This month marks two years since David Wilson took over as general manager of the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah. I remember meeting Wilson soon after he joined, at Serafina for a meet-and-greet — the first sign that he was all about interacting with people and making the experience as personal as possible.

It’s something he talks about right off the bat. “From the first time I came into the Waldorf Astoria here, I felt that this was a really special property and had great potential. We have a beautiful hotel but as I always say, the thing that makes a hotel is people. Anyone can build a luxurious hotel if you have enough money. But the key was really to put the heart and soul into the hotel through our team members and really to make sure that we could create the vision for the hotel and drive that through,” he says.

This, Wilson says, is responsible for the property climbing up TripAdvisor ratings, and winning multiple global awards. When he joined two years ago, the hotel was ranked 47th on the TripAdvisor ratings for hotels in Dubai, and at the time of the interview, it was on the 12th spot. Team culture, he emphasises again, is an important element of this success.

“It was really important that a lot of time was focused on building that culture and really emphasising that with our service values, with our vision and mission of the hotel, and being able to communicate that to all the team members and get their buy-in as well. Because a lot of the time we find you have really good people, but the secret is empowering them to do the best that they can,” says Wilson.

Hiring the right people was part of this process, and Wilson adds: “It’s often said that if you hire really good people they are already motivated — just don’t demotivate them. Give them the freedom, give them the scope to be able to deliver the service, and they’ll really get the feeling of reward from that. And that’s what we did.”

Wilson set about with improving team communication and delivering a sense of empowerment. Telling his team members that they are the most important people in the service delivery chain, Wilson is transparent about the hotel’s performance, its successes as well as challenges. “I’ve always done it and I’ve felt it’s useful. If you open up and talk to your team members, with full disclosure and really open, honest integrity, tell them what’s going on, they feel more part of the process,” Wilson says.

The results have been heartening,  Wilson reports, with the internal employee engagement survey showing a spike in engagement numbers.

Once this was done, the marketing underwent a change. The team refined its strategy when it came to selling rooms. The property made a “big push” for its 64 suites, and its private lounge. “We were able to relaunch that to the market and increase the awareness of those premium products, which helped us drive up our rates. We weren’t selling suites as effectively as we do now. Our suite occupancy is now high 60s, low 70s, which is very good occupancy for suites,” says Wilson, and reveals that there are many times when the hotel is sold out on its suites.

Following this aggressive suite strategy, the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah increased rates over the last year, and is looking at increasing them again. “We’re taking an aggressive approach on rates, and I believe we are able to do it because we’re offering a really good product that we’re confident in, where we can get the rates.”

It’s encouraging that a property is looking at increased rates, especially in a sub-market as populated as The Palm Jumeirah. Wilson says he estimates there are probably more than 3,000 rooms coming over the next two years, including some recent openings. “I’m still confident – there are a lot of rooms opening up but Dubai just gets stronger as a destination. It’s continually evolving and offering more to the visitor. So part of me says, ‘yes, there’s a lot of rooms’, but on the other hand, with the continued supply, the demand could be created. A lot of people probably wondered when The Palm opened, how are they going to fill all those hotels… but here we are, with very promising, strong robust occupancies on The Palm.”

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