NEW OPENING: Dubai's Ocean View hotel, JBR
Exclusive shots & details of the latest hotel to open on The Walk JBR
No stranger to Dubai’s The Walk JBR, JA Resorts & Hotels opened Ocean View Hotel on the beachfront in December. Hotelier Middle East gets an exclusive preview to see where US $136 million investment has been spent, and how it will be earned back.
Click through to the next pages to reveal the names of our interviewees at the hotel, exclusive details about the new property and photographs.
Meet the team
Carl Stephan, F&B Manager
Originally from the UK, Stephan has more than 15 years of F&B and operational experience. He joined Ocean View Hotel’s preopening team after six years in the UAE with the Ramada chain, where he consistently demonstrated his creativity and capabilities.
Alexander Fries, Executive chef
Fries joined Ocean View Hotel’s preopening team after two years in the position of executive chef for Oasis Beach Tower, Bateaux Dubai and the Citrus brand. He started his career in his home country Germany before travelling the world working with renowned hotel brands. Recent roles include executive sous chef at One & Only Royal Mirage in Dubai.
Tracey Tipping, Executive housekeeper
Tipping joined JA Resorts & Hotels from Australia where she spent three years as executive housekeeper in Hamilton Island Holiday Homes. Her overall experience in housekeeping amounts to 20 years, 17 as executive housekeeper. She has worked in properties varying from ski resorts to cruise liners.
Jojy Joseph, Cluster financial controller
India-born Joseph has been in the finance field for about 20 years, three of them with JA Resorts & Hotels. He joined from Hilton where he spent an impressive period of 17 years in three different properties gaining a wealth of experience. As part of preopening team for Ocean View Hotel, Joseph controls financial flows, ensures payment of bills and more.
Adriana Gina Bicosu, Leisure and spa manager
Orginally from Romania, Bicosu studied at National Academy of Physical Education and Sports in Bucharest and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree, specialising in Physical Therapy. She has been pursuing a career in hospitality for five years, and spent the past three with Sofitel Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Millennium Plaza Hotel.
Elena Giordano, Front office manager
Italian Giordano joined JA Resorts & Hotels seven years ago as a management trainee, working her way up to front office manager in Oasis Beach Tower which has been her role for the past two years. She started her career at Hilton Hotel & Casino in Douglas, Isle of Man before moving to the Mount Murray Golf Hotel and Resort as head receptionist.
JA Resorts & Hotels has invested a hefty AED 500 million (about US $136 million) to once again own and operate a beach hotel in one of its favourite Dubai spots ‘The Walk JBR’, in the emirate’s popular marina area.
The Ocean View Hotel, dubbed the only four-star beach hotel in Dubai, is located minutes away from the site of the old Oasis Beach Hotel which was run by JA Hotels & Resorts, formerly Jebel Ali International Hotels, for a decade before it was closed by its owner Al Fattan Properties on August 29, 2008 before being demolished.
At the time, JA Resorts & Hotels said it was not the firm’s decision to close the hotel: “It is all part of being in Dubai and seeing this extraordinary city constantly reinvent itself."
Just over four years on and it is the company that has reinvented itself as JA Resorts & Hotels, following an 18-month rebranding process costing several million dollars in line with its international expansion strategy, having operated in the UAE for 30 years.
And it is no coincidence that the first hotel to open under the new JA Resorts & Hotels brand guidelines is on The Walk, where it also operates Oasis Beach Tower hotel apartments.
“It’s a fantastic area for a hotel. We had a four-star [hotel] that we used to run here,” says director of sales and marketing Anabela Radosevic, fondly referring to the old Oasis Beach Hotel.
“It was less competition then - a different time - but the hotel used to run at 91% occupancy year round, which in a hotel is almost impossible.
Plus on many occasions we would have a higher average rate than five-star competition just because of the popularity of the property so that gives us a great confidence that our new four-star property will have its clientele, there’s a market niche,” Radosevic asserts.
Ocean View Hotel and Oasis Beach Tower cluster general manager William Harley-Fleming says JA Resorts & Hotels had had its eye on the new property for some time.
“The property is very much the one we wanted to add to our portfolio within the area. We’ve invested a considerable amount of money to refurbish it,” he says.
The property forms part of The Walk JBR’s original master plan which incorporated four hotels.
The neighbouring hotels include Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach at the far end of the beach stretch, The Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach and Amwaj Rotana — Jumeirah Beach Residence, located next door to the final of the four, Ocean View Hotel, due to open in January 2013.
“It was always built as a hotel but was never actually opened, so we purchased it in the final stages [of construction] and started to rip the guts out,” explains Harley-Fleming.
JA Resorts & Hotels is owned by Dubai-based Dutco Group of Companies which includes Dutco Construction LLC, boding well for the transformation of The Walk’s “ugly duckling” hotel. More than 800 contractors were on site when Hotelier Middle East visited the property towards the end of November.
“Our owners are extremely supportive. Our parent company Dutco has been around since 1947 and construction is its forte. So we went into this hotel with a fresh approach.
We’ve employed a very good architect — Woods Bagot out of Australia, they most recently completed St. Regis on Saadiyat Island,” he explains.
“Before it had a reception counter, the rooms had headboards, the wallpaper was done, the bathrooms were finished; we could have just put the beds in, but we’ve gone in and ripped out the wallpaper, the headboards and refurbished it in line with the new brand standards of JA Resorts & Hotels,” he continues.
“The impression of the building was as the ugly duckling in the area and now it’s an absolutely stunning property.”
Building the brand
The new brand standards centre on the company’s “casual luxury, heartfelt hospitality” motto, chief operating officer David Thomson told Hotelier upon the brand’s relaunch in October: “We’ve produced a brand-standards manual which can be picked up and taken by anybody.
“The rebranding has been applied to everything from staff uniforms and facilities to colour schemes and in-room amenities,” Thomson said at the time.
“But it’s not just the visuals contributing to the new experience of JA Resorts & Hotels, the group has created a new spa concept ‘Calm’, as well as the introduction of ‘Your Space’ lounges to all of its properties.”
The room count stands at 338 keys, comprising 26 suites, 20 one-bedroom suites and six junior suites.
“We’ve adjusted the number of rooms slightly as four rooms have been made ‘Your Space’ rooms, available complimentary for any early arrivals or late departures,” explains Harley-Fleming.
Director of sales and marketing Radosevic says reducing the number of rooms to accommodate Your Space negatively affects revenue only “in a small way”.
“But it creates loyalty and a wonderful experience in all our properties, so we’re positive long term it will create more revenue for us,” she adds.
Furthermore, each hotel will offer an ‘experience' desk’ manned by a dedicated ‘experience manager’ — a new role created under the rebrand.
“Our host will book everything from a dinner reservation to a safari. The arrival process will be the same across the company and we’ve enhanced certain parts of it.
In the lobby we’ve created some nice lighting effects so in the day it will be a nice cool blue, with flowers on tables, and in the evening we’ll have in excess of 50 candles in the lobby, and the walls in the lobby will change colour,” reveals Harley-Fleming.
Overall the team describes Ocean View Hotel as a family-friendly property, which is perhaps the most apparent attribute of its four-star positioning.
“We want to be the property of choice within the JBR marina area. All the rooms have been designed to be family friendly to add value for money to key feeder markets. All our rooms accommodate two adults, and a child or two under the age of 11 can stay complimentary. The children get to eat for free and use the kids’ club too,” says the general manager.
Radosevic adds: “It’s family friendly, but we want to attract a younger clientele too. It’s young, hip and four-star because we identified a long time ago there’s a niche in the market, a gap that we can fill.
“Of course Dubai’s always been promoted as a five-star destination, but some of the people around the world don’t even consider a five-star when travelling.
“We felt if we provide a really high-quality four-star we will have clientele forever. It’s resonated in the market fantastically and we have had great support from DTCM [Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing] too — they’re promoting it as ‘we finally have a four-star on the beach’. They’re aware there’s a need for it,” she says.
A major part of the hotel, expected to make up 50% of total revenue is the property’s vast food and beverage offering.
“We’ll do a lot of sales and marketing to the local community. All-day dining will always have a majority of in-house guests as clientele, but one of the concepts will be one of the most popular bars in Dubai for local residents without a doubt,” declares Radosevic, referring to the Scottish-themed Girders restaurant, bar and terrace.
“We’ve got an external staircase so guests from outside don’t need to enter the hotel they can go direct to the terrace of the bar — external access is very important. Some of the more popular clubs or bars in Dubai have external entrances. Residents like to go to the bar rather than the hotel,” says Harley-Fleming.
Radosevic asserts: “It’s the only licensed venue directly accessible from the walk”.
“The word ‘girder’ in Scottish means a steel beam from the construction industry so it ties in with the history of our parent company, and in Dubai there is no real Scottish bar as such.
You’ve got some British bars with a Scottish twist; we’re doing Scottish with a British twist. We don’t want to isolate it only to Scots, obviously, but Haggis will certainly be on the menu at Girders,” adds Scottish-born Harley-Fleming.
The operator has also imported Scotch whisky and staffed the outlet with majority Scottish and British staff for authenticity. In fact authenticity is a key focus for executive chef Alexander Fries, particularly in speciality Brazilian grill Fogo Vivo.
“My wife is from Brazil so I have a deeper knowledge of what we wanted to do with this outlet,” says Fries.
According to Harley-Fleming there are five Brazilian restaurants in Dubai, including the soon-to-launch Fogo Vivo, but Fries says: “We have tried a lot of them over the last couple of months, and this will be the only one which is really authentic.”
“The meat comes from the south of Brazil. We’ll have a Brazilian chef de cuisine and a Brazilian restaurant manager,” he adds.
Fries says there are some interesting new concepts for Dubai, including its all-day dining outlet ‘Le Rivage’, which he says has the feel of a French brasserie, and includes live cooking stations.
“In the lobby we have another interesting concept called Café Via. In every four-to-five star hotel you have the traditional lobby bar with the dates, and in most cases bad service, bad food — an outlet that is never properly utlilised.
“So we came up with a concept called Pizza Italiano, from Rome. It’s basically a very big pizza slice which you slice with scissors and it’s freshly baked in the oven to order and priced by weight,” explains Fries.
He is also hoping to boost revenue through the retail of other pastries, jams and cookies.
Then there’s The Deck, which Fries is quick to point out is not a pool bar: “There will be more upmarket plating, semi-fine dining and it’s a great place in the evening when the sun is going down and you can enjoy your beautiful Wagyu steak there with a glass of red wine.
“Then there’s The Whistler on the 25th floor – a stunning wine and cheese restaurant, with more than 200 types of wines and more than 50 kinds of cheese.”
In total there are eight food and beverage outlets including room service and banqueting. Staffing these, and the rest of the hotel, will be 440 team members.
“We sent our HR manager with resident manager Mark Voller on recruitment trips,” says Harley-Fleming.
Voller explains: “We went to Kenya, Burma, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Indonesia. It was exciting — we got a good mix of new associates.
“Sri Lanka was the most successful market and we recruited 40-50% of staff from within the UAE. So we’ve recruited about 80% of the workforce, and we’ve got in excess of 27 different nationalities,” adds Voller.
Ready for battle
Armed with its talented workforce, family focus, a design-led fit-out and six original F&B venues, the hotel is hoping to make its mark in the popular Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) stretch, but in a much more competitive market to the one in which the Oasis Beach Hotel operated.
Chef Fries isn’t put off by the fierce competition in the area; he’s ready for battle.
“We want to attract diners, we want to steal them from other restaurants – we’re in a location where there are other hotels and maybe 150 restaurants in front of our door and these are our competitors,” he says.
Since the days of the Oasis Beach Hotel, heavy traffic has also become a widely-discussed issue in the area, with future developments — including a nearby shopping and restaurant complex due to open in 12-18 months — adding to the problem.
“We’re liaising closely with the property management company for the area and they’re looking to change some of the traffic-management systems,” reassures Harley-Fleming.
The hotel will also be offering a valet-parking service for its underground car park.
The public beach is a hotspot for tourists during the cool winter months, but Ocean View will offer guests their own beach area via a complimentary shuttle service to sister hotel Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa.
“This works well because you can use Ocean View Hotel as a base for shopping, culture, a lazy day on the beach — we’re central, offering something different everyday.
But with a number of new areas in Dubai, including The Palm, establishing themselves as mini-destinations over the past four years, Hotelier asks if The Walk has maintained its former glory from the days of the Oasis Beach Hotel.
“With the public beach and the only outdoor shopping area precinct as such, I don’t think it will lose its appeal,” says Harley-Fleming.
“The Walk is becoming a destination with some of the international markets too, so when we’ve talked about Dubai, they know The Walk. It’s a landmark on its own,” he says.
The five-star neighbours are likely to agree, but Radosevic believes they’re not a threat: “Rate wise we have positioned ourselves just under the five-star competition in the area, about 10% difference, which is as a great strategy offering great value for money,” she concludes.
Partners and Suppliers
Architect: Woods Bagot
Interior designer: Woods Bagot
Signature restaurant design:
Spa: Calm Spa supplied by Elemis
Beds: Loveland supplied by Restonic
Uniforms: Moolman Jannel Tailoring
6 Family-friendly licensed restaurants and bars
3 Meeting rooms with natural daylight
338 Rooms and suites
50% Amount of total revenue forecast from F&B