GM interview: AlRayyan Hotel's Luca Crocco
AlRayyan Hotel, Doha, Curio Collection by Hilton GM Luca Crocco reviews the first few months of business at his newly opened hotel
With a soft opening in Doha, Qatar on December 11, 2016, it could be said that the entry of Curio, Hilton’s latest brand into the Middle East happened just when market conditions for hotels in the country was not exactly at its brightest. Sluggish economic activity had resulted in weak hotel occupancy levels as well as falling average room rates by the end of 2016, market research revealed.
AlRayyan Hotel, Doha, Curio Collection by Hilton general manager Luca Crocco, however, declares that the opening of his hotel — and business response since its opening — has actually been nothing short of “amazing.”
“The business has actually been much better than we thought, I must say. We are going a little bit against the trend at the moment,” Crocco discloses during an interview with Hotelier Qatar.
A veteran Hilton hotelier with over 20 years of international experience, Crocco adds that he was up to the challenge of opening the first Curio in the Middle East when the opportunity was first offered, but confesses that he was initially taken aback by the hotel’s location.
“When I came here and saw the location, I thought, ‘wow, this location is going to be a challenge. We’re not within the city centre’,” he says. “Now, it has actually become my luck, in the sense that the location poses a huge opportunity for us because within a radius of about eight kilometres, there is not a single hotel apart from our hotel.”
He adds: “Effectively, our hotel is also attached to the biggest shopping mall in Qatar — the Mall of Qatar. So it has actually been due to the combination of the niceness and the beauty of the hotel and the success of the mall — and the mall is extremely successful; there are some weekends where there are 70,000 to 75,000 people in the mall. The success of the mall has actually really helped us to position the hotel.”
The clientele of the AlRayyan Hotel, Doha predominantly comes from Qatar as well as from regional GCC countries.
“Around 90% of our business is Arabic: the KSA, Kuwait, Bahrain, all the GCC markets and the local Qataris,” Crocco says, stating how astounded and gratified he was by the resulting popularity of the hotel with the locals.
“I must say, I was overwhelmed by the interest of the locals,” he says. “Close by is a residential area and it is quite upmarket. I had to put a team 24 hours on duty for show ups. We have Qatari people coming in at all times of the day and night, asking for show arounds.“
With buoyant business on the books, Crocco is focusing on achieving his key priorities for the hotel, such as positioning the hotel as a new Middle East destination, establishing the Curio brand and meeting the hotel’s revenue targets.
“For the first year of operation and knowing also how the market is, this can be challenging,” Crocco says. “But I’m feeling very positive about it.”
He also emphasises the importance of creating and implementing quality service standards for the hotel, saying: “It’s all about ensuring the level of service. I want this hotel to have a very high level of service but in a setting that feels very familiar. We are building this hotel to be very friendly, very welcoming. So when people come in, especially for the type of clientele that I have, I want them to feel like they’re at home.”
Ensuring the quality of service meant that Crocco and his management team had to invest time in recruitment of the right people with the right attitude, embarking on recruitment campaigns in eastern Europe, northern Africa, as well as Asia and the UAE. He also tapped the existing pool of talent in two Hilton properties, the Hilton Doha and the Doubletree by Hilton Doha — Old Town, especially people who were ready to move on to the next level in their career journey. Once the team was on board, intensive training, creating and communicating the Curio service culture, commenced.
“The Curio culture is something we defined here in the hotel, unlike the Hilton culture which is already pre-defined. Curio has its own identity. If you also look at the hotel itself, the name itself is very different: AlRayyan Hotel Doha, a Curio Collection by Hilton,” Crocco says. “There are some basic similarities, things we align, of course, according to Hilton. But everything else, we started from scratch here in the hotel. We opened the hotel in a very short period of time but we spent a lot of time to make sure that we got it right.”
The market seems to be appreciating the quality of service, with a steady stream of business coming in from a mix of corporate travellers during the week and leisure on the weekends. As for pricing, Crocco points out that Curio is carefully positioned within the Hilton brand hierarchy, a strategy which suits the AlRayyan Hotel Doha extremely well.
He explains: “We are priced above a Hilton hotel. If you look at the positioning of Hilton brands, you have the Waldorf Astoria, the Conrad, the Hilton; we are positioned between the Conrad and the Hilton. We are well positioned in the market as of the moment, that’s what I can tell you.”
And speaking of the Doha market, which saw a softening throughout 2016, Crocco says he realises that his bullish opinions may not be shared by everyone, saying: “At the moment, with the hotel, the way I see it, is actually very positive.”
Crocco cites the various measures and initiatives by the Qatar Tourist Authority (QTA) as additional driving factors behind his optimism. He says: “There is a lot of work currently being done in the Qatar tourism market. The Qatar Tourist Authority has come up with different strategies: there’s new visa measures so we are now starting to see people come for stop-overs. This was not there before. Now, there is also the conference and events market, which is very active at the moment, with the new Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre, only about 10 kilometres from the hotel.”
He sums up: “I think 2017 will still pose challenges,but be more positive because actions undertaken by the government will start to bear fruit. It is very difficult to say how the future will develop. At the moment, with the market aligned with the vision for the future, the infrastructure coming up for FIFA 2022, everything is looking positive and solid.”