another new treatment being introduced this month combines Tibetan and Ayurvedic therapies, with a four hands massage including Shirodhara -the pouring of Ayurvedic oils onto the temples and forehead.
"The focus is really on the four hands massage, because getting two staff with the same pressure is a challenge; the therapists need to be of the same build and the pressure and technique needs to be similar so the guest will not feel the difference," explains Ong-Wee.
"My next idea is to do the hot stone massage with four hands. I'm trying to incorporate the Ayurvedic side of things, because with Ayurveda we normally just use the head massages but imagine doing the two-person hot stones - it would be fantastic," she says excitedly.
Another new initiative to push would be the Wellness Package, a weekend-stay in the hotel, continues Ong-Wee.
"For AED 1800 (US $490) it includes the stay in the hotel, spa treatments, breakfast, lunch and for some we do meditation programmes and yoga classes - it's more of a retreat where you spend the whole day with us," she says.
"It's still rather new, we are still trying to develop it because it is quite hard to get somebody off the laptop and the mobile phone for one day," admits Ong-Wee.
But of all the places in Abu Dhabi, Chi the Spa might just be the one place that turns this idea into a working reality.For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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