Mid-market is the trend du jour, and operators are certainly tapping into the demand for affordable hotels in the region. One such operator is InterContinental Hotel Group among whose portfolio includes the Holiday Inn brand. While that brand is by no means new to the region, IHG and Al-Futtaim, on April 18, 2018, opened the UAE’s largest Holiday Inn at the Dubai Festival City cluster, joining the InterContinental, InterContinental Residences, and Crowne Plaza.

This hotel is also meant to be a flagship for the brand, and it’s why the property’s general manager Patria Puyat, taking on her first GM role, is determined to get it right. We meet her a few weeks before the opening onsite and the hotel is a flurry of activity. Final touches are being added to the lobby, and training is ongoing, while Puyat answers what seems like an avalanche of phone calls. Despite that, she’s smiling. She tells me later on: “It’s not easy because there are a lot of times when you just have to smile. The learning I have had from this experience is understanding when you fight to win, and when you decide it’s okay to retreat.”

Moving to this hotel from the Crowne Plaza in the same cluster, Puyat tells Hotelier: “I’ve been in the business for 27 years as a hotelier, and it’s certainly, for me, a super new challenge in this area.” Being part of the process from the beginning, Puyat compares it on a bigger scale to her previous experiences with conferences & events (C&E). She comments: “I did C&E for a long time and that’s a department where you build something from nothing, and the energy you get after it is finished is absolutely amazing. That feeling, I thought, would be there in a big scale with pre-opening.”

In fact, having put together her own personal development plan early on r, it was a couple of years ago when Puyat told her managers that she wanted to elevate her career into hotel management. She says: “I was very lucky that I had a boss who believed in me and saw the potential in me. Soon I heard that we were going to have this new hotel coming up, so I put it out there. A lot of people asked me, ‘how did they know [that I wanted the job]?’. You have to tell them! If you don’t step forward and raise your hand, how would they know?”

So now, Puyat is the captain of the ship, and she says the opening of the Holiday Inn Dubai Festival City was strategic on many levels. She comments: “The Holiday Inn stands for family, for you being yourself, for guests that are empowered, and for colleagues that can express themselves.” Puyat continues: “The details of this property are very well thought of. It’s well connected to the mall, and our owners have said that they want Dubai Festival City to be a destination. And we are a destination.

“We are seven minutes from the airport and eight minutes from the city so we are in the middle. Plus we are connected to the cluster. The IHG cluster in Dubai Festival City is the biggest cluster for IHG with the addition of a Holiday Inn.” In fact, at the time of going to print, this is set to get bigger, as IHG revealed another management agreement with Al Futtaim to debut Staybridge Suites Dubai Festival City. The 160-key hotel will be the fifth IHG property in the Dubai Festival City cluster.

She says: “We feel that we are in a good position. Business is good when your location is good, and when the external elements around you are good as well, you have a winning proposition.”

Area director of sales & marketing Sayed Tayoun points out to Hotelier that the IHG Dubai Festival City cluster has been in the market for 10 years and already caters to a variety of segments and markets. “The Holiday Inn element is to complement our offering for our customers by offering a mid-scale brand-defining [concept] like Holiday Inn. We have been very lucky to work with owners like Al Futtaim who have really invested in the product to be a great example of what the future of Holiday Inn would look like. Now we are complementing our product offering, and the destination we are in helps us play on every single market segment,” he adds, very much reiterating how the cluster can now gain further market share.

Part of what will add to its market share is events. Putting her MICE hat back on, using the cluster to capitalise on the MICE opportunities in the region can only make perfect sense, Puyat believes. “What Holiday Inn brings is that second level. Organisers would like to talk to a company that can answer all their needs. Because we have a massive inventory of rooms we have now become more flexible in terms of size of groups that we can access and the different meeting rooms and venues that we can offer. InterContinental and Crowne Plaza was already a great cluster and when you add another hotel room into the mix, it just gives you variety.”

Tayoun adds: “IHG Dubai Festival City is a leading MICE destination; we have more than 10,000 square metres of event space [across the cluster]. We need to leverage our position within the MICE world and attract and increase our market share, whether by taking bigger groups and hosting them in different brands and cluster or focusing on purely Holiday Inn markets.”

But it’s not just MICE. The location, Puyat reveals, also lends itself to leisure groups, stopover groups, airline connections, and sports associations. “Holiday Inn is a family-oriented hotel, and we really have done a lot of marketing towards families to come and enjoy the hotel because it’s built for everybody.”

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