New opening: Fairmont Ajman
Hotelier visits Fairmont Ajman to see what makes the latest property in the emirate a stand-out
The 252-key Fairmont Ajman opened in May this year, following almost two years of delays. The hotel was originally due to open in 2013 and later pushed back to 2014, before a final launch date was confirmed.
When it did open, however, it was clear that the property had created a sufficient buzz. Debuting with 170 rooms on May 1, it was fully booked for the opening weekend.
“People are looking for an alternative to Dubai… they’ve been there, done that; they want to do something different,” general manager Henny Schaeffer says. “The nice thing about Ajman is it’s a more relaxed and authentic experience. The hustle and bustle is in Dubai, and people like to go to a quieter destination, and if it’s only 20 or 30 minutes from [Dubai], why wouldn’t you do that?”
Between the original opening date for the property, and the eventual opening this year, the already-busy beachfront in Ajman has become home to new properties from international operators, including the Ajman Saray, A Luxury Collection Resort, and Ajman Palace.
However, Schaeffer sees this is as a positive sign that Ajman is growing, and it’s up to operators to work together to help promote the destination.
“In the beginning it was only Kempinski, and it is very difficult for only one hotel to promote a destination. We are fortunate that Ajman has a very active tourism and development department now. Its success is dependent on having more brand names here. Kempinski has been doing very well, and continues to do well. Then Ajman Palace opened, and then of course Starwood opened Ajman Saray and, all of a sudden, Ajman was seen more as a destination,” he explains.
However, with another Ramada hotel on the way now, the hotel and its GM are well aware of the challenges they face. With this in mind, Schaeffer says the hotel has been working on a “creating Ajman memories” motto. “That’s the whole focus of this hotel. The company is all about turning moments into memories. Yes, we are in competition with each other, but at the same time we complement each other, operating in the same market and building a new destination. The pond is big enough for all of us to fish in. I don’t have to go after the Ajman Saray business or the Kempinski business. It is more like, all of a sudden, Ajman is on the map… people are thinking about why all these brand names are going there. And so, if the demand grows then the Ajman brand grows,” he enthuses.
Competition, however, does play heavily on the team’s mind, and creating a differentiated offering is key to drawing in guests. Among those is the hotel’s F&B offering.
Director of food and beverage, Ahmed Saeid, says when he joined the team, he set about conducting market research to see what other hotels in the vicinity offered.
“I felt from the beginning that Ajman as a market lacked a luxury concept. If you visit the competitors here, you’ll find very generic all-day dining or very generic bars; there’s nothing outstanding. So I focused on providing a luxury concept and fun service as well, because formal service is beginning to disappear from our industry. So it will be friendly service with a really high quality of food and beverage and a nice ambience,” he explains.
In addition to in-house guests, the hotel’s restaurants will depend heavily on walk-in clientele as well, Saeid says, and menus have been adapted to suit local tastes.
“We had to ensure the menu has enough variety to suit all the guests and visitors in Ajman. So we have focused on authentic, local products and there is also some Indian, Asian and European food to suit everyone,” Saied explains.
When Hotelier visited Fairmont Ajman a month after its opening, and only days before the beginning of Ramadan, the hotel reported occupancy figures in the mid-40% range, according to Schaeffer.
Recent economic troubles in Europe, and particularly in Russia, have caused the sales and marketing team to reassess its strategy.
Director of sales and marketing Karina Davies explains: “2015 was more of an experiment because we didn’t really know what to expect during the opening in terms of occupancy and planning, with the Russian market and euro being down.”
The hotel will predominantly cater to the leisure sector, but with extensive meeting spaces, groups will also be a key target for the team.
“It’s important for us to maintain that balance between wholesale and corporate; we have an incredible meeting space… so the property can suit many different segments. For the on-property sales team, we focus on corporate and group meetings, and the cluster team [in Dubai] works with the wholesale business,” she explains.
Cross-selling with other Fairmont properties in the country has also proven to work very well, Davies reveals. “A lot of our clients are doing split programmes. Our sister property in Dubai has the same owner, so the idea is to do a city/resort offer; we’ve already started that. Ajman, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi are three different destinations, so that’s a very easy sell as well.”
And while Fairmont Ajman is keen to work with other hotels along the strip, Davies is wary of falling rates and occupancy numbers being reported in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Davies reveals this has a knock-on effect on properties in the northern Emirates, which are normally seen as the more budget destinations.
“If Dubai and Abu Dhabi drop their rates it kills us, because Ajman has always been sort of an economic saving in people’s minds,” she states.
“So as soon as Dubai or Abu Dhabi drop their rates… people automatically think that Ajman will be even cheaper. It’s about changing that mentality — we are our own destination, and if we compete on rates, nobody is going to win. There has to be a point where we can’t drop rates any more.
“Other destinations like Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah have already gone all-inclusive. With this destination, we don’t want to do that. I speak for all of us when I say we don’t want to go for that model,” she asserts.
Schaeffer is confident, however, that Ajman as a destination, as well as the hotel’s own offering, will help the property establish itself.
“We are that alternative that is closer to Dubai. We are not asking for Dubai prices; we aren’t necessarily cheaper, we are just in a different emirate.
“Also, we are new in this market… the tourism boards complement each other. We are small enough that we are not one of many, but one of a few and that’s why the way we work together with the other hotels and the tourism boards makes operating the hotel within this destination almost a boutique experience.
“What we focus on is creating Ajman memories. That’s the whole focus of this hotel. Ajman is also changing – it’s becoming more of a tourism destination and we are going to be part of that by creating these memories.
“So that’s a real focus for us here — to make it really matter, instead of being just another hotel here,” says Schaeffer.