Behind the scenes: Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi
Inside the luxury 533-key hotel
Two years in the making and Thai operator Dusit International has launched its first property in the UAE capital, Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi. Hotelier Middle East meets the team for a preview of the MICE-focused, 533-key hotel:
Meet the team
Scott Mawhinney, general manager
Canada-born Scott Mawhinney brings more than three decades of international hotel experience to Dusit Thani Abu Dhani having worked across Asia, Europe, North America, South Pacific and the Middle East. Most recently, he was MD of Thailand-based Nine Star Asia Company. In the region, he was on the management team for the opening of the Al-Hosn Palace in Muscat, Oman and was on the pre-opening team of the Burj Al Arab Dubai.
Simone Stanco, director of food & beverage
Italian national Simone Stanco joined Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi from his role as F&B director at Moevenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach, which he had occupied since the hotel’s preopening. Stanco’s career has taken him across Kazakhstan, California, London and Germany in F&B roles.
Stefan van der Kruyf, director of sales and marketing
Having begun his hospitality career at InterContinental Hotel Frankfurt in 1982, van der Kruyf went onto work with hotel chains worldwide, including Hyatt, Starwood and Marriott. His first post in the region was in Dubai in 1996.
B. Pathmanathan, executive chef
A Malaysian national, Chef Pathmanathan has 20 years’ industry experience and joins Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi from the Radisson Hotel Brunei Darussalam, Brunei, where he was executive chef for the past three years. He has experience in Fiji, Oman, Samoa and Malaysia, with skills in restructuring and rebranding.
The Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi isn’t an easy hotel to miss. As you’re driving along the Eastern Ring road from the Corniche, the 37-storey glass tower stood on the right demands your attention. Upon entering the hotel, your eye is immediately drawn up to the 125m high atrium, the third largest in the world.
Within minutes of Hotelier’s arrival,12 members of the hotel’s executive team assemble for the team photo in the atrium, which makes for an ideal gathering point. General manager Scott Mawhinney says he expects more than 3000 people to pass through the lobby each day.
In fact it’s the location, scale and function of the mixed-use building, with its 402 luxury guestrooms, 131 deluxe serviced studios and one-bedroom apartments, plus office space, which Mawhinney believes will make it a winner in Abu Dhabi’s competitive hotel market.
“First of all we have a lovely property, our location is very easy to access from the highway, from almost anywhere in Abu Dhabi, and we have wonderful meeting facilities and a ballroom,” he says, referring to the 55,000 sq m of MICE space including a conference centre with a separate entrance, pre-function area, individual function rooms and 785 sq m ballroom that can host up to 2000 guests.
For a “premium price” executives can opt to stay on one of the five club lounge floors, located between the 30th and 35th storeys, and offering a range of exclusive benefits including private dining areas and business facilities, according to director of rooms Rorie Ylagan.
Director of sales and marketing Stefan van der Kruyf says the hotel is primarily targeting MICE business and rooms are already being sold at an introductory opening rate of AED 488 (US $133) including breakfast.
“Obviously we’re looking at MICE business; we’re primarily a business and MICE hotel. We will get support through Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Centre [ADNEC] which is 10-15 minutes away, but we’re also going out and acquiring business from the MICE market and local corporate market,” explains van der Kruyf.
“We’re going to all the events and corporate companies, the DMCs in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi, we have very good relationships with them already. The majority of the sales team has been working in the UAE for a number of years which is helping us a lot to get into the right channels immediately,” he adds.
Van der Kruyf is looking to have a presence at numerous exhibitions to bring the property to market, including IMEX in Frankfurt from May 21-23, World Travel Market (WTM) in London from November 4-7, Barcelona’s EIBTM from November 19-21, and he’s also considering CIBTM in China, from September 2-4.
“The Chinese market is a very interesting market for us,” reveals van der Kruyf. He also hopes to attract business from events coming to ADNEC in the second half of 2013, including ADIPEC from November 10-13, which he expects will “get the hotel filled”.
In addition to Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi’s comprehensive MICE facilities, van der Kruyf, Ylagan and Mawhinney expect free wi-fi throughout the property will be a big incentive for business guests.
“That is one of the key points that we’re stressing, it is one of the questions we are often asked, not too many hotels are offering free wi-fi, we’ve received already a lot of positive comments on that,” says van der Kruyf.
Mawhinney adds: “It’s free wi-fi throughout the building and the quality is fabulous, it’s been operational for over a year and it is unbelievably fast”.
The final piece in the jigsaw for Mawhinney is the “Thai graciousness” service culture, which he believes will keep guests returning to the Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi, which is the Asian operator’s first hotel in the UAE capital.
Out of the 500-plus employees comprising 28 different nationalities that will eventually be employed at the hotel, around 20% will be from Thailand.
Many of these Thai staff will be working as therapists across the eight treatments rooms, including two couples’ suites, at The Namm Spa. “Our Namm teams are all from Thailand and received their training there. So I think it’s one of the unique selling features of the hotel in terms of service,” agrees Ylagan.
All staff at the hotel’s signature ‘royal Thai cuisine’ restaurant Benjarong will also be from Thailand, guaranteeing its authenticity. The restaurant concept is a popular one that features in numerous Dusit hotels worldwide.
Executive chef B. Pathmanathan says: “This is our signature restaurant; we have a very good Thai chef in charge of that place. With royal Thai cuisine, you need to bring someone in who really knows it”.
Benjarong is one of six F&B outlets, which chef Pathmanathan and director of F&B Simone Stanco have spent the last two years conceptualising and creating.
Urban Kitchen is the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant comprising 180 seats and serving up international cuisine via five live cooking stations, and hot and cold counters. There is also a private dining room and the outlet is open around the clock.
“The USP of Urban Kitchen is due to its size we’re planning to have lots of promotions, especially after Ramadan, kicking in with brunch. We’ll definitely attract the local community,” says Stanco.
Complementing Urban Kitchen is Urban Café, a retail outlet located close to the ballroom: “This will pretty much focus on providing F&B for the office tower — all takeaway for the convenience of people who work in the office, they can come and grab a coffee in the morning,” he explains.
In fact retail will make up a relatively large part of the F&B offering at Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi, with a second outlet, Dusit Gourmet, also focusing on takeaway options. Next to the atrium is the glamorous looking Orchid, specialising in organic produce and “offering something different on the market”.
The final outlet is Capital Grill, a “bistro grill, with a lounge and bar area” offering Western cuisine and speciality items for up to 80 diners.
All of the F&B outlets, bar the Urban Café, are located on the same floor just a short walk from the atrium, and just above the meeting facilities on the lower floor. According to Stanco, when the hotel opens the emphasis will be on “service and attention to detail”, but eventually the hotel is targeting 40-45% of total hotel revenue to be generated from F&B.
“F&B is definitely very important for us especially considering the fact we have a very captive audience around us, we have the office tower, the residential building with 600 apartments, so they’re just waiting for us to open,” adds van der Kruyf.
Time to takeoff
Local residents aren’t the only ones eager to see the property open its doors to guests. Mawhinney, van der Kruyf, Pathmanathan and Stanco have all been onboard at Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi for two years, as have a number of other executive managers.
“When we’re fully up and running there’ll be close to 500 staff, probably even more. We’ve got more than 200 onboard already. The contracts have been signed, we’ve finished the recruitment as we’re entering the soft summer months, and by October we’ll have 500-600 people,” says Mawhinney.
Reflecting on the past two years, Stanco says: “Together with the support of the corporate team we developed the F&B concepts. It was nice to see this baby take shape, from a concept stage through to operating equipment — it’s an amazing challenge”.
Speaking of challenges, he adds that the F&B team has been very lucky: “We’ve all got preopening experience so everything went according to schedule and we didn’t have any specific challenges. The recruitment part is where we put a lot of effort; there are a lot of people looking for jobs but the key is to find the most experienced”.
Pathmanathan says he faced challenges in “certifying the kitchen”, which he describes as “the biggest headache”.
“In Abu Dhabi we have a very strict Food Control Authority so we had to redesign it to their guidelines which can be quite challenging, but we’ve overcome that and moved forward. That was the most difficult part, other than that the task has been getting ingredients and the staff,” he explains. During the preopening, Stanco and Pathmanathan were also pulled in to lend their skills to the recent launch of Dusit Thani Maldives.
For general manager Mawhinney, he says the period has enabled him to get to know the employees and the hotel: “I’ve been supported by a very strong team so I’ve had a very easy life for the last two years.
“Simone and chef built the F&B concepts from zero, Stefan has done the full sales and marketing communication plan with finance, Rorie has set up the entire rooms division, housekeeping, the gym, the spa, front office as well.
And when it comes to dealing with the Abu Dhabi authorities they’ve been unbelievably cooperative, very proactive. We’re just on the verge of getting our final classification. We should be getting our five-star classification next week,” he reveals.
With the final touches being made at Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi, Mawhinney is confident the hotel will launch has gone well.
“We have a lovely property and with all the elements put together by our team, we see by the end of the year we should be doing 65-75% occupancy, which is pretty much a traditional occupancy for a city hotel whether you’re in London, Geneva, Hong Kong or wherever.
Abu Dhabi is growing tremendously right now so we’re opening up at the right time and right place to benefit from Abu Dhabi’s growth,” he concludes.
F&B at a glance
An all-day dining concept with 180 seats and live-cooking stations.
A bistro dining grill, serving Western favourites and seating 80 diners.
Benjarong, the Royal Thai Restaurant:
The Dusit signature restaurant, employing an all-Thai workforce and serving authentic Thai cuisine.
An organic bar and gourmet lounge, close to the atrium.
A retail outlet offering an impressive selection of freshly-baked pastries.
Partners and suppliers
- King Coil
- Mühldorfer, Germany
- Villeroy & Boch
- Glass Studio
- Copper Thailand
- RAK Porcelain
- Schott Zwiesel
- 55,000sq m of meetings space
- 402 Luxurious guest rooms
- 125m Height of atrium, which is third highest in the world
- 8 Number of spa treatment rooms
- 65-75% Projected average occupancy by year-end
- 131 Serviced apartments
- AED 488 Introductory rate including breakfast