New Opening: Bab Al Qasr, Abu Dhabi

Part of Millennium & Copthorne MEA's The Biltmore Collection, we take a look at the new Abu Dhabi hotel

The hotel has real palm trees located inside the lobby.
The hotel has real palm trees located inside the lobby.

Bab Al Qasr is being billed as the “ultimate luxury hotel, offering authentic Arabic hospitality” by Millennium and Copthorne Middle East, its operators.

The Abu Dhabi hotel is the second property under the Biltmore Collection, “a portfolio of luxury properties that capture the heritage, history and glamour”, says the acting general manager Dani Dekirmenzhian. The first hotel under the Biltmore brand opened in August 2016 in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The Bab Al Qasr stands out with its copper-gold cladding amidst other structures in Abu Dhabi’s West Corniche area. After all, the Bab Al Qasr is surrounded by notable properties, such as the Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi, the Emirates Palace — located just across the road — and the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, to name just a few.

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The hotel and residences are spread across two 41-floor towers, with one containing the Bab Al Qasr, while the serviced apartments occupies the second.

Dekirmenzhian says the hotel not only has interesting exteriors, but the sights and views it offers are equally spectacular. “One of my favourite features are the amazing views that the rooms offer. We are blessed with the location that gives us stunning sights of many Abu Dhabi landmarks such as the Presidential Palace, Emirates Palace, and the many islands and the horizon of the Arabian Gulf.”

Bab Al Qasr’s plush lobby also features real palm trees. Dekirmenzhian says: “It is like a reminder and connection to the desert and the history of the nation with the local culture at the fore.”

The interiors have been created with several distinct design elements and it’s hard not to notice the many chandeliers in the property. Dekirmenzhian says: “They are all very different with many decorative details.”

The lobby is also executive sous chef Erwan Stadler’s favourite feature. He says: “It (the lobby) is just stunning with all the details and the architecture, it is elaborate and impressive.”

Dekirmenzhian reveals more details of the property. “Bab Al Qasr has 677 rooms and 265 fully serviced apartments, six F&B outlets, a Moroccon spa, 16 meeting rooms and a Grand Ballroom.”

Director of sales and marketing Kistry Danks-Brown shares a bit about the classification of rooms and the service on offer. “The Bab Al Qasr has 265 fully serviced residences, with more than eight individual styles ranging from studio, one-, two- three-bedroom and a penthouse. Within each category there are varying levels of services and layouts.”

Dekirmenzhian adds: “The décor is subtle and whilst all residences have similar furnishings, the neutral tones affords the occupant to be able to place minimal personal touches that will completely transform the residence into their own home with their own signature.”

Danks-Brown and Dekirmenzhian do not limit the hotel’s potential to a particular market segment and believe it has something for everyone.

“This is one of our strongest advantages as we are not caged to one particular market segmentation,” Dekirmenzhian says, referring to the hotel’s leisure, business and MICE facilities.

Danks-Brown adds: “We have a beach, spa, huge rooms with incredible views; excellent meeting facilities with 16 meeting rooms; accommodation for business guests, complemented by a three-floor business centre and a designated meeting lounge, which means you don’t need to be a Club guest to utilise similar facilities.”

She explains: “Club guests, however, are offered facilities such as 24-hour check-in and check-out.”

According to STR’s September figures for Abu Dhabi, the city’s hotels experienced a drop in demand, while supply increased. Danks-Brown is conscious of the market conditions and is currently focusing on consolidating the hotel’s position in the market. “We are mindful that we have opened in challenging times. Our aim will be to solidify our position in line with our primary competition set. We do not believe in panic or knee-jerk reaction to the difficulties in the market by dropping rates and undermining the hotel positioning.”

Danks-Brown keeps her cards close to her chest and does not elaborate further on how exactly the hotel will combat the “challenging times”. “We have a few new offerings that cannot be shared but we believe they will become apparent as we blossom and become yet another reason to herald the sophistication and elegance that the city offers to the business, MICE and leisure guest. That, of course, will be coupled with good old fashion respect for our business partners and listening to their requirements.”

She gives a sneak peek into the strategy stating: “Speed to the market and pro-activity in partnerships with our leisure and business clients will go a long way to address some of the difficulties.”

Dekirmenzhian remains extremely respectful of his competitors and chooses to look at the larger picture. “Each of our competitor hotels, and many hotels in Abu Dhabi, are unique and special in their own right. These hotels give credibility to Abu Dhabi as a destination and we look forward to being one of them, as we possess our own unique positioning.”

The hotel has strong MICE potential with its dedicated facilities, as Dekirmenzhian shares the management’s plans. “Our MICE strategy will be rolled out in 2017. All the meeting rooms are furnished with the latest technologies and offer one of the largest potential for conference breakout space. Meeting rooms are set over the second and third floors and are accessible via a private elevator. Each meeting space is completely individual in design and décor,” he tells Hotelier Middle East.

Danks-Brown has returned to the GCC, having spent a few years in the Far East during which she was the general manager of the Sofitel Luang Prabang. With a strong background in business development, she opines how the industry has progressed from being “all talk over tea and coffee”, to teams that know the financial aspects of their accounts better than ever. “[Sales] teams need to know the operations of a hotel up close. They need to be involved and serve as true custodians of their accounts — offering concierge-level service to clients,” she says.

Danks-Brown also believes that a robust marketing strategy is pivotal to the hotel’s success. “Digital marketing is the main focus of our overall marketing strategy. But we also need to be aware of the volume of information available online. [To serve us better] We have engaged a number of well reputed companies to assist with strategies for rooms, residences, F&B and all the other services we provide.”

She says that the hotel will continue to leverage the support of online travel agents (OTAs). “They are an important part of our overall strategy, as they have been supportive during our opening days are extremely helpful to initiate opening campaigns and placement.” Danks-Brown also acknowledges the support of local agents in the endeavour.

On the food and beverage front, the six outlets in the hotel will serve the guests and surrounding community. “We have so many different concepts in the hotel,” Stadler says. “The main restaurant — Artisan Kitchen — will have the buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he adds, stating the venue is suited for families and will “soon have a brunch on offer before the end of 2016”.

“The Limo Restaurant and Bar is a Peruvian and Latin American outlet and will introduce Abu Dhabi to a new concept,” Stadler says. He also adds that the pool bar — Loop — serves the “best pizza in town”. Finally, the hotel will also play host to a delicatessen shop. “Fresh Basil will serve individually created sandwiches and salads.”

Director of F&B Eric Leprevost adds: “Limo, the fine dining restaurant, is more suited for those who are interested in culinary experiences; the ones who like to experience something different. It is for the trendsetters.”

He adds: “It has been an amazing journey to be part of the pre-opening team and develop and create all the concepts of all the F&B outlets. We have selected people from all over the world to join and create a multinational team that will definitely make a big difference in the quality of service that we are offering at Bab Al Qasr.”

Stadler reveals he will keep a watchful eye on costs, as profitability ranks high on his agenda. “For me cost control is the main aspect [when considering profitability of food and beverage operations]. I am working closely with the purchasing department to make sure we have the right price for the right products.”

Stadler and Leprevost have formed a formidable team as the duo reveal their working strategy. “We have been working closely throughout the pre-opening stage and there have been several brainstorming session that have led to amazing outcomes. I hope that we will be able to continue working together in the same way and create some memorable moments for our guests,” Leprevost says.

Their partnership is evident with the concepts and the plans they have for the Limo bar. In addition to the aforementioned culinary experiences at the Limo restaurant, the team has planned some concepts that are “totally new for the Abu Dhabi market at the bar” with an extended menu which includes a variety of cocktails and mocktails.

The ExCom team are all for implementing a service strategy, and believe in building and empowering its associates. “One of the main priorities is to create and maintain a great team that will ultimately contribute to the success of the hotel,” says Dekirmenzhian, who stepped into the role as general manager when his predecessor parted ways with the property in July 2016.

He shares a few staff initiatives that have been conducted to boost morale. “I believe that a happy team is the key to any company’s success and something that distinguishes one hotel from another. That is also why we are arranging many team activities outside of workplace from barbeque picnics to sightseeing tours, football tournaments and basketball tournaments.”

Stadler is also proud of the equal representation in the back-of-house. “We have a multinational team but we also have many female colleagues; I believe it is important to have the right balance.”

Leprevost adds: “We have some amazing talents from all over the world, who have worked in different luxury brands. Their experience and continuous training — with a focus on guest satisfaction and delivering a memorable stay — will contribute to our success.” He adds that the service team keeps a close watch on social media “to see comments and impressions people have left”. “This will help us measure our success,” he says.

Armed with a positive mind-set, a happy and motivated staff and several initiatives that the management will be rolling out over the course of the next few months, Dekirmenzhian remains confident of the success of the hotel. “We have managed to have a successful soft opening and hope that in a very short period of time we will be able to have our grand opening,” he concludes.

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