The expansive lobby area. The expansive lobby area.

Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah fuses the traditions of its 100-year heritage with a lighter, relaxed resort feel as it strives to compete in Dubai’s densely populated luxury market

Hotelier’s first visit to Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah was back in December, when we joined a sneak preview opening event thanks to a last minute invite from owning company Al Habtoor Group. The owners wanted the hotel open before the Christmas and New Year holidays and lo and behold, guests were welcomed from December 24.

Ostensibly, at that point the hotel was very close to completion, although rumour has it that the launch date was somewhat short notice for the team. Upon our return to the hotel in May this year, general manager Jan Moenkedieck, who has previously been GM at Hilton Abu Dhabi, Conrad Cairo, Conrad Tokyo and Hilton Dubai Creek among others, says the speed was something he had to take in his stride.

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He was recruited in September 2012, and says that this coupled with his existing market knowledge was “definitely advantageous”. Still, he had a new team of 500 people to get up to speed on “true Waldorf service”.

“We were always clear that this project will be expedited in a way that we’re working with professionals that understand how construction and hotels can work together. So we were not surprised by the fact that we would be launching this hotel very quickly, and as you know from opening hotels, you fly the plane and you build it while you fly it, right?,” Moenkedieck laughs.

“That’s the role of the general manager —to coordinate with the many stakeholders that were there. So we opened the door on December 24, had our first guest walking through, checked them in, and they were happy and we’ve not looked back since.”

A quick peruse of TripAdvisor prior to our visit in May was telling, however; early comments praised the beautiful hotel product, recognised it as high quality and advised making the most of low rates during the opening phase, but there was a pattern of disappointment in reviewers’ perceptions of the knowledge and skill level of staff.

Checking the most recent reviews for June and July, however, and there is a noticeable change, with positive comments in all areas and the 319-room hotel rated at 41 out of 475 hotels in Dubai. Now, TripAdvisor is certainly not a faultless barometer, but it does provide a decent insight into the perceptions of a new property. Moenkedieck replies to every single review, good or bad.

When asked about the service comments in those early reviews, he says: “You obviously start from the very beginning with a new team, so we hired about 500 people and started training them. Our brand standards are very detailed, our training standards are very detailed, so we brought in a big support team in terms of HR and training to make sure that people deliver. So overall I think people not only appreciate the hotel as such, but they also appreciate the calibre of people and the overall service approach that they receive”.

The main philosophy behind the “true Waldorf service” concept, steeped in 100 years of history, is to be “anticipatory”. This, by its very nature, requires staff to be empowered, and it is this confidence that in Hotelier’s experience, takes new staff some time to develop. A highly respected GM across the UAE, Moenkedieck acknowledges it is down to him to foster this.

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