Interview: Millennium Airport's Simon Moore
Millennium Airport GM on adding leisure and MICE to "complete" hotel
Having been with Millennium Airport Hotel in Dubai for the last 15 years, general manager Simon Moore has watched as the property has more than tripled its room inventory. This year, he’s adding leisure and MICE facilities and looking forward to finally running a "complete" hotel.
Having come to Dubai in 1998 as the manager of what was at the time, the 123-room Airport Hotel, which had a further 150 rooms dedicated to Emirates Airline, Simon Moore has tended to the property as it has grown and changed with the times.
Today, Moore oversees 341 rooms in the Millennium Airport hotel and 600 rooms for Emirates in the Copthorne Airport Hotel — a total of 942 rooms under his management.
An ongoing expansion project has seen the addition of 150 superior rooms, 54 club rooms and 21 suites, which opened last year along with new leisure facilities, including a swimming pool area with landscaped gardens and a children’s play area.
Furthermore, new food and beverage facilities will add to longstanding favourites, Biggles English pub, Cactus Jack’s tex mex and Da Vinci’s Italian.
The new additions comprise an all-day dining restaurant with open kitchen and food staging areas, a cocktail and wine lounge offering tapas, and a seafood bar and grill featuring ice tables for oysters, ceviche and sushi. The renovations continue next year with a new gym and spa.
In addition to a range of leisure features, the hotel will add a MICE offering in the second quarter of the year — something the property has never seen before.
This will comprise a 600m² ballroom accommodating up to 500 guests, a pre-function area of around 350m² and five meeting rooms, ranging in size to host 100 – 120 people.
Commenting on the renovations, Moore says: “Finally we will have a complete hotel. It’s really an ongoing project; people want to see changes, they want to see something new all the time. We thought rather than opening the hotel all in one go, we would do it in stages”.
So with the added facilities operating by the end of this year, Moore is optimistic that the increased inventory can be easily filled.
“We expect occupancy in 2014 to be the same as last year — in the high 80s,” explains Moore, adding that 2013 figures were 3% up on 2012. “Average room rate will go up by about 12% on last year because now we have more room types to offer — we never had suites before.”
The British national’s optimism can be linked to the recent announcement from Dubai Airports of a US $7.8 billion (AED 28.8 billion) expansion programme to boost capacity at Dubai International Airport from 60 million to 90 million passengers per year by 2018.
“As the airport grows, we grow,” he explains. “There’s a lot of competition coming up over the next five to seven years but Dubai just seems to absorb it. We increase the supply and the demand is there. It’s a very exciting time ahead with the announcement of Expo 2020.
It’s been said since I got to Dubai — ‘there’s x number of hotels opening, how are they going to fill them?’ But somehow Dubai just seems to bring more people in. It’s the crossroads of the world; the way Dubai markets itself, people just flock here.”
The addition of new leisure and MICE facilities, however, as well as a wider range of rooms, means that the guests Moore is expecting to see this year are not just the transient visitors he is used to, who stay on average for one and a half days: “Our business mix is changing,” he comments. “We’re expecting to see more leisure and business guests so average length of stay will be nearer two days.”
With a developing customer base, efficient staff will be key to the success of the refurbished property he admits. Moore is tasked with retaining and motivating the 580 employees of 45 nationalities, most of whom are living in the company’s staff accommodation, and he believes that his management philosophy has gone a long way to ensuring this.
“Staff here like being part of the Millennium Airport Hotel and they like being accessible to me. I have an open door policy and I think it’s important to have a good relationship with staff,” he comments.
“Over the years, I’ve learnt so much about how people from different cultures think and work,” says Moore who left his native England for Asia back in 1988. “I just always like to be fair to people, I make quick decisions and don’t leave matters hanging. I listen to ideas, praise where praise should be given and I don’t criticise or put down employees — they are our main asset so I work with them.”
The recreational facilities and excellent accommodation and catering are also crucial motivational assets according to Moore, who says: “In our staff restaurant we serve the same food as we serve in our all-day dining restaurant. We really try to accommodate their needs”.
He doesn’t avoid the elephant in the room, however; that recruiting talent is ever an issue in the UAE: “We know we won’t get skilled staff but as long as they have the right basic skills and the right attitude, then we train them”.
As well as skills training, the hotel provides new staff with a buddy to show them the ropes. However, this doesn’t negate the challenge that Moore shares with many hoteliers in the region : “Once we train them up, they tend to leave and other hotels take them — but that works in circles, we do the same to other hotels”.
Still, top of Moore’s list of challenges for the year ahead is not recruitment, but getting the new meetings facilities up and running “as soon as possible”. Additionally, with three F&B outlets opening in Q2 of this year, Moore hopes that turnover split will be healthier with 65:35 room revenue to F&B revenue, rather than the current 50:50 split.
“The hotel has moved with Dubai – as Dubai has grown, we have grown. It’s a very exciting time ahead,” Moore concludes.