Metropolitan Hotel, Habtoor Hotels

Janes Warwick, General Manager of Metropolitan – Habtoor Hotels Metropolitan Hotel brand recognition has come over the years, Metropolitan Hotel has over the years built it up. Actually, we just changed, we were known as the Metropolitan and now we’re Habtoor Hotels. With this change in times, we’ve changed our logo and our image. So we’ve gone from Metropolitan Hotels to Habtoor Hotels, our logo has changed, our vision has changed.

Let me start with the overview; we’ll talk a little bit about the sector, about the hotel industry, then we’ll move on to the Al-Habtoor chain, and then to this particular hotel, ending with a personal question. So, according to World Travel and Tourism Council, the tourism industry in the UAE is expected to grow by 14% in 2008. Also, the plans are to attract 15 million tourists by 2015. Do you think these goals are realistic?

I actually think that they’re probably an underestimate, it’s a very conservative view. With the opening of the new airport, I would say that those numbers are low. Dubai has become an immensely popular destination, and the government is pumping so much money into not only advertising the country, but what the government is actually doing, as we talked earlier, with the motor-racing or whatever. Virtually every day now, you put on television on whatever sports program or news, you will see somewhere “Emirates.” Emirates tells us the story of Dubai, and everybody nowadays links Emirates Airlines with Dubai.

Do you think the return rates of the tourists are still up, do you think the tourists are returning or is it just one way, to see Dubai once and enough?

From my experience, especially in this hotel, I have a tremendous amount of repeat business. And repeat business over the years, so people who have been coming here for business and then who come back here for leisure, then they’re back on business then they’re back on leisure. So yes, the repeat business; I don’t know what the actual figure for the repeat business is here, but I should say it’s really high. Certainly here, and certainly with the people I’ve met in the city or around the city.

Their motivation to see this place is to see development going around?

I think what brings people back are the facilities; golf, horse-racing, motor-racing, the weather, the sea, the shopping. Dubai is a destination, it’s a fast-changing destination.

How does the hotel industry contribute to this?

We create a support system; obviously if there are no hotels, the tourists can’t come in, so you need hotels to support the tourists.

Is there any obligation from your side to develop tourism?

Of course, of course, not only to develop tourism but also, there are two things we’re running here: we’re trying to develop the business sector, we’re trying to drive in the MICE market, and also balance in the tourism market. And most of the hotels in the city are split with their clientele from tourist and business, so you’re having in the hotels a mix of tourist and business people. And you have to make it so that the two work together. Even if you go to the beach properties, you’ll still get corporate clients staying at the beach and mixing with people on holiday.

So the challenge is to find the right balance?

The challenge is keeping everybody happy. You know, we’re not purely a tourist destination and we’re not purely a business destination, so we’re catering for two markets; we’re catering for the leisure market, which is a totally different way of catering for the business traveler. The demands from the two types of traveler at the end of the day are different. Yes, at the end of the day they all want to bed, but what they want during the day is totally different. The business traveler will leave the hotel at eight o’clock in the morning and won’t come back till eight o’clock in the evening. Whereas the tourist is around your property all day or using your facilities, etc.

And if you are running a very high occupancy rate this must be really challenging to keep the quality.

Yes, I think Dubai prides itself..In fact I don’t think, I know Dubai prides itself on the quality and the standards of its hotels and being able to work with these two sectors to be able to keep everybody happy. And it’s the goal of the government and the goal of every hotel here in this city, we will actually try and exceed our customers expectations, whether tourist or corporate.

So Al-Habtoor Group has currently four properties?

We have actually four properties in Dubai. We’re in the process of building a new one on the Palm. We have two properties in Lebanon.

How do you assess your operations so far; you’re one of the local chains, right?

We’re very much a local chain, we’re a chain that is totally owned by a local family, yes, the Al-Habtoor Group.

Do you have any competitive advantages being a local chain? Do you have some cultural input?

I think we understand the market place a lot better. One, we’ve been around since 1979, so we understand the market, we understand how the marketplace changes. Speaking as a hotel general manager, I think I’m very lucky because one, the owners of the property are also visionaries, and they are thinking for the future, so we can change, we’re not constrained, we can change direction very quickly. We don’t have to go through the corporate structure to be able to change or to make decisions, it’s instant.

So it’s the flexibility to react?

Totally, yes. And we can change direction in hours as opposed to other companies who would have to change direction in weeks. But we can change direction, we can change our thinking instantly.

What is your current position on the market, in terms of market share, in terms of satisfaction, room occupancy?

Presently we are running at 85%. Two things we’ve just done actually for this property itself: we’re part of World Hotels, so we’ve just been awarded an 83% pass rate on the Mystery Shopper, which is very very high. As a market share, we’d rank probably in the fifth, in the top five hotels, but you’ve got to remember who I am competing with. This property was built in 1979, whereas the properties I am competing with are more recent, within the last 5 or 6 years.

Are you going to go through renovation?

This property will, it’s been through, it’s almost thirty years old so it has been renovated and it will undergo possibly in the next 18 months, the next two years, it will possibly go through another major renovation. At the moment we’ve just complete a total renovation of one of our restaurants, that has been done, a Chinese restaurant, and the others now will follow.

What is the group’s position internationally in terms of market; is it also present on the international market or do they have expansion plans?

As stated, we have two hotels in Lebanon. Our mission statement, if you like, is the Middle East First, so our concentration is here at the moment.

What do you do to manage your brand, what kind of activities do you do, how do you manage your brand in the competition with international chains?

Our brand recognition has come over the years, we have over the years built it up. Actually, we just changed, we were known as the Metropolitan and now we’re Habtoor Hotels. With this change in times, we’ve changed our logo and our image. So we’ve gone from Metropolitan Hotels to Habtoor Hotels, our logo has changed, our vision has changed.

What achievements have you achieved throughout the years or recently?

Where would you like to start!

Well, let’s say last year.

Our achievements are straight enough. This hotel was the forerunner of many many events in this city. We did the first motor-shows, in fact the annual motor-show was originally started and run from here. We started show-jumping in this hotel. We started go-karting in this hotel. We did the first trade shows, if you like, we started doing British weeks in this hotel, and this is all back in the early eighties. That’s to name but a few. Oh and one more, we did the first dog and cats show also, in this hotel. And all these events are still going, and there are other events we started; there’s the Desert Charity Ball that started in this hotel, these are local events but they’re still going on.

What kind of clientele are you attracting in terms of nationality, for business and leisure?

Each of our properties attracts a different clientele. Into this property, mainly Europeans, into the beach properties, it’s again very high European but a different market and our downtown properties are more GCC.

In terms of the European market, is it mostly British?

Here on this property, yes. The beach hotel, more German, more Russian and then British.

How would you address the social responsibility policies within the group, are you a socially responsible group? What kind of activities do you do for the community?

Our chairman is very active, but I’m not informed about details of what he does but he’s very active in the community.

How does the hotel division fit into the overall group Al-Habtoor?

We’re a major player within the group, one must remember our core business is construction, Al Habtoor Construction, then we have the motor division, Al Habtoor Motors, we have the hotels, we have schools, we have publishing, we have insurance.

Are there any synergies between these divisions, how do you manage this diversity?

This year the chairman, Mr. Khalifah Habtoor, started an award program, which is known as the Chairman’s Award, which has actually brought all the companies in together, because we’re all now competing with each other as divisions, but also as a company, for the accolade of the Chairman’s Award. So it’s made the companies come together, but also has made us work a lot closer together.

And the hotel group, in terms of competition?

There is competition between the hotels but again this has actually forged all the divisions of the company together, because now we’re all working towards achieving the accolade of the Chairman’s Award. That’s broken down into many sectors but it’s actually brought us all together and made us work more closely together, although this year was the first year for it.

Personally, as a hotel manager, what kind of particular experience would you bring to the group, or have you brought in the past. What has been your greatest achievement?

I would say last year we did particularly well, we won the Chairman’s Award, and as a business unit we are extremely proud of the team and I took this hotel to winning the award, which compared to the other properties which were a lot newer than this one, and I’m very proud we did it. What have I brought to the group over the years, what single thing? Many aspects, I don’t really know. I think that question you would have to ask others what did I bring.

What is your personal ambition right at the moment; would you like to stay with the group or would you like to move on to corporate life?

I enjoy the challenge of running a hotel, and the excitement of running a hotel, it’s a very exciting job. And every day, it’s not a job, it’s a passion. I think that anyone in this business, it’s not a job, that’s probably the worst thing you could ever say, it’s a life, it’s a passion, it’s all I know, it’s all I’ve ever done.

How is your hotel special, in terms of competition?

I think the history of this property. And we’ve always delivered, we have tremendous reputation for our food and bed chambers in this property. The location is great, but also when you look around the grounds of this property, it’s fantastic; gardens and whatnot, which my competitors certainly don’t have. There are gardens in the back and there’s a pub with a beer garden; I’ll take you for a stroll. There are 3000 people on site at any one time here, would you believe, because behind the hotel they have residents, and behind the residents they have staff accommodation.

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