GM Interview: Mysk by Shaza's Shafik Alaaeddine
As Mysk by Shaza, the upscale four-star brand by Shaza Hotels, gets ready for the opening of its flagship hotel in Muscat, Oman, Mysk by Shaza Al Mouj's general manager, Shafik Alaaeddine, suits up for a double debut
Shafik Alaaeddine faces a tremendous task. In joining Mysk by Shaza Al Mouj, Muscat as the pre-opening general manager, he not only has on his hands the challenge of opening a new hotel in Oman, but also, in introducing the flagship hotel of Mysk by Shaza to the world, he shoulders the additional responsibility of a brand launch.
This poses a gargantuan challenge for any hotelier, even an experienced one. The ex-Starwood veteran, however, who has already handled the Shaza Al Madina pre-opening for Mysk’s parent brand, Shaza Hotels, with its flagship property in Madina Munawwarah, seems to take everything that comes his way in his stride (and — given his present frantic work schedule — at a sprint !).
Despite being one of the few destinations in the Middle East actually experiencing a steady uptick in hospitality industry KPIs, with occupancies, ADRs, and RevPARS on an upswing, Muscat may still seem something of a curious choice for a destination in which to debut a hotel brand. Alaaeddine, however, thinks the decision by Shaza Hotels makes sense because, as with most business decisions in this part of the world, everything hinges on the quality of relationships. “Shaza Hotels believes it is important to not only build strong relations with our guests, but also with our owners. An owner must have great trust in a hotel operator to give them their assets to manage,” he says.
“Shaza Hotels has built this trust with [Oman-based investment company] Taameer over the last two years, during the development of the Shaza Salalah project, due to open in 2018. Therefore, Taameer has reiterated its confidence in Shaza to launch and manage the new Mysk by Shaza, as part of the Al Mouj development.”
Parts of Muscat, Oman’s historic port capital, have been on a tourism mega-infrastructure development drive of late, while stubbornly clinging to the charm of the city's traditional heritage. The waterfront community of Al Mouj, formerly known as The Wave, its English translation from the Arabic, is the sultanate’s new, up-and-coming leisure and lifestyle destination, a public-private venture between the Oman government and UAE-based entity, Majid Al Futtaim Properties. Spread along a 6km stretch of Muscat’s coastline, the integrated development comprises a group of luxury residential properties including villas, townhouses, and apartments, commercial units, retail, and dining facilities, as well as Oman’s first Greg Norman-designed, PGA-standard, 18-hole golf course. Al Mouj is also home to the 400-berth Al Mouj Marina, Oman’s largest private yachting hub, and The Walk, a 50-unit retail area that forms the commercial and leisure hub of the community.
In the heart of this expansive development, the 195-key, four-star Mysk by Shaza Al Mouj is swiftly taking shape on a prime marina waterfront site.
Alaaeddine confirms that the hotel’s opening, scheduled for the latter half of 2017, is on track.
“We are on target to open by Q3 2017,” he says. “Construction is in its last stages, as well as FF&E (furniture, fixtures, and equipment) and OS&E (operating supplies and equipment). All our team members are hired: 25% are already on board, and all the rest will join before the end of July.”
As the hotel also marks the debut of the Mysk by Shaza brand, Alaaeddine takes pains to point out its brand differentiators from Shaza Hotels.
“Mysk shares with Shaza the same vision and values, but with a different personality,” he explains.
“Shaza Hotels is a luxury brand inspired by cultures of the Silk Route. Shaza presents handcrafted experiences reflected in design, services, and people. Mysk by Shaza is an upscale hotel brand reflecting ever-evolving Arabian lifestyles,” he adds.
With the building’s architecture and interiors conceptualised by Godwin Austen Johnson, a UK firm that has established a thriving practice in the UAE over the last 25 years, Alaaeddine expresses enthusiasm for its design narrative, which aimed not to sacrifice substance for style. He says: “Mysk by Shaza Al Mouj has been designed in a modern, practical, and trendy way. The key word is efficiency, [which is delivered] without compromising the guests’ comfort.
“The hotel has been built in a pragmatic manner for the guest,” he continues. “This includes easy access to the hotel, efficient check-in, quick delivery of services, comfortable rooms, and simple yet fresh and vibrant food and beverage facilities. Moreover, the back-of-house of the hotel has been built in an efficient manner, in order to reduce costs, [manpower], and work flow.”
Alaaeddine emphasises that, in addition to its functionality, the design philosophy manages to incorporate elements of Omani architectural traditions, as well as the sultanate’s seafaring heritage.
“The interiors are uncluttered and clean, reflecting serenity, all treated in a very modern style,” he continues. “Inspiration from Omani architecture and design, as well as its marine life, have been taken into consideration through the use of art, colours, patterns, and architectural elements.”
Mysk by Shaza Al Mouj will feature three food and beverage outlets: Salt & Pepper, serving as both an all-day-dining restaurant during the day and an Italian speciality restaurant at night; Gelateria, offering artisan ice cream; and Gharoob, the hotel’s rooftop pool terrace, with views overlooking the marina. The hotel’s first floor will house two meeting rooms, both with natural daylight and private terraces. In addition to the infinity-designed swimming pool on the rooftop, the hotel will also have a gym, sauna, and steam room.
Alaeddine is confident about the hotel’s prospects and its positioning. He highlights its strengths within the context of Muscat’s upper-upscale market, indicating the perceived gap the brand seeks to fill. The destination, he says, is ripe for a lifestyle brand.
“We are highly optimistic about Mysk Al Mouj being the newest trendy hotel in town, and about being associated with the prestigious address of Muscat — Al Mouj Marina living.”
He continues: “We have seen a gap in the niche lifestyle brands in Muscat and we are pitching to be in that gap, where trendy concepts and marina living are a part of it. We also aim to compete with certain upper-upscale hotels due to our trendy product, service concepts, and great location. So, more than mere financial figures, we [are concerned with] positioning ourselves as the leaders among upscale hotels and attaining more than fair market share.”
In order to achieve these objectives, Alaaeddine says the property will aim to target a diverse market mix. He notes: “Mysk Al Mouj is aiming to attract predominantly business travellers, as well as leisure travellers, especially on weekends, and then the local community, to savour our F&B scene and the trendy marina lifestyle.”
As for what these prospective guests can expect at Mysk by Shaza, Alaaeddine is adamant that, price-wise at least, they will not face any unpleasant surprises. Instead, he intends for the hotel’s pricing strategy to reflect its accessibility to guests.
“Their stay at Mysk Al Mouj will mean good value for money and comfort in a stylish setting. That’s a promise from the general manager,” he declares.
Overall, he believes that Muscat is welcoming the entry of good four-star hotels, pointing out that diversity adds to its broader appeal as a destination.
“There is a good demand for four-star products in Muscat and the segment is witnessing an increase in supply,” Alaaeddine observes.
“In general, the city’s performance is good, supported by new projects and ties that the government is developing. Both Oman and Muscat have high tourism potential, supported by various Ministry of Tourism and government initiatives to encourage tourism and develop the required infrastructures, under the direction of His Highness Sultan Qaboos.”
Suffice to say, Alaaeddine is definitely enjoying the ride of his life with the pre-opening journey of Mysk by Shaza Al Mouj, Muscat.
“It’s an exciting one, enriching in all aspects,” he affirms, with a smile.