New opening: InterContinental Dubai Marina
Sneak peek photos, meet the team and vital statistics about IHG's newest Dubai property
The long-awaited InterContinental Dubai Marina opens this month. Hotelier pays a visit ahead of the big launch
When it opens its doors this month, the InterContinental Dubai Marina will become the brand’s third property in the UAE, after the InterContinental Dubai Festival City and the InterContinental Abu Dhabi.
However, the heavily delayed hotel, which was meant to open in 2013 when it was first signed after Marriott International pulled out, is unlike other InterContinental properties, general manager Michael Martin tells Hotelier during our visit to the 328-key hotel in April.
“At our core we are an InterContinental hotel, but our F&B is a little bit funkier, a little bit more lifestyle, a little bit more contemporary in its style. And unlike an InterContinental where it has a lot of banqueting, what we have are individual restaurants, which are all standalone outlets in their own right. So we wanted to take a retailer’s view to our restaurant business as opposed to a hotelier’s view,” Martin says.
The hotel’s food and beverage offering is something the entire team seems enthusiastic about. In total, InterContinental Dubai Marina will offer nine F&B outlets, including celebrity chef Jason Atherton’s first Middle East restaurant Marina Social, and adjoining bar Social Lounge.
The hotel also aims to differentiate its F&B offering from standard hotel operations in various ways. Food & beverage director James Worthington explains: “What we’ve realised in Dubai is if you have an à la carte restaurant, you’ll have more people coming in, and [the food] is very affordable.
At a lot of hotel restaurants, it is all buffet. And since a lot of our guests live all around us, people can come in, we get to know them really well, and understand what they want.
So if they want something on the menu, we can evolve it; it’s not a menu that will stay for three months. It’s also about seeing what the local community wants vs. the international community, and how do we serve all of them all the time? Everything we did was about that when deciding on the concepts.”
Stressing the affordability of the restaurants at InterContinental Dubai Marina, Worthington says the team did a lot of research prior to planning the concepts, including surveying the comp set and figuring out what was missing.
“We are very conscious of the price point within the local market and our competitive set is not just hotels but standalone restaurants. We have to always be on target. We have to work with the chef to get the best pricing, the best quality, and make sure that the more people that come in, the more they enjoy us, and the easier it is,” he says.
Martin adds: “Our restaurants are not here for people to visit occasionally. It really is about being a local restaurant for local people that live in the Dubai Marina.”
While the F&B outlets will heavily target local customers from within the city, the hotel itself will also rely on GCC clientele as one of its core markets.
“GCC countries will be big for us because we’ve got the right facilities and the right product mix,” Martin says, referencing the 328-key hotel’s 132 guest rooms and 196 resident suites.
“European, UK, French, German, Australian markets, and emerging markets like China are also very important to us. Having worked in China for a while, I have a good understanding of their requirements, which are very different to Western requirements.
“Since we set the plan out almost a year ago, the landscape has changed quite a bit. Dubai has become a little bit tougher, but it is still a buoyant market — occupancy is still strong, rates are off a little bit. What we must not do is get too panicked by it or deflect to a very different strategy. We’ve got a three-year plan. So we have a very clear idea of what our target markets are and what are we going to do,” he states.
Martin also believes the hotel’s location will lend itself well to the commercial as well as leisure segment. The proximity to the beach, Dubai Marina Mall, and the convenience of the Dubai metro and tram network will likely draw leisure guests, while neighbouring Dubai Media City, and Jumeirah Lakes Towers will help bring in commercial business, he explains.
Sales & marketing director Cathy Mead, who has worked on determining the hotel’s target market and is now working on sales plans for the property, talks through the planning process: “One of the things we do at InterContinental is a positioning workshop, where we invite different InterContinental commercial people from a sales, marketing, or revenue background to spend some time with us.
During that process you are looking at your competitors, you’re going out to experience them from a service and accommodation point of view, and also F&B. You’re also looking at statistical data on what’s going on in the market and who is doing what. So we’d draw on figures from the DTCM, the airlines, new routes, and how they help.
“At the end of the workshop, we decided on very key core markets that would be important to us. So we will be looking for corporate business and that will be one of our primaries. The leisure market is going to be important to us.
But we are not positioned on the beach, we are located in the Marina. And I think from a leisure point of view, it will be for those stopover travellers and also for people visiting family and friends in the neighbourhood. We have nine meeting rooms that will help with a small group business component that will come through.”
The team is also working with the travel trade and destination marketing companies (DMCs) to promote the property.
Mead explains: “The DMCs in this market are quite important to us, and the good thing about them is they are focused on inbound business coming to Dubai. So they will be a critical part of our strategy from a destination point of view.
“IHG has global sales offices around the world; we’ve got huge infrastructure to help us on a day-to-day basis. So it means we are quite nimble with our sales strategy. We will be very active in the market; we’ve already been to the UK, we’ve been in Saudi a couple of times, we’ve got India up our sleeves, we will be at ATM. So within the IHG network, we have huge support. This is quite an important opening — an InterContinental doesn’t open every day, so we’ve got a lot of people watching what we are doing.”
The hotel will also leverage the IHG Rewards programme, which has just under 80 million members enrolled. Mead believes that with features such as no blackout dates and the ability to “burn” points easily, the rewards programme will help the hotel fill rooms.
InterContinental Dubai Marina will also offer a pre-opening promotion to draw in guests during the summer, Martin explains. Bookings are now open on the hotel’s websites, with reservations starting from June 1 — a date Martin says will change the closer the hotel gets to its scheduled May 14 opening.
As part of the promotion, a deluxe room will begin at AED 699++ (US $190), while rooms at other hotels in the comp set such as The Ritz-Carlton Dubai go for AED 800 ($217), and AED 895 ($243) at Hilton Jumeirah Resort.
Before the hotel opens however, the teams are now focusing on training colleagues in the “art of intuitive service”.
“Building hotels is wonderful — it looks great. But what really brings it to life is the people, the team. So that’s why it’s always exciting when the people come on board. It’s the people that really bring it to life.
“So at InterContinental, we really want the people to engage with our customers because people are curious about the place they’ve come to visit.
“We make sure that our team can just talk to people in a way that enhances their experience. What we say to all the teams here is that you’ve got to be really passionate about what you do and you’ve got to be interested in the people you’re looking after; if you’re not, then this is not for you,” Martin states.
When recruiting colleagues, HR director Sandra Bunz says the management teams were quite set on having a diverse group of employees from around the world. To this end, the team of 365 colleagues comprise 39 nationalities at present, and Bunz hopes this number will grow to 51 nationalities once the full team of 509 colleagues are in place.
The diversity of cultures will also help the team offer better service, Bunz says. Among the training programmes implemented at InterContinental Dubai Marina is the hotel’s aim to be “China-ready” — a strategy underpinned by IHG’s recent report that shows an anticipated 300% growth in Chinese tourists to the Gulf by 2023. Martin believes the four years he spent with IHG in China will also help the hotel prepare for this.
“The Chinese clientele is becoming more affluent and more worldly. One of the things I learned from being in China and being in Europe is that everything is the opposite. You need to understand that different cultures have different needs and the Chinese are no exception.
“They have very specific needs and you need to cater to those. Breakfast is different for them — they don’t want milky products, they want to have congee, they want to have noodles, so we are geared up to be able to do that.
Or a Chinese traveller doesn’t particularly like executive lounges because they want to talk to people and are used to chatting with their families. So if you have a Chinese traveller, don’t put them in the executive lounge, because they won’t like that. But do create a part in your breakfast restaurant for somewhere they will feel comfortable. So we’ll do things like that.
“We actually call it being China-ready. Last year we did a whole programme for serving Chinese guests. One of my former team members from two previous hotels in China has now moved here. So we also have a Mandarin speaker within the team,” Martin explains.
And while the operational team continues to continues to concentrate on the pre-opening process, Martin says he is now focused on ensuring the team is ready for the next step — the opening itself.
“My job now is to make sure that we are not just focused on the here and now, we are focused on the future. In five weeks’ time, we are going to be open. We now have to be talking about the revenue strategy, the sales strategy, what are we going to open with? So this transition is really important,” he states.
- 39 Nationalities employed by the hotel
- 509 Colleagues at the hotel
- 328 Total keys
- 132 Guest rooms
- 196 Residence suites
- 9 F&B outlets
- 9 Meeting rooms