Second nature

How resort operators can overcome nature's will and offer well-maintained beaches and gardens in order to maximise revenues from their outdoor spaces.
Second nature
By Administrator
Tue 11 Mar 2008 04:00 AM

How resort operators can overcome nature's will and offer well-maintained beaches and gardens in order to maximise revenues from their outdoor spaces.

The Middle East coastline, surrounded as it is by waters such as the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden is a major lure for tourists.

The size of the beach itself does not have a significant impact on the cost of day-to-day beach operations.

Visitors expect four- and five-star resort hotels to feature attractive beaches as a bare minimum, so the appearance, size and facilities offered by a beach can play a key role in attracting guests to a particular hotel.

"The beach is a prime factor in peoples' decisions to stay in a hotel and so can impact the revenue from rooms," says Jumeirah Beach Hotel's director of sports and leisure Ian Phillips, who oversees 40,000m2 of beach plus seven swimming pools at the Dubai hotel.

It is therefore imperative that operators maximise their beach offer.

Bearing in mind the challenges posed by changes in weather, currents and tides, some fundamental issues need to be considered.

"In order to provide a nice beach environment, it is important to ensure we use the right products for cleaning the beach and for collecting and cleaning the sand as well as its debris," says Phillips.

"The other important factor is to provide high quality furniture for the beach, for example comfortable sun beds and good reliable beach umbrellas that can withstand high winds without rusting or breaking during the hot summers," he says.

Quality employees are also integral to the beach offer, as they are responsible for cleaning, meeting and greeting guests and taking food and drink orders, adds Phillips.

Safety issues are key and all Jumeirah Group's lifeguards are trained at its Wild Wadi Waterpark and qualified to Ellis Associates' international lifeguard standards.

However, according to PRM International training manager Heike Glassner, there are major differences in the training required for beach lifeguards compared to pool lifeguards, hence the distinct courses offered by the company.

These comprise the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) UK National Beach Lifeguard Qualification and the RLSS National Pool Lifeguard Qualification.

There are also, agrees Phillips, a number of differences in running a beach as opposed to a pool operation.

"The size of the beach, as well as the depth of the sea, shifting tides, hazards in the sea itself, water temperature, pollution control, access control to ensure the beach remains private, and night-time operations make beach operations more challenging to run," he says.

The incredibly hot and humid climate of many places in the Middle East brings another issue for operators, who have to be more flexible here than in other locations.

"During the hot summer months, we adapt several of the services we offer," says Phillips.

"For example, we lay mats on the sand to ensure guests can walk to the sea without burning their feet and we put jellyfish nets in the sea around our beach."

"Throughout the year, we provide guests with cold towels and welcome drinks on arrival and complimentary ice lollies are given to guests periodically throughout the day," he says.

The other challenge posed by beaches is the fact that changing currents and tides can physically change the shape of a beach, points out Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi health club and recreation manager Stewart Hodsoll.

Formerly based at Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort - a resort highlighted by Glassner as offering a great example of beach lifeguarding systems - Hodsoll joined the new Shangri-La last year.

Although not all the facilities are open yet, the hotel will soon offer eight swimming pools, four beaches, a health club, a CHI spa and a marina.

While many hotels are building their own beaches, the four Shangri-La bays, which are spread over 1km, are natural beaches that have simply undergone some cosmetic shaping.

Hodsoll plans to carry out full beach surveys every two months, reclaiming and shifting sand where necessary.

Changes in the shape of the beach are a particular problem at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea in Jordan.

"Our beach is not that large [150 metres], yet the maintenance cost of the beach is extremely high," says general manager and regional manager Jordan Bruno Huber.
The Dead Sea is losing one metre in size annually and the shore is breaking every winter.

"We need to repair regularly, amend access and building retention walls," he says.

The Dead Sea in itself, despite being one of the hotel's USPs, causes its own problems.

"The salt of the Dead Sea water is affecting equipment, making maintenance work more difficult than elsewhere," says Huber.

It also means the hotel's main priority in terms of beach operations is safety, as the salt content of the water is around 28%.

The hotel has a doctor on site in the day and a nurse on duty round the clock.

With so many issues for operators to consider, how expensive is it to run beaches and how can operators maximise revenue?

"The size of the beach itself does not particularly have a significant impact on the cost of day-to-day beach operations," says Phillips.

"However, the bigger the beach is, the greater the need for more equipment, which is obviously an additional cost," he adds.

"A well-run beach with high quality service will in itself generate revenue for the hotel, through an extensive range of activities and food and beverage, as well as beach membership for local residents," asserts Phillips.

Garden centre

Other outdoor spaces at hotel resorts include gardens and landscaped areas, which as well as being visually attractive provide extra facilities for guests.

Ritz-Carlton has large landscaping teams at its hotels in Dubai and Doha, Qatar - where the total area of outdoor space spans a massive 37.5 hectares.

The teams are responsible for the CARE (Clean and Repair Everything) of the hotels' soft and hard landscape, which incorporates the lawns, pathways and beaches.

At The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai, the gardens offer an added extra for guests, according to director of engineering Madan Kulkarni.

"The physical layout of the landscape with its variety of regional plants and palm trees adds aesthetic appeal to the hotel," he says.

"The hotel is designed in such a way that all guest rooms, restaurants and even the gym have a garden view."

"Upon entering the hotel lobby, a colossal window welcomes you to enjoy a magnificent vista of the tropical gardens, and beyond to the Arabian Gulf."

"Ground floor rooms have private terraces that lead guests directly into the gardens and restaurants have outdoor seating," he adds.

The gardens are multi-purpose, with the lawns ideal for sunbathing, the gardens used for outdoor events such as wedding ceremonies and gala dinners, and the grounds simply providing an area for walks.

In some respects, extensive gardens provide hoteliers with more operational challenges than beaches, because of the need to continuously maintain them throughout the day and ensure proper irrigation, while being environmentally-aware.

The irrigation system in use for the gardens at The Ritz-Carlton Dubai - which were created by grading and sculpting what was in effect raw beach sand, then adding several centimetres of topsoil - is very hi-tech, according to Kulkarni.

"A network of pipes waters the lawns by night and the plants by day, and all are computer-controlled on a 24-hour cycle by cleverly hidden pumping units. Much of the five million gallons of water used daily in the summer is recycled," he says.

As well as presenting a great demand for water in the summer months, the gardens also pose challenges in the winter.

"During the cold months and the occasional stormy weather, strong winds uproot some plants and grass, which make the gardens less appealing," says Kulkarni.

"This results in extra work for the landscaping team, including extensive replanting to return everything to its natural splendor," Kulkarni adds.

The irony here is unmissable. The "natural splendor" of resorts' beaches and gardens depends on the continual investment by the operators.

However, with such features often being the deciding factor in whether guests choose a particular hotel, the potential returns are just as obvious.

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