By Jenny Eagle
Millennium Hotels and Resorts owns some of the most coveted addresses in the world, including the Mayfair in London and the Millennium Broadway, New York. It recently opened Abu Dhabi’s largest gym and spa at the Grand Millennium Al Wahda.
Millennium Hotels and Resorts has opened its second property and first Grand Millennium in Abu Dhabi. The 850 room Grand Millennium Al Wahda comprises 585 hotel rooms and 265 residences and is the largest hotel in the capital.
David Hüssy is director of engineering for the venue and is in charge of all facilities management. He started the job less than two weeks before the hotel opened, in October last year, after the existing general manager and his predecessor were let go because their work did not meet company expectations.
“My role in the first few weeks was to familiarise myself with all the systems, the property, all its equipment and the level of expertise of the employees. Two weeks later it opened.
“It was a very challenging and tough time but it makes the job all the more interesting,” he said.
As part of his job title, Hüssy covers the maintenance of all technical equipment including the AC, kitchen, laundry, fire alarm, fire fighting system, telephones and BMS.
He lives on the third floor of the building, with his wife and two sons, as do all the other senior managers who work at the hotel.
“I was on call 24/7 and didn’t get a lot of sleep, but that’s normal.
“It was the smoothest opening in my entire career. I wouldn’t change working in this industry for anything,” he said.
“Before, the hotel business was predictable, but here it is unpredictable because you don’t know what each day will bring, who will be coming in to meet you, what disaster you are trying to avert or which contractor you will be meeting. Not one single day is the same and you never know what it will bring or if you will finish on time.”
Originally from Zurich in Switzerland, Hüssy reports to the general manager and their joint focus was on opening the hotel on time, preparing everything for the launch and taking over everything from the contractors.
“Normally you would come a year prior to opening but there was a change of staff and the owners took on a new GM and director of engineering.
“I was pre-warned about the opening date on the phone but this is my fourth hotel opening so I had a lot of experience. When I worked at the Mövenpick Hotel in Doha, the whole management team arrived three weeks before it opened. It is good to remain positive. Where there is a will there is a way.”
Hüssy trained as a mechanical engineer and has worked for a number of hotels. He started at the Al Faisaliah Hotel, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia before moving to the Corinthia Bab Africa Hotel in Tripoli, Libya.
After this, he worked for Le Royal Meridien, Abu Dhabi, before joining the Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort & Towers, Dubai; Safir Suites Hotel Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt and the Mövenpick Hotel, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
He has assisted in the openings of the Mövenpick Hotel, Doha, Qatar; Swiss Inn Stella Di Mare Hotel, Ain Soukhna, Egypt and the Mövenpick Golf Hotel Jolie Ville, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
“I spent seven years in Egypt. I don’t speak Arabic but I can understand it and I often know what people are saying around me,” he said.
His first job was working for Sulzer-Escher Wyss Ltd., which develops and applies solutions to solve the problems of thermal turbo machinery operations. He used to work in the turnkey repair and restoration of industrial and utility gas turbines on oil and gas sites.
“One of my friends was the director of engineering for the Mövenpick Hotel group. I asked him how I could get a job in the hotel industry and he said I was too young, I was 27 at them time.
“I asked him every year about jobs until one day, on my 30th birthday, I found an advert for a chief engineer at the Mövenpick Hotel, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. I applied for it and received a job offer. My career grew from there.”
On a day to day basis, Hüssy checks his emails to see if there have been any problems overnight and carries out a duty manager report, checking for any water leaks, or to see if a problem has been fixed and repaired professionally, according to the correct standards.
Every day he holds a morning briefing session with his team of 23 staff and will distribute the work to them, which can include anything from a touch up paint job, any rectifications in the systems such as steam distribution, carpentry work, repairing doors that have been damaged, electrical jobs such as changing lightbulbs, taking electrical and water readings and checking the status of the AC and BMS.
All the equipment is currently on a warranty period so the team make trouble shooting decisions prior to something going wrong. The warranty is valid until the beginning of August and then after this, his team will take over all maintenance and repair in the hotel.
“In terms of rooms, we are three times bigger than Emirates Palace, but it is bigger in terms of space.
“At Grand Millennium Al Wahda, the building is taller in size as it has 31 floors in total,” said Hüssy.
“The biggest challenges we face are due to the size of the hotel, which can effect response times for engineering. For example, the workshop is in the basement, the air handling units are on the fourth floor and the chillers are up on the rooftop so it takes time to go from one floor to another.
“We are gradually changing the lightbulbs in the hotel from standard bulbs to energy efficient ones and we have to send two men to do this; one works from the top half of the hotel, while the other works from the bottom half up.
“It would take too long for one person to do the whole job. It just means we have to organise things a little differently.”
The daily routine checks include preventative maintenance for the laundry and kitchen equipment. The most important area, due to the climate of the country, is monitoring the AC and the water.
Cleaning the Zayna day spa for men and women comes under the housekeeper’s role. The spa has 10 treatment rooms, a couples treatment room, male and female relaxation lounges and a wet area that includes a jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and rainforest showers. Hüssy’s team looks after the jacuzzi, water quality, testing and lighting.
“We want guests to experience a relaxed, warm feeling in the spa so we create a calm atmosphere using low lighting and candles. It’s completely different to the rest of the hotel as we get to play with the colours.
“It’s important to look at the long-term goal in regard to energy saving and the use of lightbulbs.
Previously hotels only looked at the short-term option but now companies are beginning to realise the importance of long-term costs, sustainability and improving the environment.
“The money for this comes out of the repair and maintenance budget and we hope to have all energy saving lightbulbs in the hotel by the end of 2011.”
The hotel is currently looking at developing an environmental health and safety management system with Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority reducing the carbon footprint in hotels. “The target is to save 30% energy and 10% on water.
‘It is manageable. It is difficult but it can be done. We need to make sure employees are aware about the programme and educate them on the benefits of things such as switching off the lights, taps and turning off their PC when they go home,” he said.
Prior to the opening, Hüssy had a checklist of all the things he needed to look at in the rooms and validate guarantee papers and licences with Abu Dhabi Civil Defence.
“You have approved drawings in the design stage, but as building work started on the hotel in September 2006 and opened in 2010 a lot of changes have been implemented over the four years and a lot of rules and laws have come into force in the UAE,” he said.
One of those changes is the number of CCTV cameras installed in a hotel. Hüssy explained, since the killing of Lebanese pop singer, Suzan Tamim, 31, who was found stabbed to death at her apartment, at the Jumeirah Beach Residence towers in Dubai Marina in 2008, security has tightened up a lot.
Similarly, the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the senior official of Hamas, the militant Palestinian organisation, who was killed at the Al-Bustan Rotana Hotel, Dubai, last January, has led to several reviews of the number of CCTV cameras that are mandatory in hotels.
“Currently, guests are not allowed to use the underground carpark and park their car by themselves because the CCTV coverage isn’t installed there yet. Abu Dhabi Civil Defence is very strict on this and we have to have 24/7 recordings of all guests who enter the hotel.”
“We are not in charge of the security but in charge of the network operation of the cameras.
“The system is now fully operational. We were testing the installation when I came. We have approximately 670 cameras in the hotel in the corridors, lifts and lobby.
“The hotel is unique in that it is in the centre of town and people can come and use the restaurants, bar, health club and spa so, in case of any incidents, we have to have footage of who is coming in and out of the building and at what times of the day.
“The carpark is only used for valet parking at present.”
Hüssy said aside from guest rooms, the hotel has 265 residences including one and two bed apartments.
“This hotel was constructed during the high season before the crisis came, and there was a shortage of apartments and flats in Abu Dhabi, which is why we designed and built the residential apartments in the hotel.
“There was nothing here before, only the Al Wadha shopping mall.
“A lot of construction started when I came here four years ago. Ferrari World and Yas Island did not exist, nor did Saadiyat Island.
“The city is booming and accommodation will be stretched even further in five years time.”
Projects include the $40 billion Khalifa City, which will comprise all federal ministries, local government offices and embassies, which is expected to be completed by 2030.
Also, Masdar City, the first car-free zero-carbon, zero-waste city that depends on solar energy and the Al Raha Beach Complex with 50 high-rise/low-rise buildings for about 120,000 people.
“Abu Dhabi is entering an exciting cultural time, particularly with The Louvre museum planned for completion by 2012, on the Saadiyat Island complex.
“It has taken two years to get over the recession and there are some interesting times ahead and a lot of sporting championships, including the Formula 1 Grand Prix in November,” he added.