New Opening: Marsa Malaz Kempinski, The Pearl Doha

Management team explain how they will look to redefine luxury in the Qatari capital

The hotel is vividly lit up at night.
The hotel is vividly lit up at night.
Swimming pools at the hotel.
Swimming pools at the hotel.
A deluxe room.
A deluxe room.
The hotel's focus on art continues in a Panoramic Suite.
The hotel's focus on art continues in a Panoramic Suite.
Bohemia, the hotel's lounge bar.
Bohemia, the hotel's lounge bar.

The management team at Marsa Malaz Kempinski, the first five-star property on The Pearl - Doha, explains how the hotel is aiming to redefine luxury and drive change in the market

“We want to show the guest that there is something different in Doha. We want to show them that luxury will start now. This hotel will give something which was not given in Doha before.”

Words spoken with utter conviction by general manager Wissam Suleiman and, coming before the hotel has even had its grand opening — expected later this year — a bold statement, which sets incredible expectations for the property.

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However, Suleiman’s confidence and aplomb is equally matched by his hotel, the Marsa Malaz Kempinski, The Pearl — Doha.

As the guest approaches the property, it is not just the scale, design and vibrant colours, which stand out. Rather, it is an 18-metre-tall bronze sculpture of a horse by celebrated Iraqi artist Ahmed Albahrani, which will undoubtedly become the standout feature of the hotel.

It sets the tone for a property which, with a mix of European and Middle Eastern styles, has little time for subtlety — at least when it comes to design. The vast lobby is punctuated with imposing Murano glass chandeliers, while paintings, prints and sculptures are present in just about every room, outlet and corridor.

Of course, with the region starting to move away from the days of five-star hotels as trophy assets, and owners no longer willing to see money go down a black hole, visuals alone will not do the job; commercial realities are still at the forefront of Suleiman’s mind.

“Yes we want to show luxury and give the best to the guest, but at the end it is about the financials,” he reasons.

“If the owner gives the trust to Kempinski to operate this palace, he should know that his return is coming to him.”

To that end, he has clearly set within his sights the average occupancy for five-star hotels in Doha — 70-75% — although at the beginning he is aiming for a more conservative 35-40%.

It is on rates, however, where the new hotel will seek to set itself apart from the competition, aiming to be 10-15% above the market. “We have the right product and we are not afraid. People don’t mind paying more if they get more.”

As for that competition, Suleiman highlights St. Regis, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and Grand Hyatt as being within the comp set although, clearly an ambitious man by nature, Suleiman has a mantra that “whomever takes business from you is your competitor”.

While corporate business is the clear driver for five-star hotels in Doha, the management team at Marsa Malaz is bullish about its prospects on the leisure front. Indeed, it is aiming for a mix of 60% corporate and 40% leisure.

“We want to become a destination here,” asserts Suleiman. “You come here and there are 11 [F&B] outlets, you have the spa, the pool, the beach. It’s not only for a one night stay. Maybe you can stay for three or four nights. This is what is missing in Doha.”

Marsa Malaz is the first hotel Suleiman has been involved with as a general manager in the pre-opening stage; now in Doha for the past three years — the first two of which he spent as GM of Kempinski Residences & Suites Doha — he has been responsible for putting together an ‘all-star’ team to head up a key property for the operator.

“We took a decision that all the management team should have a Kempinski background,” he explains.

“We know what Kempinski is, what the standard is, what the guest is thinking and what the expectations are. Most of them have done openings before. We were looking for, within the company, experts in opening and people that have worked in difficult and different places. We were looking for people with common sense.”

One of those recruited was Julia Lupanova, who came across from Kempinski Hotel & Residences on Palm Jumeirah in July to take on the role of director of sales & marketing. Discussing the hotel’s leisure ambitions, she points to interest already being shown at international exhibitions, as well as the close relationship and coordination with Qatar Airways and Qatar Tourism Authority.

“We are planning to have lots of familiarisation trips for the major tour operators and agencies internationally to come and get first-hand experience of what Doha can offer,” she says.

“We believe that Doha has huge potential as a leisure destination, with beautiful beaches and with attractions, and we are very much developing on a cultural side here. So there is a lot to offer leisure travellers — much more than just a stopover.”

Of course, corporate business is expected to continue to be the dominant segment, and Lupanova has spent the last few months laying down the groundwork in this space too.

“Considering Doha is very much a business destination, we are focusing on corporate clients, but also paying big attention to the wholesalers and MICE planners.

“We really feel that Doha is growing as a MICE destination. We have started to receive more and more requests from international markets for a conference or group or event. So MICE will be one of our long-term strategies.”

One unavoidable subject when discussing the new hotel is alcohol. The hotel will be the first location on The Pearl to serve alcohol since a ‘ban’ came into place at the end of 2011. This is due to the current rules and regulations in Qatar — only five-star hotels can have a license.

While it may well give the hotel an edge over other F&B venues on the manmade island, it is an issue the hotel is
understandably approaching with sensitivity.

“For me, good beverage goes with great food,” explains executive assistant manager for F&B Steven Pieters. “This is not something we are clapping our hands for and saying success is guaranteed. This is a very delicate subject and we need to make sure that we manage expectations. We will continue to operate as any five-star luxury hotel does and the fact we have beverages is a bonus for the project.”

As with the rest of its competition, social media is already a key tool in the hotel’s arsenal as it looks to make an impact, and the enthusiasm for the medium comes right from the top.

“If today we don’t use social media, it will be the biggest failure. In Qatar, if you don’t have one mobile phone, you have two. To communicate with everyone, it’s easy,” Suleiman enthuses. “You push one picture and it’s everywhere. We want to show the difference. We want to show that we are something new.”

The general manager himself is active on Instagram (@wissamsuleiman) and heartily encourages his managers to jump onto social media. Indeed, this fits in with his overall mission to empower the hotel’s employees.

“We have to motivate staff and take care of mid-management,” he says. “They are the most important [people] in the hotel as they have direct contact with rank and file staff.

“Yes, the management are putting in the strategy, but the ones who are making it fact are mid-management and rank and file. We should always follow up with them, talk to them and let them feel we are behind them. If you give them motivation, they will always give the right service. They should believe in their management and in their property.”

ROOMS AT A GLANCE

180 Deluxe Rooms, 75m2
28 Grand Deluxe Rooms, 75m2
19 Deluxe Suites, 120-140m2
40 Grand Deluxe Suites, 135-215m2
2 Premium Suites, 185m2
3 Marsa Malaz Suites, 200m2
5 Marsa Malaz Panoramic Suites, 230m2
2 Presidential Suites, 460m2
2 Royal Suites, 650m2

All rooms at Marsa Malaz Kempinski offer:

- Sea views
- Interactive LCD TVs
- Lounge area and a balcony
- En-suite bathrooms with rainfall shower plunge bathtub
- Walk-in closets
- Nespresso coffee machines
- Complimentary Wi-Fi Internet
- Private refrigerated bar
- 24-hour butler services

Fact box
OWNER: Alfardan Group Holding
ARCHITECT: Arab Engineering Bureau
INTERIOR DESIGNERS: Leo International Design Group, Sketch Interior Design, Rockwell Group Europe
NUMBER OF ROOMS: 281 rooms (including 69 suites)
F&B: Seven restaurants, including three operated by third parties; two cafés; one lounge bar; one rooftop venue
LEISURE FACILITIES: Spa by Clarins, with 23 treatment rooms, fitness club, 150m private beach, tennis court, jogging club, outdoor pools, watersports
MICE FACILITIES: Two ballrooms, including the 1072m2 Palazzo Ballroom, six meeting rooms

Restaurants at a Glance

Sawa
The hotel’s own take on the all-day dining concept, offering a blend of European and Mediterranean flavours, and overseen by the hotel’s executive chef Mattias Roock.

Al Sufra
A Levant-inspired restaurant offering a blend of traditional recipes and flavours from Lebanon, Cyprus, Syria, Jordan and Palestine, with shisha
available on an open terrace.

El Faro
Headed up by chef Raúl Cob, with a menu of traditional tapas from the Iberian Peninsula and set in casual and stylish décor, with a tapas bar at the centre.

Amwage
Beachside grill serving a selection of fresh seafood and BBQ options, in a casual alfresco setting underneath palm trees.

Café Murano
A gourmet café offering refreshments throughout the day and specialising in European art de cuisine, with a particular focus on chocolate and petite culinaire.

Bohemia
A lounge with a collection of fine wines and spirits, as well as a menu of cocktails created through molecular mixology.

Illusion
The hotel’s rooftop nightspot, providing a setting for sundowners, shared dining, lounging or clubbing, as well as a taste of the international progressive music scene.

Spa Café
Serves fresh juices and salads using locally sourced, raw ingredients, aimed at leaving guests rejuvenated and energetic.

The Team's Favourite Features

WISSAM SULEIMAN: First is the horse [sculpture at the front of the hotel]. We have the biggest bronze horse in Qatar and even in the region. I also love the interior of our Royal suite. It’s a mix of European and Middle Eastern art inside.

MATTIAS ROOCK: For me, the Illusions rooftop. If you are up there, the view is amazing. Also, the lobby — last time when I passed there with my parents, they just said: "Wow!"

STEVEN PIETERS: The view from the grand staircase looking up into the hotel; I find it hard to believe that this is a hotel, and the team spirit which we’ve generated in a very short space of time. We’ve become such a close-knit group of people from excom all the way down through the levels.

JULIA LUPANOVA: El Faro restaurant, because it’s totally unique and because of the atmosphere we’ve created, with authentic Spanish food. I’m also thinking about the Marsa Malaz Panoramic Suite, which is like heaven on earth.

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