SNEAK PEEK: Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal
Exclusive photos and interviews from the luxury, soon-to-open hotel
Hotelier Middle East offers an exclusive preview of Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, the luxury property being developed by Abu Dhabi National Hotels due to open in Q4
It’s almost here: the long-awaited Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal has begun its 60-day countdown and the handover from contractor to operator is underway.
The hotel, expected to be the regional flagship for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company as well as a flagship property for the owner, Abu Dhabi National Hotels (ADNH), is slated to open in early Q4 — and judging from Hotelier’s visit on August 1, this target appears to be well within reach.
As the first media invited to tour the property, spread over a gargantuan 57-acre site in the UAE capital, Hotelier witnessed the handover of a couple of the restaurants and the 1550m² Roma ballroom, which has already been booked out for weddings in November.
We walked the vast property — although did hop on a buggy for a tour of the hotel’s 85 villas — and discovered not only the traditional Ritz-Carlton opulence and grandeur one expects of the luxury brand, but also some pleasantly surprising deviations from the norm.
The surprise at Ritz-Carlton starts with the sense of arrival, for which the brand is renowned, but at the Abu Dhabi property, this really is something pretty special. The building, designed by architect Otak International with interiors by Sfa Design, sits facing the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and this subtly influences many aspects of the design.
The mosque itself is framed in the entrance to the beautifully appointed lobby so the guest has a clear view of the UAE’s most famous religious monument. Mosaic tile patterns on the floor of the lobby, as well as motifs used in other public areas and on the guest room doors and floors, are exact replicas of the designs used within the mosque, while the lighting of the lobby at night will also echo that of the mosque.
This all adds to the impact of the entrance and lobby, but what is most surprising is its clean, modern, elegant feel — finally, a luxury hotel has steered away from the usual Arabesque influences so common in the region.
Yes, there’s gold and marble and chandeliers — this is the flagship Ritz-Carlton of Arabia after all —but the impression is one of graceful glamour and fine finishes, rather than the ostentatious opulence we feared.
As general manager Pep Lozano, a 20-year Ritz-Carlton veteran explains, the hotel is inspired by 15th to early 17th Century Renaissance architecture and has a distinctly Venetian feel.
The main hotel is comprised of 10 stately buildings in a crescent shape surrounding a landscaped lawn peppered with water features and the signature feature — a 1600m² swimming pool.
In addition, there are the surrounding villas, a 2000m² standalone ESPA spa, although this will not open until mid-2013, and the Venetian Village restaurant and retail complex.
The sheer size and space occupied by Ritz-Carlton establishes the grandeur expected of the hotel while the figures speak for themselves: firstly, ADNH has invested more than AED 1.5 billion (US $408.3 million) in the development. Then there are 447 rooms and suites plus 85 villas; 10 restaurants; 2182m² of meeting space; a ballroom that seats 900; lawns with capacity to hold events for 5000 people; and 1000 staff.
But it is the detail in the design that “makes the difference”, says Lozano.
Three signature outlets have been designed by famed Japanese restaurant specialist Super Potato — marking the designer’s debut in the Middle East and making Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi the first property for which the firm has designed three concepts.
Food & beverage
A tour of the F&B outlets alone at Ritz-Carlton takes the best part of an hour; in addition to the three signature Asian, Steakhouse and Lebanese concepts, Ritz-Carlton offers all-day dining, a lobby lounge, lobby bar, pool bar, outdoor restaurant and Hotelier’s favourite, Dolce, an Italian-style café that wouldn’t look out of place in a boutique or mall.
Designed in bright orange, white and silver, Dolce is almost clinical in its look — far removed from anything we have previously encountered in a Ritz-Carlton. It will offer ice cream, sorbets, cakes and pastries, as well as a gourmet retail selection of tea and coffee, with items packaged up in trendy orange boxes — all great for the hotel’s branding.
While the look of many of the restaurants is more contemporary than expected — the all-day dining Giornotte is modelled on a Mediterranean villa while Southeast Asian outlet Li Jiang is inspired by a high energy Asian supermarket — the approach to the cuisine served is typically traditional.
Executive chef David Gache explains: “Maybe we’ll have two or three dishes that are more fancy or creative but first we will make sure that the basics are well done and I think that is the key of our food and beverage in all the outlets; the vision of food and beverage in this hotel is classical, well done, with the right product”.
EAM of food and beverage Tabish Siddiquie adds that with such a range of guest profiles expected, the hotel needs to offer “something that appeals to a broad base”.
It also has to be recognisable, says Gache, hence the signature Lebanese restaurant Mijana sticking to its core cuisine.
“In this part of the world Lebanese food is traditional, it’s not like French food where you have lots of dishes,” he says. “Lebanese cuisine [consists of a] couple of mezze, couple of mixed grill, if you want to go out of that you become a fusion restaurant and we didn’t want to go in this type of direction. [If you are] too eclectic you lose the spirit and intensity of the dish.”
“That’s why we’re not going into fusion,” adds Siddiquie. “We’re looking at stuff we know we can execute and we do it well.”
One restaurant in which the chef is pushing the boundaries at is The Forge, Ritz-Carlton’s signature steak house designed around a series of nooks and crannies offering plenty of semi-private dining space.
Gache says that in Abu Dhabi, most steak houses are only offering meat from the US and Australia, but he wants to provide the “best beef available from Australia, France, Ireland, England, Japan etc”.
“Some meat from other countries is unknown – it’s up to me to put that on the menu and develop guests’ tastes and palates,” he asserts.
With such a wealth of facilities, the market is wide open for Ritz-Carlton and the team frankly admits that in a city where competition is rife, they will need to tap into every opportunity. Generally speaking, corporate, government and leisure business will form the key markets, with group bookings expected to account for a significant portion of business.
“If you are in a market where demand is greater than supply you can choose who you target. At this point in time, we’ll target all markets,” says Dilip Mukundan, DOSM.
With 532 rooms available though, he says it’s “a perfect group hotel”, with one request from the US already coming in for an entire takeover of the hotel for four days. “It’s a big win not just for us but for the destination,” says Mukundan, adding that Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority’s (ADTCA) presence with a regional office in New York has been greatly beneficial.
“For us ADTCA has been crucial in order to develop a lot of new business opportunities within Abu Dhabi,” adds Lozano. “It’s played a key role building tourism offices in major cities, in Riyadh, in New York, as well as bringing big delegations.
Adding Ritz-Carlton to the portfolio of Abu Dhabi will increase awareness of the city now. Thanks to our website and our powerful links with clients and business we will create more awareness of Abu Dhabi in the market, so I think it’s a win-win solution.”
Mukundan says the UK market has received the product very well — particularly the villas — and that a key target is to sway the Russian market to book standalone trips to Abu Dhabi, rather than twinning the destination with Dubai as has been the case historically.
“We’ll push a lot of groups into the hotel — that’s our drive,” adds Mukundan. “Weddings will be an important segment — we have far larger inventory than other five-star hotels in the city.”
A weddings specialist will look after sales and organisation of the events, with enquiries already coming in from India.
In terms of corporate clients, Mukundan says Ritz-Carlton will likely share some accounts “with the hotels across the water” — namely Fairmont and Shangri-La.
According to Lozano, the proximity to these two hotels is positive, with the three together working to establish the ‘Between the Bridges’ area of Abu Dhabi.
“[Together] we’re actually competing with other hotels on the Corniche,” he says.
As always, location is critical, but being based at the entrance to Abu Dhabi city, 15 minutes from the Corniche, 25 minutes from Abu Dhabi International Airport and less than an hour’s drive from Dubai, puts Ritz-Carlton in a strong position.
So with the 60-day countdown begun, what are the GM’s priorities? Firstly, it’s the people, says Lozano, referring to his 75 managers and opening workforce of 700.
“As a general manager the main concern before opening is to make sure your ladies and gentlemen are well taken care of.
“So the focus remains to make sure their accommodation is ready, that all the managers are on board, that we found suitable schools for the managers that have children and that everything is working for them so they can focus strictly on the hotel.
“And then of course a very big focus is handing over the building to make sure that we take over the building properly, that our testing life and fire safety commission and so on are taken care of,” continues Lozano.
“And number three is positioning the hotel properly, he adds. “This is going to be the flagship of the Middle East right now. We haven’t had an opening since two years back in DIFC in Dubai, this is the first one in the capital of UAE and definitely it’s going to be one of our key properties within the Middle East.
“We are different from the other [hotels], we have special features and our location. In addition, it’s a piece of land that has a lot of history behind it because here there used to be the Gulf Hotel, one of the oldest in Abu Dhabi. A lot of the big families have learned how to swim here, have been coming at the weekends, got married here, so they’re all [looking forward to the] Gulf Hotel coming back,” says Lozano.
As we’ve seen, it’s likely these families will find a few surprises in store at the new hotel — but we imagine they’ll be in for quite a treat. Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi manages to present the traditional class, elegance and opulence for which the brand is renowned, but in a slightly more contemporary clothing.
Meet the team
Pep began his professional career at Hotel Arts in Barcelona, a Ritz-Carlton managed property, in various food and beverage roles. The experience in this department enabled his transfer to The Ritz-Carlton, Washington D.C. as the director of food and beverage in its opening phase in 2000.
Pep then returned to Hotel Arts for a series of consecutive leadership roles, culminating in his promotion to hotel manager in 2006.
A year later, he was appointed general manager of Abama Golf & Spa Resort, another Ritz-Carlton managed property, in Tenerife, Spain. He has also participated in the successful openings of various Ritz-Carlton properties around the world, namely in Wolfsburg, Germany; New York, United States; Marbella, Spain; and Penha Longa, Portugal.
Prior to his new appointment, Pep helmed The Ritz-Carlton, Doha in Qatar, his first foray in the Middle East, as general manager from 2009.
Radek Cais brings 22 years of hospitality experience to Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, having began his career as a Sous Chef with a AAA 5-Diamond property in Vancouver. He has since held a variety of progressive senior management positions throughout Asia and Europe and spent the last decade in several general manager roles throughout the Middle East with the Radisson SAS hotel group.
In this capacity he managed the construction and operation of a 100-unit luxury residence in Bahrain then opened a 427-room five star hotel in Cairo. Most recently, he oversaw the planning and implementation of the full scale renovation of one of Jeddah’s leading business hotels.
Executive Assistant Manager of Rooms
Audrey Huttert began her rooms career with Disney Hotels in the US before joining The Ritz hotel in London.
She joined The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company where she held progressive positions at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead in Atlanta, The Ritz-Carlton New York Battery Park, The Ritz-Carlton, Wolfsburg in Germany, and Penha Longa Hotel & Golf Resort, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, in Portugal.
Her most recent role was EAM rooms then EAM operations at Abama Golf & Spa Resort, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, in Tenerife. Prior to that, she worked for Conrad Brussels in Belgium.
Executive Assistant Manager of Food & Beverage
Tabish Siddiquie brings over a decade of luxury hospitality experience to his new role, including work at the US-based Ritz-Carlton properties in Ohio, Fort Lauderdale and Sarasota and Marriott resort in Goa, India.
Most recently, he held the same position at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota on the shores of Florida’s Gulf of Mexico and prior to that, Tabish held various food and beverage positions at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman in the Caribbean.
Director of Sales & Marketing
Dilip joined The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore as the associate director of sales before moving stateside to oversee the two Ritz-Carlton properties in New York as area director of international sales.
He then moved to Orlando as director of travel industry sales for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel and J.W. Marriott Hotel at Grande Lakes Orlando before returning to Singapore as regional director of sales for South East Asia with Mandarin Oriental.
Dilip returned to Ritz-Carlton Hotels four years later in the capacity of director of sales & marketing at The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain and in total, has more than 20 years’ experience in the industry.
Director of Finance
Vincent started his career with Accor, where he held progressive positions in France and China, including area roles, over the course of eight years before joining IHG Dubai Festival City as director of finance & business support.
Vincent has a Degree in Accounting and Finance from Bordeaux University in France and also attended Reims Management School at Middlesex University where he achieved his CESEM international course diploma B.A. (Hons) in European Business Administration with First Class Honours.
Director of Engineering
Mohamed joined The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal as director of engineering in November 2011.
He brings with him more than 20 years of engineering experience with Marriott Hotels. Mohamed started his hospitality career as chief engineer at the Renaissance Hotel in Dubai before moving to the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Dubai. From there, he moved into the role of cluster director of engineering for Marriott in Kuwait before joining The Ritz-Carlton.
Director of Human Resources
French-national Richard began his professional career with five years in the French Navy before joining MKG Consulting where he oversaw the Lodging and Catering sector.
Igniting his passion for hotels, Richard soon joined Hilton Hotels where he spent the next three years at their various properties in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
He then moved to Hilton Abu Dhabi before joining the One&Only Royal Mirage, Dubai as director of human resources & training.
A French national with extensive experience in European, Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines, David started his career with IHG in Geneva and London. Having spent more than five years in Europe, David joined Le Méridien resort in Vanuatu in the South Pacific Ocean and throughout the years worked at the company’s properties in Bahrain, Indonesia and Thailand.
Prior to this appointment, David served as executive chef of Ritz-Carlton in Bahrain. At Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, David will lead a team of 113 chefs and 28 stewards.
F&B at a glance
THE FORGE: Signature steak house serving speciality cuisine in a stylish and contemporary setting paired with the world’s finest wines. Designed by Super Potato, private dining rooms and a variety of seating options provide a range of exclusive dining experiences.
LI JIANG: A modern Southeast Asian restaurant designed by Super Potato with an open kitchen focuses on spicy, authentic and Oriental cuisine.
MIJANA: Super Potato’s third concept, a contemporary Arabic restaurant promising to offer traditional Lebanese cuisine.
GIORNOTTE: Designed to resemble a classic Italian villa, the all-day dining restaurant serving light Mediterranean fare features an outdoor brick patio with a wooden deck overlooking the gardens.
DOLCE: Modern Italian-style café offering fine coffee, espresso, home-made ice cream and pastries for dining in and retail.
AL FRESCO: The pool and beach restaurant offers some healthy options.
ALBA: A comfortable, classic lobby lounge with semi-private dining areas will host Afternoon Tea.
SORSO: A bold red and silver themed bar with a great selection of drinks.
TWO POOL BARS: Refreshing beverages on hand for guests using the huge pool.
Ritz-Carlton partners and suppliers
Architect: Otak International (USA)
Interior design: Sfa Design (USA)
Signature Restaurants design: Super Potato (Japan)
Beds: 400 thread count Egyptian cotton bed linen from Rivolta Carmigniani
Amenities: Bathroom amenity line for Suites, Club and Villas from Bvlgari
Uniforms: Dress Best Styling from Istanbul, Turkey
Chinaware in The Forge, Dolce and Club Lounge: Villeroy & Boch
Chinaware in Giornotte Banquets, In Room Dining, Al Fresco: Fortessa
Chinaware in Alba, Sorso, Li Jiang and Mijana: Nikko
Flatware in The Forge: Ercuis
Flatware in Mijana and Li Jiang: Christofle
Flatware in all the other areas: Fortessa
Glassware: Schott Zwiesel
Speciality glassware: Impulse, Eisch and IVV
Linen: Rivolta Carmigniani