New opening: Wyndham Dubai Marina

Following a relatively short pre-opening phase, Wyndham Dubai Marina is now ready for business. Find out why guest loyalty is a focus for the new Dubai hotel

(From L-R) Rogier Hurkmans, Jan Siddiqi, Anna Ficeto, Romuald Marie.
(From L-R) Rogier Hurkmans, Jan Siddiqi, Anna Ficeto, Romuald Marie.

The Wyndham Dubai Marina opened its doors to the public in February 2016, becoming the first Wyndham-branded property in the UAE.

General manager Rogier Hurkmans tells Hotelier Middle East: “I have been with the Wyndham Marina since pre-opening and oversaw the inauguration of it as well.” The pre-opening process began in October last year and The First Group-owned hotel opened in February 2016.

This marks his first GCC role. “I come from Europe, where I spent the majority of my career. I last worked in Brussels with a different brand; my Middle Eastern experience is rather limited having only worked in Turkey.”

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The Wyndham Dubai Marina is a four-star property located across the Marina Walk, nestled on a patch of land not as densely populated as the rest of JBR and Marina. “We have 486 rooms, which is by no means a small hotel, four F&B outlets, and not too much on the MICE front. We are located in Dubai Marina, but this area is more or less secluded from the busier area of the community. We are very close to JBR, The Walk and Jebel Ali, which would help us capture local business,” Hurkmans says.

The Wyndham brand has a robust fan base in its native USA and in the Far East in China; Hurkmans sheds some insight into how the Dubai property is positioned: “Majority of the hotels located in the JBR area are five-star, whereas we are a four-star property. I can say, however, that the fit-out matches that of many five-star hotels I have seen. We want to position ourselves as a not-too-expensive hotel that targets not only individuals, but large groups as well.”

Hurkmans brings valuable experience from Europe, where competition between operators is high. In turn this reflects on low ADRs and RevPAR in cities such as Paris and London. “The hotels have always done well in Dubai;

occupancy has always been on the higher side as compared to Europe, where you have lower occupancy and ADR. So hotels shift focus on training and empowering staff to get a decent GOP. I feel that the focus is not geared towards productivity (in this market) and in turn the hotel’s positioning. This is where I want to bring in my European proficiency, and it is also the reason why the owner group decided to go with someone from Europe,” he says.

“What you see here (different from other markets) is that there is a lot of staff, but a lot more can be done in terms of training. People are extremely friendly, but I want to ensure that I bring efficiency and productivity in the operations as well.”

As part of ensuring the hotel offers efficiency and consistency, the property will feature a distinctive new position: a loyalty manager. Anna Ficeto, who fills this role, has previously worked with the Premier Inn Group in the UK, and says her role ties into the strategy of the hotel. “There are two ways we drive loyalty, one is through our Wyndham Rewards loyalty programme. There are 7,700-odd hotels that participate in the programme from all over the world with 44 million members registered,” Ficeto says.

The role of a loyalty manager is not as common in the region as compared to other markets, and it requires other departments to co-operate with Ficeto. “I will be working very closely with the training manager to drive that level of culture amongst our colleagues in the hotel. For me, it’s about the quality of stay for guests at a hotel. I do not directly focus on the profitability of the hotel, although I do work in coordination with sales, assisting them with leads.”

“For instance one of my direct involvement with sales is when the sales department meets large corporate clients. I introduce different ways on how we can help them earn reward points. We will also be introducing the ‘go meet’ programme which enables the booker to earn Wyndham reward points,” she explains.

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Director of sales and marketing Jan Siddiqi tells Hotelier Middle East that the property offers several distinguishing features: “We are an upscale property that caters to business and leisure guests. Digital is the backbone for many businesses around the world. And we have centred most of this property’s strategy on social media and digital. But, at the same time, we do not want to overdo it. As a group, Wyndham also invests in ensuring its staff and associates have the right digital tools at their disposal.”

Siddiqi shares a few insights into the benefits of efficient planning: “The sales campaign of a hotel’s pre-opening phase spans anywhere between six to nine months. But, thanks to the expertise here, the pre-opening phase lasted just three to four months. Obviously, we did face a few challenges along the way. Some of the challenges we faced had to do with legal paperwork, staffing and hiring.”

He adds: “The short pre-opening period was down to the reactiveness of the owning company and Wyndham group’s efforts. They worked and planned things well. The pre-opening team that was assembled was well versed and had strong experience. Between us all there was a wealth of pre-opening experience.”

However, understanding the staff’s work ethic came as a bit of a shock when Hurkmans first stepped into his role as GM. He found it odd to be “copied in every single email that was sent by HODs”.

He explains the Western work ethic and his plans of replicating them in Dubai: “In Europe, the department heads are running their unit and take ownership of it. They go to a general manager when there is an important decision to be made, but they do so with a plan in mind along with an alternative. However, the objectives of the company are clear and everyone follows them working with their balance scorecards and respective teams.”

Realising Hurkmans’ philosophy will mean every staff right from the topmost rung downwards will have to be in sync, and the 486-key property will look for like-minded personnel. “We are currently a team of around 200 staff, and following the summer months we are looking to raise that number to 300. We want a good balance of staff from Europe, Asia and Africa.”

The hotel has ensured it has diversity in every department, and Hurkmans explains the hotel’s HR strategy: “It’s crucial to ensure that there is diversity within each department. There is also an inclination to recruit people directly from Europe because we are looking at applying the philosophy and for that to be executed out as well. Then there are some staff from our managed property, along with those from other Wyndham properties from around the world that have joined the team here. Then obviously we have looked at a varied language speaking options amongst them as well.”

Diversity is also sought in its clients; Siddiqi says that his team will target the clientele from regular feeder markets. “Dubai continues to grow despite new inventory coming in. The only challenging part of it is the ADR and RevPAR values. The Russian and CIS tourists have obviously slowed down but they have not stopped coming to this part of the world. We, meanwhile, continue to look to Germany, UK and of course the Chinese and Indian market. Besides, we follow the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) and their efforts wherever they go including niche markets or altogether new source markets.”

Hurkmans adds: “We look at the same markets as DTCM, and would step in to markets that are less developed because we are the first Wyndham hotel in the UAE. But it’s not going to be easy due to several factors — the Russian economy crisis, the economic conditions throughout the world, and the dwindling price of oil are all affecting us.”

Hurkmans has set occupancy targets at “around 10% lesser than what Dubai is experiencing” for the first few months of operation. He explains: “We need to be realistic and cannot directly cope with occupancy that hotels around us achieve. Simultaneously, we do not want to drop our rates in order to get business and eventually not able to raise our rates anymore because we have set low standards.”

Wyndham’s pipeline is healthy, with three more properties planned for the emirate. The next Wyndham will be in Tecom that will open in 2017, whereas Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Village Circle will have a property each open their doors in 2018. “All of these properties will be classified as four-star, keeping in tune with the directives by His Highness Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and ruler of Dubai that there need to be more affordable hotels in the emirate,” Hurkmans concludes.

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