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Fri 15 Jan 2010 04:00 AM

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Keep it in the family

Bonnington's Martin Kubler and Alan Bostock explain why the family-owned company's first five-star hotel is Dubai's biggest secret and the group's most notable achievement to date.

Keep it in the family
The leisure deck on the 11th floor is exposed to the elements on three sides.
Keep it in the family
Bonnington Jumeirah Lakes Towers director of operations Martin Kubler has been working on launching the brand in Dubai since October 2007.
Keep it in the family
Bonnington Jumeirah Lakes Towers general manager (pre-opening) Alan Bostock has been with the company for 30 years.
Keep it in the family
The Cavendish is the main restaurant, while signature outlet Bokabento is opening early this year.

Bonnington's Martin Kubler and Alan Bostock explain why the family-owned company's first five-star hotel is Dubai's biggest secret and the group's most notable achievement to date.

What is the Bonnington Group's hotel philosophy and how is that apparent at Bonnington Jumeirah Lakes Towers?

Alan Bostock:We are a family company and all our hotels in UK and Ireland have got this personal touch, which is what we are trying to create over here. This is the first five-star hotel of the group. We wanted to focus on a boutique feel.

Martin Kubler:So far, Bonnington has never really done branded hotels; they are all individual properties. And they all have their own identity and their own charm.

What brings it together for guests as well as employees is when you are in one of our properties, you become one of the family. It is very visible, I think, in the way we interact with our employees, the way we interact with our guests.

The service attitude that we try to instill is that if a guest walks into one of our properties, he or she should be made welcome in the sense that they become part of the Bonnington family during their stay with us.

And in the UK and Ireland we have an extremely good track record of retaining staff for 10, 20, 30 years at a time. And we also have a very high percentage of return guests. We're trying to bring that over here and give it that extra edge for the five-star surroundings.

Why was Dubai the first location for the group outside of the British Isles?

AB:Going back to 2003/2004, there was tremendous potential at that time. There was the opportunity for overseas investment and ownership with the introduction of free zones; it was attractive from that point of view. We own and operate our hotels, which is probably another unique selling point.

MK:I think this is the first 100% owned and operated British hotel in Dubai. We own the land, we own the building, all our own money has gone into this building, there is no local partner.

Why did Bonnington expand into the five-star segment for this property?

AB:Our properties in the UK are good four-star and I think five-star is the level to be at here. It's the right level for this part of the world.

MK:Also, the area here really needed a five-star hotel. Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT) is a very important future commercial centre in Dubai.

How did you develop the concept for Bonnington Jumeirah Lakes Towers?

MK:Our other properties have their identity already; this one we needed to create from scratch. What we've come up with is essentially a very British, handcrafted hospitality concept. We've tried to deliver a very clean, very modern property that still retains key British features. You take the Authors Lounge as an example; it has a fairly modern look to it yet you have Shakespeare on the wall and there will be a library there in a couple of weeks' time.

The rooms are very modern, sleek and user friendly, but, for example, your teapot reminds you of British afternoon tea, so there are these signature elements in all the areas that we tried to incorporate to show our heritage and tradition.

So few things over here have history, but we actually do and this was part of the whole learning process - we came over here and we didn't really realise how important our history is to the local market over here. The Bonnington as a company has received a coat of arms in the UK, which we also brought over here and it turned out that this was actually more of a selling point than a lot of other things. The hotel has 40 storeys but it retains a boutique feel.

It will appeal to people who want to stay in five-star hotels, but want to be treated as an individual. What we're trying to do is to bring a European service attitude to Dubai that pulls right through from the rank and file to the management.

AB:Our focus in all our hotels is towards the corporate client as opposed to the leisure and JLT is obviously a corporate destination rather than a leisure destination.

Bonnington Jumeirah Lakes Towers fast facts

Status:in the third phase of soft opening - five out of 10 hotel floors open and another five/six apartment floors to open as of December 2009. Club floors and Club Lounge opening in the New Year.

 Outlets:The Cavendish restaurant, Bokabento, Healey's Bar, Author's Lounge

 Facilities:Leisure deck comprising health club, pool, Jacuzzi, steamrooms and hairdressing salon, exclusive car hire, hotel shop, four small meetings rooms

Competition:The Address Dubai Marina, based on property type and location; Liwa Oaks based on the fact it is the only other property in JLT; Movenpick Ibn Battuta Gate when it opens in 2010 in terms of location; Radisson Blu and Media Rotana.

 Staff:Currently 260, going up to 300.

What has been your approach to staff recruitment at the hotel?

MK:When we recruit, we don't just look at your skills, we look at you to see if you will fit into the family. That is very important because it is a family-run company.

The owning family is very active. You will very often see our owners here sitting in the lobby dealing with guests and speaking to staff.

We're not bound by overly restrictive brand standards and we're not bound by head office guidelines that my people should all be [a certain type]. We can really select the people who have the right spirit.

Other than that, it is an ongoing exercise to coach and train these people to be able to deliver a different kind of service to other five star hotels in Dubai. Very often, what happens here is you have got the bodies but that doesn't translate into five-star service.

For example, as long as you order something off the menu, that is OK; but as soon as your deviate from that, it's a long story, you end up speaking to the manager. This is where we are trying to be different.

Our management structure is very small compared to other five-star hotels. We don't really have an executive committee like many other five star hotels in Dubai. The focus is on customer-facing, on the floor positions.

How do you want the hotel to be perceived in the marketplace?

MK:One of the tag lines we have is ‘it's all about you'. If you look at the reviews on TripAdvisor at the moment for the property, you can see some of that filtering through.

We're not getting it right all of the time; then again, I wouldn't necessarily expect that at this point in time, but people seem to realise that we are about individual service - looking at you as a person rather than as another guest - and we are about honest value for money.

That is another reason why we didn't go out all guns blazing because we didn't want to sell something that doesn't exist. It's difficult enough in this environment to open a hotel, but we want to be honest with guests in all aspects.

AB: With Healey's Bar now open, we have the only fully serviced bar in JLT at the moment, so should attract local residents.

MK:As part of the Bonnington philosophy, we have always tried to tie into the local community and become part of the neighbourhood. Normally, hotel bars can be fairly dreary, but the Bonnington hotel in London always had a fair amount of ‘neighbours' come and use it because it was a good place to be. I can see the same thing happening here. The word is getting out that we are at the heart of JLT.

About Bonnington Hotels

The Bonnington Group was founded in 1907 in Scotland and was later taken over by an Irish company. "The current ownership is in fact Irish; it's nice that one family took over from anther family," says Bostock.

Also in the portfolio are: Bonnington Rooms in London; Cavendish Hotel in Eastbourne, UK; Regency Hotel and North Star Hotel in Dublin and Royal Hotel & Leisure Centre in Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland.

The company is also developing Gillette Corner in West London, UK, to create a 300-room hotel and business park.

Bonnington had announced a second property for Dubai at The Waterfront, but this is no longer on the cards. Bostock says: "The intention for the future is that once we get this (Bonnington Jumeirah Lake Towers) established, then we will repeat it".

Kubler adds that the opening of the Jumeirah Lakes Towers property during 2009 was a "huge achievement for what is essentially a very small company".

"We have been seen as the underdog, but we will be one of the finest hotels in Dubai," he says.

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