In 2017, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts revealed that its Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa in Oman would relaunch as a private standalone resort. The 180-key hotel, located adjacent to Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, was set to undergo a refurbishment and offer enhanced guest experiences and new dining options for its guests. The hotel is maintaining its children’s policy, which encourages adults and guests over the age of 16.

Guests will continue to enjoy private butler service, daily afternoon tea, pre-dinner cocktails, pre-loaded iPods with personalised music selection, and complimentary beverages from the in-room mini bar. Guests of Shangri-La Al Husn will also have access to the offerings at Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa.

Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa general manager Milan Drager, who joined the property in February 2017, sat down with Hotelier Middle East to share updates on the separation.

He says that the first step to mark the separation from the owner and operator was his appointment. “Having a separate general manager for Al Husn was the first step from the owner’s side and our company to commit to the repositioning of Al Husn — because previously it was always managed with one general manager.

“Al Husn has a rich history, and my first job was to do a proper assessment of the current situation and identify the areas needing improvement.” Drager explains that the repositioning is based on the fact that the property has been open for just over a decade and with the accumulated knowledge about the resort, its guests and region, it was possible to position Al Husn as an independent Shangri-La. “But also as something that’s new and different, while still ‘Al Husn’ so it’s still recognisable,” adds Drager, and continues: “We have a large amount of return guests; of course it’s important for me to keep Al Husn ‘Al Husn’ for them because we don’t want to create something that’s not authentic, and unrecognisable to them. That’s not fair.”

It’s prudent to ask why this separation from the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, after being together as one complex for so long. Drager states that commercial reasons are the first obvious answer — not related to rates necessarily, but with the expansion of luxury hotel alliances in the Sultanate, it’s considered important to be part of these programmes. “If they are inviting other properties in Oman into their programmes and we are one of them, then it would directly reflect in high-end bookings, in addition to those we currently perhaps don’t get at all or partially get,” he adds.

“Then of course the positioning is part of it as much as anything else. Previously if you look at the complex website and there’s three hotels, guests that don’t know us will wonder, ‘what’s the difference, where should I stay, why should I pay a premium?’ So we want to position ourselves as a luxury property,” Drager states.

The final reason is communication of value proposition that has resulted in the split. Drager says: “I think it’s more difficult to properly communicate the value proposition of Al Husn when it’s always pegged to two other hotels. I would say generally we have done a really good job here in Barr Al Jissah for the complex to have a strong identity which, obviously you need, if you have three properties this close together. You have a clear distinction — Al Waha is for families, Al Bandar is for corporate accounts, meetings and events, local, social and other things, then you have Al Husn which is for high-end leisure.”

The repositioning involves splitting in a number of areas, including separating the operating systems, the booking channels and social media channels. There is also physical appearance that needs to be considered, Drager emphasises. He reveals: “Our owners have committed a substantial amount of money to be invested in key areas of the hotels.” This is to create an “enhanced version”, Drager notes, of what already exists, which is to be reflected in key areas like the beach, the pool and the courtyard, and the gym and spa. Finally, there’s the soft side of things, related to training, guest experience and brand touchpoints. The resort has on-boarded a team of Shangri-La specialists dedicated to personalising and enhancing the guest experience. These specialists, Drager confirms, will be available to custom-design activities, from pre-arrival through the duration of a stay, that cater to different interests and embrace the local culture.

Enhancements have included what the resort offers its guests as well. Drager notes: “The health club will be redone and offered in a new location. The idea is to have a larger health club that can target what we call the active ageing market, with the equipment that we have and the exercises that we are offering there.

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