City Insider: Thomas Schmelter, Area General Manager, IHG Dubai Festival City
We catch up with the Area General Manager of IHG Dubai Festival City to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry and what guests can expect from a stay at Dubai Festival City.
What can guests expect from a stay at InterContinental Hotels Dubai Festival City?
Nothing less than a truly unique experience. Imagine waking up every morning to stunning waterfronts views, sand tarting your day with a quality breakfast in Anise, one of the most iconic restaurants in Dubai. Guests can also enjoy unequal service and privacy at our Club InterContinental, a wonderful piece of real estate located on the 26th floor overlooking the skyline and our see-through infinity pool, one of the unique features of InterContinental Dubai Festival City. For shopping lovers, the connection to the Dubai Festival City Mall is ideal. The activities for children are second-to-none at the Festival Bay, where daily entertainment is guaranteed, including the word record-breaking IMAGINE show, a laser, water and fire spectacle using the hotel as a backdrop.
What would you say sets the four hotels apart from their competitors in the city?
Like any good and functioning cluster, the strength is leveraged through its unity. With the backing of a talented team, we potentiate the collection by positioning our properties as a true urban resort. We are also privileged to have a vast diversity of brands to offer, from InterContinental and Residence Suites and Crowne Plaza to Holiday Inn. Therefore IHG Dubai Festival City has a place for everyone.
Please tell us about your day-to-day role and what keeps it challenging and exciting?
I’m most happy when I’m interacting with guests to ensure we focus on exceptional and personalised service, driving consistency and ensuring every guest feels special and leaves our property with positive memories that last for a long time. I also spend a lot of time with our teams on the ground to safeguard and make sure they have all the tools they need to deliver true hospitality.
As a general manager, how do you encourage trust and loyalty in your guests?
Trust and loyalty is built every time through genuine hospitality and meeting guest expectations. The service and the feeling of expectations met, coupled with strong and meaningful engagement achieved through listening and understanding preferences, create a sense of belonging, ultimately cascading to repeat stays or referrals.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the hospitality scene in the UAE. Do you think the industry is beginning to bounce back?
Travel patterns of our guests have changed as they travel less and stay longer, while hygiene and cleanliness levels are at the centre of guest’s preferences. Marketing, sales, revenue, and operational departments are as synchronised as ever. As a cohesive team, we refine our new direction with a realistic long-term and adaptable strategic vision. Indeed, we see signs of recovery, our summer looks very strong and the Q4 pace is ahead of 2019 but we have all learnt to be realistic in our assumptions. We believe that with the continuous supportive actions of our government and the readiness to return to normality, we will bounce back stronger.
What do you believe hotels have to do to stay relevant and ensure success during these unprecedented times for the industry?
Reinforce and pursue creativity, challenge the status quo and get ahead of the curve. Business is being sourced from different sectors and driven from different channels. Patterns are changing, as are consumer behaviours and needs. We are accountable for being current, relevant but also responsible for the future.
Do you believe peoples attitudes to hotel stays changed in light of the pandemic?
During the early stages of the pandemic, yes. We feel guests have the utmost trust in sanitisation levels and through thorough processes, hotels have been elevated to another level. IHG Way of clean, for example, is at the forefront of everything we do and communicate. The trust is earned and our properties have adjusted accordingly.
The hospitality industry in Dubai has had to pivot to cater to residents and staycations. What are you doing to try and capture this market?
This is one of our most proud successes and from the early days, we were adamant about being ready for these trendy experiences. We have partnered with various Al Futtaim verticals (retail, automotive and healthcare) and created products that targeted demand. We have made use of the gastronomic experiences available at our cluster to add value to these staycations. As a result, we gained respected media coverage.
Working in the industry, where do you like to stay when you have a day off? What are your favourite properties in the region?
Sports and wellbeing are an important part of my life. I enjoy the benefits of a good workout in one of the four gyms we have in our cluster or simply going for a sunset walk at the Festival City promenade to enjoy the waterfront views. As a family, we enjoy many culinary outlets available in our hotels, from local specialities to Michelin star delights.
What are some of your favourite cultural hotspots in Dubai and why?
The UAE has a fascinating heritage and I enjoy exploring the typical Dubai sights like the Al Fahidi Quarter, the traditional architecture at Sheikh Saeed Al-Maktoum House and the maritime heritage of Dubai Creek and Al Seef District.
Could you please share with us some of your professional goals for the rest of the year?
The safety and wellbeing of our colleagues and guests remain our utmost priority. With Dubai welcoming tourists and travel restrictions easing further, we are ramping up our operations and business activities to be ready to bounce back and look forward to welcoming everyone.