New opening: Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi

The Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi at Al Maryah Island opened its doors to guests last month; the team tells why this was the right time to open in the UAE's capital and how community building and art plays an important role in driving business to the hotel

The lobby, which aims to be the “living room of Abu Dhabi”.
The lobby, which aims to be the “living room of Abu Dhabi”.

From having no operating properties in the UAE two years ago, to now opening its third, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts has made a firm stamp in the GCC, with six hotels across the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, and another in the pipeline for Kuwait.

The Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi at Al Maryah Island opened its doors on May 5, 2016. The 200-room luxury hotel, developed by Mubadala Real Estate & Infrastructure, is connected to The Galleria, Abu Dhabi Global Market and Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, and is set to draw both tourists and the local community to its doors.

Its general manager, Sam Ioannidis, arrived in Abu Dhabi on June 20, 2015 from Four Seasons Hotel Baku, his first role outside of the United States. Ioannidis has been with Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts since 1998, and started out as director restaurants and bars at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto. He has since held positions in Four Seasons hotels across New York, Boston, Houston, Florida and the West Indies.

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Speaking to Hotelier Middle East a day before the opening, Ioannidis says he has stayed with the company because of the opportunities to grow and develop.

He says: “Coming to the Middle East has been a great experience. The guests I’ve worked with have come from the Middle East so I understand the culture pretty well, but I’m happy to be in the Middle East where economically it’s vibrant, it’s growing. And especially Abu Dhabi at Al Maryah Island — this is the heart of the capital.”

And at the heart of the hotel is its art, both internally and externally. PLP Architecture designed the 34-story glass building to the Estidama — Pearl 2 standard for sustainable urban planning. With its pattern of copper coloured “baguettes” inspired by the colourful textiles of the souk, energy is conserved by shielding direct sunlight while not compromising the hotel’s views of the city skyline and Arabian Gulf. At night, a speckled effect is created between the baguettes, with random lighting making it appear like stars from a distance.

Inside, natural light is used in public spaces, restaurants, meeting rooms and guest rooms designed by Richmond International and HBA.

Ioannidis notes: “Abu Dhabi is interesting, the Louvre is opening up, so to be part of the community that is respectful and appreciative of art is really key. We have over 2,000 pieces of art and sculpture. We’ve been focused, through our partners to buy art which is locally inspired, with a modern twist to that inspiration.”

Every part of the building has a different art piece, with each piece telling a story, according to the general manager. “Between the sculpture and the art, there is a story and it was very important for us to create and develop a story. The outside of the building is quite an artistic piece with the baguettes, and taking the imagery and feeling from the souk to create those fabrics. That’s where the colours and the shapes came from. And walking over water to get into the building. It’s a very artistic feel to the building.”

Both Ioannidis and Andrea Greybanks, director of marketing at the property, say that they hope to partner with the Louvre Abu Dhabi once it opens its doors. He says: “We want to be part of this community.”

Not only is the hotel team focusing on the cultural and artistic tourist, but on the GCC market, which is a prime focus for the property. The team has already conducted roadshows across the region to build knowledge about the offering.

Greybanks tells Hotelier: “We’ve undergone a seven city tour of the GCC, and then the US, UK, and Asia will be the key feeder markets for the hotel.”

Ioannidis is mindful of the competition in the market, but views it holistically. “There are a lot of great hotels in Abu Dhabi which creates a great desire to come to this location. And we hope through our presence here that we help to build the location as a destination.”

Greybanks says this played a role in the marketing strategy of the property. She says: “The first strategy for marketing the hotel was destination marketing. First of all, Abu Dhabi as a destination. We’re working closely with TCA to really capture the elements of Abu Dhabi that would be relevant to our future guests.

“The second element of the destination strategy is the Al Maryah Island destination. It’s relatively new so we’ve spent a lot of time positioning that location, and working closely with the stakeholders of Al Maryah Island, including the Abu Dhabi Global Market, Galleria Mall, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi and the Financial Centre.”

Ioannidis also believes the location of the property will play a role in driving traffic to its rooms, which start at AED 1,100 (US $300) a night exclusive of taxes. “Al Maryah is the premier destination of Abu Dhabi and will eventually become the focal point of the city. We are in the heart of the financial district, attached to a mall and to the Cleveland Clinic, so as a destination we are closely tied in with all the activities.”

He adds: “Everybody has a beautiful property, but we’re focusing on legendary service and on these little tie-ins of making sure that we pay respect to where we are. People really appreciate that. Today’s luxury traveller wants a bespoke experience. Everything we’ve done in each of the areas, in addition to our guest rooms and spa, speaks to that.”

And in spite of the general political and economic uncertainty, Greybanks adds that this is actually a great time to be in Abu Dhabi.

According to the latest figures released by TCA Abu Dhabi, hotel occupancy increased by 4% in March 2016 (83%) in comparison to 2015, and the number of guests showed an increase of 11% in year to date (January-March) 2016 when compared to last year, with the total number of hotel guest arrivals at 1,115,547.

However, YTD figures showed that total revenue for hotel establishments recorded 6% decrease (AED 1,719 billion), room revenue decreased by 9%, while F&B revenue decreased by 3%.

Greybanks says: “The market intelligence and figures that you see are positive. There is an increase in visitor numbers into Abu Dhabi, and we believe that opening the first Four Seasons in the UAE’s capital is also a strong message. From what I’ve seen so far from our business on the books, and patterns, they are true to our strategy. We’ve seen strong performance on our website since we launched in January. We have also been very enthusiastically welcomed by the local corporate market and the events market.”

MICE is going to be a big focus for the hotel, with 1,918m2 of space that can accommodate groups with up to 530 guests. It will have two ballrooms including a grand ballroom accessed by its own entrance and an expansive terrace overlooking the water and city. It also has five smaller spaces ideal for breakouts and board meetings as well as more intimate gatherings.

Greybanks concludes: “Of course the strategy will change as the market develops but I believe it’s a positive time in Abu Dhabi to have a Four Seasons, but also on Al Maryah Island as owners and partners on the island have built the infrastructure to attract a new market.”

Architects and designers

Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi is working toward an Estidama Pearl 2 rating for sustainability by the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council.

• PLP Architecture (architects)

• Richmond International (interiors)

• HBA (interiors)

• Tihany Design (selected restaurant design)

Recruitment

General manager San Ioannidis tells Hotelier that building his team has been one of his biggest milestones. “Building the team has been one of the many opportunities; having the right people who share the same passion that I do, to ensure that we are able to deliver the most unbelievable guest experience that we possibly can,” he says.

Part of getting these team members on-board was the involvement of the hotel’s director of human resources, Jose Ramirez. The recruitment started internally, he reveals, with more than 100 employees transferring to the property from all over the world.

“Then we hired locally — that’s something that we need to encourage, that is, to hire Emiratis. So far we have one, but we still need to continue. We want to work more with local schools to see how we can bring more locals in,” says Ramirez.

The hotel now has 180 employees across 50 nationalities, with more visas being processed every day. By the time the hotel is at optimal employee numbers, it will have 250 colleagues.

My favourite features:

Sam Ioannidis, general manager: “The fact that we capture the essence of Abu Dhabi through the architectural and artistic approach, and also on a service level.”

Andrea Greybanks, director of marketing: “My favourite part of the property is Al Meylas, the lobby lounge. The connections from the lobby bring it together: from the wave wall that connects us to the Gulf, the pearl finish to the pearl diving, the lobby being what we call the ‘living room of Abu Dhabi’.”

Sandeep Kumar, director of food & beverage: “The kitchen is always my favourite part because of the smells, the sound, the action, the taste… that’s where every food and beverage person’s life belongs to.”

Jose Ramirez, director of human resources: “My favourite is the back-of-house. We are very lucky to have such a beautiful back-of-house. It’s spacious, and even though it’s behind the scenes, it [provides] a sense of calm. From the staff restaurant to the locker rooms to the prayer rooms, we are very lucky.”

F&B in focus

Six restaurants and lounges are on offer, with the culinary team led by Four Seasons veteran executive chef Giancarlo di Francesco, who was previously at the Four Seasons Hotel Doha.

• Butcher & Still — a modern interpretation of a 1940s Chicago steakhouse with interiors by AvroKO, offering prime cuts flown in from specially selected farms in the United States. This will open in September 2016.

• Café Milano — The first international outpost of the famed Washington, DC restaurant, featuring coastal Southern Italian cuisine, with the interiors by Tihany Design.

• Zsa Zsa — a modern cocktail bar named after Zsa Zsa Gabor, overlooking the waterfront and Abu Dhabi skyline that includes outdoor seating plus a glassed-in VIP room.

• Al Meylas — a bright, lively lobby lounge which the hoteliers term “Abu Dhabi’s living room”. Daily afternoon tea, modern Arabic selections including an array of flavoured honeys, and ice cream with local flavours can be found here.

• Crust — a market-inspired restaurant with an emphasis on healthy global cuisine that will also be the setting for a Friday brunch in the capital.

• Eclipse Terrace Lounge — a casual poolside grill with shaded bar area and lounge seating that will become, through lighting and music, a lounge in the evening.

Speaking to Hotelier, the hotel’s director of food & beverage, Sandeep Kumar, says the key to creating these concepts was to “have a distinct personality which guests can relate to and identify themselves with”.

He adds: “Authenticity in food is important to us; it will continue throughout everything we do. Our chef is very committed to finding products from different parts of the world which are unique. Even for the preserve that goes up with breakfast with in-room dining, we tried 17 different companies from different parts of the world and picked the right one.”

On the beverage front, some of the wines have been custom-blended for the hotel, and some of the spirits in Butcher & Still will be from distilleries that don’t exist anymore, so some of those last remaining bottles are being used in Abu Dhabi.

On a socially responsible note, the hotel is filtering and bottling its own water for all guest rooms. “This will save over two million plastic bottles a year from our hotel alone,” reveals general manager Sam Ioannidis.

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