Strategy: Rixos Bab Al Bahr
The first all-inclusive property challenges stereotypes
Raucous sunburnt party-goers, bog standard buffets and gaudy wrist-bands are not to be expected at Rixos Bab Al Bahr, the first all-inclusive property in Ras Al Khaimah.
The resort, which opened its doors in March, boldly challenges the stereotypes of all-inclusive, bringing a whole new ultra-exclusive meaning to the concept
Opening three hotels within 22 days is quite a feat for even the most experienced operator, but for a 13-year-old company, which currently has just 21 operating hotels, it must have taken a certain aplomb.
The Rixos Davos, a 45-room converted traditional property perched in the highest city in the Swiss Alps opened on January 22. The second opening, marking the company’s first Russian venture, was Rixos Krasnaya Polyana Sochi, which fought to steal the limelight from the winter Olympics, brazenly swinging open its doors on February 7 – the first day of the event.
With similar pluck, the Rixos Bab Al Bahr took the crown as the largest property to grace Ras Al Khaimah’s shores on February 12, almost exactly two years after the company’s first UAE opening, Rixos Dubai.
Established in 2000 in Antalya Turkey with the adventurous objective of creating an all-inclusive concept that would target the upper scale segment, Rixos Luxury Hotels & Resorts returns to its all-inclusive roots with the Ras Al Khaimah opening. The 655-key government-owned resort on Al Marjan Island, marketed under the strapline ‘all-inclusive, all-exclusive’ is another milestone in the strategic growth plan of Rixos.
“We are not after the mass inclusive where people are standing in queues at buffets,” comments Rixos Bab Al Bahr general manager, Haytham Omar. “We are targeting a totally different market segment to get to the people who would like a really hassle-free holiday.”
The Egyptian national certainly knows his audience having spent two years dealing with a range of tour operators and airlines as chief executive officer of UAE destination management company Meeting Point Emirates, the Dubai leg of Meeting Points International, a subsidiary of German travel enterprise, FTI.
This was after 12 years learning the ropes of the hotel business in the UAE at what is now called JA Resorts and Hotels, where he started out — another of the few companies in the emirates that offers all-inclusive packages — and Hilton and Rotana, where he spent 10 years in regional sales roles.
“I was on the other side of the business and I saw how the Rixos brand was expanding, and its philosophy and exclusivity,” Omar explains. “I’ve fallen in love with the brand.”
Bringing a monster all-inclusive development to what Rixos calls “one of the best kept secrets of the UAE” would normally inspire dismay from local businesses and residents with fears of all the usual evils that come with the territory, such as squalid high rises, cheap unbranded alcohol and tacky discotheques.
However, Rixos promises not only to transcend these stereotypes with an ultra-exclusive property, but to further enhance the upper scale reputation of the emirate with a host of top-class entertainment and dining options.
Fourteen outlets have the joint capacity to host 900 people. These include one global cuisine buffet, six a la carte restaurants, six bars and lounges and a nightclub, to host international DJs. Adding further pizazz to the quiet emirate is a resident Cuban band that has been contracted to perform nightly.
According to Omar, rather than stealing the show however, the property will simply up the stakes, encouraging local businesses to add f&b outlets and ramp up their entertainment offerings. “In my opinion entertainment is totally missing [in Ras Al Khaimah]” he comments. “It’s always hard for a pioneer concept to be implemented but we have support from the government and we have to do it the right way.”
Omar points out that in fact, the resort will add to efforts of the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority to increase the destination’s inventory, which he says “has doubled in less than a year” with the emergence of properties such as the Waldorf Astoria. “[The Rixos Bab Al Bahr] will add value to the destination, bring new markets and bring new charter operations,” he says.
The company already has a huge customer-base engaged through partnerships with a number of Russian and Turkish tour operators including Coral, Thomas Cook, and Pegas, and Rixos senior vice president, brand management Ba?ak Erel expects more to come following the RAK opening: “We are looking for more partners and more diversity in the market to bring new business to the destination. For example, we’re looking at partnering with tour operators from other CIS countries such as Kazakhstan. This market is very active in Dubai but it’s not yet in Ras Al Khaimah.”
A veteran of the all-inclusive model, Erel held a number of roles during her 20 years at holiday operator Club Magic Life, currently managed by TUI Travel. She is confident that the RAK property will speak for itself: “Everyone is free to have an opinion,” she asserts.
“Anyone who has a negative opinion, we’ll invite them to Rixos Bab Al Bahr for a couple of hours and then we can talk. There are lots of five-star bed and breakfast properties in Ras Al Khaimah so what is the difference? Nothing actually.”
One challenge at the forefront of Omar’s mind, however is achieving 60% occupancy across 655 rooms in year one”. He comments: “I think the real start for the property will be in the last quarter because we have missed the winter season.”
Erel on the other hand foresees quite the opposite problem.
“My biggest challenge will be having 130 people without a bed — I mean to be overbooked! I don’t see any negative challenges.”
It is this attitude that permeates through the company’s growth strategy, and according to Erel gives Rixos the edge over its peers: “Other chains have certain standards and if it doesn’t fit, they don’t take the risk,” she asserts. “This is our challenge, but it is also our strength.”