We noticed you're blocking ads.

Keep supporting great journalism by turning off your ad blocker.

Questions about why you are seeing this? Contact us

Font Size

- Aa +

Tue 21 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Novotelling it how it is

Novotel and Ibis World Trade Centre director of business development Richard Senior, director of operations Yasser Ahmed and director of human resources Michael Smith talk candidly to Hotelier Middle East about the challenges of bettering the brands’ flagship products — and why they have such a happy team of staff at the Dubai cluster of properties.

Novotel and Ibis World Trade Centre director of business development Richard Senior, director of operations Yasser Ahmed and director of human resources Michael Smith talk candidly to Hotelier Middle East about the challenges of bettering the brands’ flagship products — and why they have such a happy team of staff at the Dubai cluster of properties.

Director of Business Development

Novotel director of business development Richard Senior has been in his role at Accor's World Trade Centre properties for two years.

One of our focuses is going to be working more on the congress markets for the trade centre venue.

"A big attraction for me was the size of the properties," explains Senior. "I've always worked in big hotels; I like big hotels."

"Another attraction was looking after two very different properties. Firstly you've got a very upscale four-star which is the reference hotel for Novotel throughout the Middle East. It's one of the flagships for the company and runs at incredibly high occupancy - in the low 90s all year round. Similarly, Ibis is the reference hotel for the Middle East and again one of the global flagships. It maintains an occupancy year-round in the mid 90s."

But Senior admits that properties giving such strong performances come with unique challenges.

"One of the main questions of course was how do you better two incredibly successful hotels attached to the World Trade Centre?"

Senior's answer was to assess several aspects of the business. "We looked at the way we do business, the mix of business, then we adjusted that mix to focus more on corporate over mid-week. Over exhibition times, we worked on building the leisure business more at weekends, as that was one of our softer periods," he explains. "Generally it was looking at the strategic approach for both hotels - mix, rate and peak and trough times."

Senior explains his role as overseeing the properties' sales, marketing, revenue and reservations groups - "basically any external lines of communications," he comments.

Novotel and Ibis have always had a great relationship with the Trade Centre itself, Senior continues.

"We work with them for all major exhibitions, so we work with the conference desk and the events desk there. Obviously when they get big groups coming in we're obviously their first choice, so the relationship works well."

But times are changing - and the hotel-trade centre relationship is set to become more important than ever.

"From 2010 onwards we have the new exhibition centre over in Jebel Ali," Senior notes. "So I think one of our focuses is going to be working more on the congress markets for the Trade Centre venue. The big exhibitions like Big 5 will move to Jebel Ali, so we need to fill that gap with congress business and we'll need to work together with Trade Centre to make sure we get that business coming in.

"I think we're going to see a bit of a shift around and I think we'll have more leisure business," he says.

"I don't think we're going to suffer too much with occupancy, if at all, I just think we need to keep an eye on the ball if the drivers coming in are going to change.

"But our team is committed to delivering the best possible service; as long as we continue to do that, we'll continue to exceed people's expectations." Director of Operations

Director of Operations Yasser Ahmed is new to Dubai, having joined Accor just six months ago.

"I've been in the UK for the past 10 years, but Dubai is a place I've been looking at for a while," says Ahmed. "I was just waiting for the right opportunity - and working at Novotel and Ibis for Accor was an opportunity not to be missed."

One of the main questions of course was how do you better two incredibly successful products attached to the World Trade Centre.

Ahmed describes his role as maintaining standards and ensuring that the properties deliver the brand promise - a "very hands-on role".

"I work closely with all the staff; I'm the link between our promise to the guest and putting that into effect on a daily basis," continues Ahmed.

"The challenge to improve on this product is an interesting one; right now the properties are earning guest satisfaction scores of 96% and 95.2% respectively, which indicates guests who stay here would either come back or recommend us," he says. "So it's going well so far!"

According to Ahmed, his current key focuses are IT and F&B.

"A lot of guests are travelling with various gadgets and one of their prime concerns is how they will connect - broadband, WiFi, interactive televisions providing information and so on. So those are a few areas that we have been working on," he reveals.

"On top of that, another focus has been to strengthen the food and beverage offerings that we have. Considering this year quite a few hotels have opened up and there are many more to come next year, the focus really is on how to enhance what we have and make it an identifiable brand in the market."

Ibis' F&B offerings comprise popular Italian restaurant Cubo; Chianti, a small bar; and Le Gourmand, a multi-purpose function room used as a restaurant during peak demand periods.

Meanwhile Novotel boasts Blue Bar, a live jazz venue; Café Cream, an outlet for people on-the-go offering drinks and light snacks; and Entre Nous, the main restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The outlets are performing well but there are still plans for change, confirms Ahmed.

"There are so many properties opening that as a leading brand we have got to consistently review our offerings," he explains. "I don't mean we must go for a hard refurbishment - we're only five years old - but regarding the soft decoration, the branding of the offering and so on; that is a key element," he asserts.

"And there are definitely plans to introduce new offerings, bar- and restaurant-wise, enhancing the identity of the properties' F&B offerings."

Keeping up with all the new outlets in Dubai may be a challenge, but it is one that Ahmed relishes facing - and one which he says will be made all the easier by his team.

"The easiest way to describe the team is to point out guest satisfaction levels," he says.

"I've walked into a team that's motivated, passionate and headed by a young group of department heads who have got total commitment from their associates - I'm extremely lucky!" Director of Human Resources

Michael Smith has been the HR director for Novotel and Ibis World Trade Centre for over a year-and-a-half and has found that the Accor name - and the network and development it offers - is key draw when recruiting.

"There are 14 Academy Accor offices around the world offering 46 different courses, from orientation through to senior management and GM development training," he says. "Few companies can offer such a wide variety."

As a leading brand we have got to consistently review our offerings.

And selling points such as these have never been more important.

"It's no longer a case of us going out and choosing who we want working for us," Smith explains. "We need to go out, sell ourselves and tell people why they should join us."

Accor has committed to providing every employee with a minimum of three hours' training per month, plus ensuring each member of staff attends at least one off-job training course per year, reveals Smith. It is "big commitments" such as these, he adds, which make up the group's appeal.

However Smith admits that the properties' turnover rate "did increase towards the end of last year".

The response was to launch an internal campaign called ‘Look before you Leap'.

"We found that people were leaving on a promise of earning say AED100 more and finding the grass wasn't necessarily greener on the other side," he says. "They didn't look at the accommodation, performance-related pay - all the things over and above the basic salary. So we conducted this internal campaign to make people realise what they had here."

The campaign paid off, reducing the turnover year-on-year by 10% within three or four months.

"I think ultimately it's about being honest," Smith says. "If you really want to go to a job that pays more, where you'll learn more or be promoted, then talk to us and we'll support the transition. But speak to us first, because we can give you an honest opinion."

Ultimately, says Smith, the key to retention is to offer options to learn and develop - and this was one of the first areas he focused on upon his arrival at Novotel and Ibis.

"We got a great person on board as our learning and development manager, who is fun and really enthusiastic - you can always hear laughter coming from the training sessions," he says. "So we've seen been a huge transition in that aspect of the business.

"There's also been an increase in cross-training and the number of courses delivered. So people can do things in line with their personal development plans."

His new initiatives may have been a big success, but Smith is not planning to rest on his laurels.

"Our main ambition now is to be an employer of choice," he concludes.

Arabian Business: why we're going behind a paywall

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.
Real news, real analysis and real insight have real value – especially at a time like this. Unlimited access ArabianBusiness.com can be unlocked for as little as $4.75 per month. Click here for more details.