First Look: The Oberoi Beach Resort, Al Zorah

The team behind The Oberoi Beach Resort, Al Zorah is keen to create a destination with the first five-star beach resort in the Emirate of Ajman, and explains why connecting with local culture and heritage is the way forward

The building on the left housesVinesse, the main restaurant, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because of the elevated location of the restaurant, the guests dining on the terrace can enjoy direct views of the sea.
The building on the left housesVinesse, the main restaurant, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because of the elevated location of the restaurant, the guests dining on the terrace can enjoy direct views of the sea.

The Oberoi Beach Resort, Al Zorah opened its doors last month within the Al Zorah master development, which has been planned by Solidere International and is a joint venture with the Government of Ajman. Across one million square metres of rich wetland, Al Zorah’s biodiversity is home to almost 60 species of birds and marine life. The Oberoi Beach Resort, Al Zorah is located in close proximity to the two million square metres of green mangroves.

Al Zorah CEO Imad Dana says the choice to sign up with The Oberoi Group was, in some ways, a no-brainer. “Oberoi is famous for quality which we were seeking at Al Zorah,” says Dana, who adds that the developer liked that the operator had just one hotel in the UAE so far, making it more exclusive in its eyes.

Dana praises the design of the resort, and says that the contemporary design has been something which The Oberoi Group also loved. Dana says: “It’s transparent and uncomplicated, and every piece is selected after careful thought, and with the space in mind. It’s a big resort and a limited number of suites — we don’t have rooms, just suites and villas.”

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Designed by Italian architect Piero Lissoni, the resort’s accommodation includes suites and villas with private terraces and swimming pools. Meanwhile, Sensio Spa by Oberoi offers Eastern, Western and signature massage therapies, Turkish hammams and ayurvedic treatments. The resort also has a fully equipped 24-hour gymnasium and a temperature controlled 80m-long swimming pool.

The property, which is the fifth five-star hotel and the first five-star resort in Ajman, offers 113 keys, 25 units of twin bedded and 88 units of king bedded rooms, suites and villas with one, two or three bedrooms. In addition to the terraces, the villas offer a private sundeck with a temperature controlled swimming pool.

The Oberoi Beach Resort Al Zorah general manager Burkhard Wolter, who has been in the UAE for two decades and counting, joined the project in October 2015, and was involved in sharing The Oberoi Group’s thought process.

He says: “Oberoi wants to be part of building a property, so the engagement was done in 2013. We were on the drawing board in the early stages. I’ve been fortunate to come in on the project earlier, to have a say. We have a very tolerant developer who was involved with us, which is not always the case. And seeing the hotel in renderings, and then seeing how it actually assembled together was a highlight.”

The Oberoi Beach Resort Al Zorah director of sales & marketing Albert Meow joined the pre-opening team in July 2016 from the erstwhile Banyan Tree properties in Ras Al Khaimah, and tells Hotelier that the idea is to develop Al Zorah as a destination. He says: “It’s quite similar to what Yas Island used to be. Now whenever you see the words ‘Yas Island’, you think ‘Abu Dhabi’. Eventually when people think about Al Zorah, they will think about Ajman.

“In all our collaterals, we don’t mention Ajman with the idea of developing Al Zorah as a destination. This gives us positive opportunities to create ourselves.”

One of the selling points, Meow says, is that each suite will be able to avail of butler service, with the property also being one of the first few within the entire operator group to implement the Oberoi Enhance system which will allow guests to explore the resort’s offerings and book tables or order room service via iPads. Once settings are saved by a guest, when s/he returns, those settings will be saved against their guest profile.

Meow reveals that the team expects approximately 40% of its business to come from the local market, and will use a balanced mix of social media marketing and generic advertising to target this sector. “In the bigger picture we target Germany, the UK, Switzerland and Russia,” he adds.

MICE will also play a role; the resort has private meeting rooms and a 430m2 banqueting space which can host up to 220 guests. Meow points out that the team will make full use of the natural surroundings to be creative and tailor activities for guests. “This resort is about selling experiences. We want to maintain high quality service deliveries, so we will cater to smaller, luxury groups. I like to say that small business is our business.”

Catering to guests’ needs — especially when the property is keen to focus on individualised service — is more important than ever before, and on that note, Wolter adds that recruitment was another highlight, as it was very important to him and the operator to find the right people. Now, the resort has about 30-35% of its staff hailing from the Oberoi Academy.

And one of the right people for the job is The Oberoi Beach Resort Al Zorah executive chef Vishal Khulbe, who has been with The Oberoi Group for many years, and reveals that the culinary philosophy of the hotel is driven by Slow Food which is all about being sustainable, local, organic, and wholesome.

The restaurants and bars of The Oberoi Beach Resort Al Zorah include: Vinesse, the main restaurant, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; Aquario, the beach restaurant which serves lunch and dinner; and the poolside bar, which serves light, healthy tapas and a variety of fresh juices. Wolter says Oberoi worked with a third-party to create the concepts, although all are operated in-house. He is adamant not to categorise any of the concepts, and does not call anything an ‘all-day dining restaurant’, for example.

For these concepts, Khulbe works with four suppliers based in the UAE, including a farm in Al Ain which supplies organic and non-organic seasonal vegetables and chicken, Italian Dairy Products for its cheeses, Al Fumo for its smoked meat, and a local supplier in Ras Al Khaimah for quail and lamb.

He adds: “We have tied up with the local fishermen of Ajman. Once or twice a week we get fresh seafood from them. We don’t do any hammour. We also use farmed fish, like sea bass and trout, grown in a controlled, natural environment. We don’t have salmon. We have our own agricultural boxes where we grow tomatoes, arugula, and basil, and once the summer begins, we’ll start eggplant and cucumber. We just planted the citrus tree and as we come into winter they will be fruiting.”

“The whole idea of the culinary is to highlight the produce, let it speak for itself,” adds Khulbe.

And the team is determined to let the destination speak for itself. Wolter says: “We are competing with Dubai. Our edge is that it’s a resort property, and we are also carved into a development which will attract its own clientele. Being the first hotel on the plot is a bit of a drawing card.”

He says by the second day of opening, 10 villas were already occupied, and he adds: “People were waiting for us, we have to work hard in this market, but there’s a lot of selling points which you won’t find anywhere else.”

Wolter brings it back to the importance of the people on the resort and concludes: “Are we doing everything right? Probably not. Are we making mistakes? 100%. But it’s how we recover and approach procedures that makes a difference. That’s what the UAE is all about — to lead from the front as a property, and to set a benchmark. For people staying here and paying a premium, the tangible is irrelevant; the intangible makes a difference.”

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