New opening: Marriott leads a Renaissance in Dubai

Hotelier Middle East pays a visit to the Renaissance Downtown Hotel, Dubai just before its opening in December 2017, and navigates its way through what Marriott International hopes will be a completely new offering in Business Bay, and Dubai

Chef David Myers Basta! outlet.
Chef David Myers Basta! outlet.
The ExCom team - (seated) general manager Rick Zeolla, director of sales and marketing Jeannette Smit, director of rooms Laith Naber, and (standing) director of culinary Gilles Perrin.
The ExCom team - (seated) general manager Rick Zeolla, director of sales and marketing Jeannette Smit, director of rooms Laith Naber, and (standing) director of culinary Gilles Perrin.
Pablo Picassos camel sketch reimagined as a 3-D art fixture in the rooms.
Pablo Picassos camel sketch reimagined as a 3-D art fixture in the rooms.
The ambiance at Bleu Blanc is rustic. The concept by chef David Myers will focus on French cuisine and is reminiscent of a Provenalstyle farmhouse.
The ambiance at Bleu Blanc is rustic. The concept by chef David Myers will focus on French cuisine and is reminiscent of a Provenalstyle farmhouse.

This is not the first time the Renaissance brand has been active in the emirate of Dubai. In the 1990s, the 281-key Renaissance Deira was located in what was then prime real estate. However on March 1, 2011, that property was reflagged under the Crowne Plaza brand. Marriott International next signed a Renaissance property in the Dubai Marina, but it was cancelled by mutual agreement between operator and owner — and eventually went on to open as the InterContinental Dubai Marina. A Marriott spokesperson at the time said there was “every intention to develop an on-brand Renaissance Hotel in Dubai”.

And Marriott International has finally done it. The first thing guests see when they walk into the Renaissance Downtown Hotel, Dubai is a giant hand-blown chandelier, designed to represent the shape of sand dunes in the desert. Past the chandelier and further into the reception area is a Dubai skyline artwork, created to show how Dubai has grown from sand into the gleaming, ultra-modern metropolis it is today.

The design team of WA International has also paid special attention to detail when it comes to the elevator entrances. Gold waves surrounding the elevator entrances on each of the floors represent the shapes created when the wind blows across the sandy expanses of the desert.

It doesn’t come as a surprise then, when Renaissance Downtown Hotel team members proudly describe the property as the newest design hotel in town. With design-focused rooms, a spa and a balanced mix of home-grown and internationally branded F&B outlets, Hotelier finds out what this hotel — not the first, as mentioned, but currently the only Renaissance in Dubai — will bring to the hospitality market.

Lucrative location and space

Located in Business Bay, which was recently listed as one of the world’s top 10 “coolest neighbourhoods to visit right now” by Lonely Planet, the hotel’s design is inspired by the sand dunes that surround the emirate of Dubai. From the lobby to the rooms, colour schemes showcase shades of black and gold woven throughout the property. Each corner of the hotel is different, representative of Renaissance’s core brand of being ‘Business Unusual’. Marriott has more than 160 of its Renaissance brand hotels scattered around the globe, in places ranging from Paris to Bali and Dubai to Atlanta. Each is starkly different from the other, with no two properties similar in design.

The Dubai property is targeting both business and leisure travellers, and the team says that each of its 298 rooms tells a story.

According to director of rooms Laith Naber, the rooms are the biggest plus point of the hotel. “We have the biggest rooms in Business Bay and our views are just something else,” he says to Hotelier Middle East during a sneak preview of the new hotel, with guests able to look at the canal as well as Burj Khalifa and Downtown Dubai.

According to the Marriott release, “the hotel’s design will see a dynamic art installation of Dubai’s cityscape that takes centre-stage upon arrival, to the cheeky photography in each guestroom, complemented by a Pablo Picasso’s famed camel sketch re-imagined into a 3D iron rod sculpture”.

An open-plan concept from the bathroom to the bedroom area further expresses the volume of the rooms, which average 60m2.

The designers kept the overall colour palette in the rooms very neutral, with blue tones representing the sky and the water canal. For the executive suites, pink accents have been added to the cool grey colour palette.

Walking through the rooms, one can’t help but notice that special attention has been given to seemingly small features such as the desk and the TV cabinets. The desk is a stand-out piece made from a solid tree trunk slab, supported on a brass iron framework with floating leather clad drawers.

Recruitment and staff empowerment

For general manager Rick Zeolla, however, it’s all about the details in this business, even as far as staff recruitment. “Once the team and myself started to form, we really took a close look at some of the areas that were maybe a cause for concern, or observations that we made as the operator that might influence some changes to make life easier for our guests and even as operators easier for us as well,” he tells Hotelier Middle East.

For Zeolla, the selection of the executive committee or his direct reports was probably the most important decision he had to make when it came to the opening, as they are the leaders for each individual area. At the end of the day, they are the subject matter experts, he asserts.

“My director of rooms is better at rooms than I ever was or ever will be because that’s his speciality. He does it every day. Same goes for my director of beverage and food and my director of culinary; they are the subject matter experts and I trust them. I lean on them heavily to do their job well,” Zeolla adds. He believes that his job as general manager is to have input and to remove barriers in a bid to help them. Whenever a road may not be clear and they have to make decisions, he believes his job is to act as the sounding board and help light the path to a good decision.

“I’m not going to be the one to tell them that something is no good. My teams should know that already and that’s the perspective that I brought in when hiring all of my leaders — I find somebody that shares that kind of management style, where as we go down the chain, the people closest to the customer become the experts,” he adds.

As we go further up the chain, however, Zeolla is of the opinion that upper management is more and more removed from the decision making process. “We’re not standing there and involved in the day-to-day operation every day. So we have to keep our ears open but we expect the people closest to the job to be the experts at it,” he adds.

Both Zeolla and Marriott International strongly believe in staff empowerment. “If an associate encounters a guest and they ask to see the general manager, what I tell my staff during orientation is when you hear that, what the guest is really saying is, ‘I have a problem’. Now they generally don't want to meet me just to say hi. Right there is a clue for them that something is wrong and I encourage them to jump into that conversation and solve it.”

Zeolla, who prefers an informal style of interaction with his team, also stresses with the team that they won’t get in trouble for making a decision if they decide to overcompensate or really do too much for what might seem like a small problem. “We’ll de-brief them later and say ‘OK, this is what happened this is what you did, and these are some other options you might have had available to you before you jump to where you are, which is maybe a free stay or free week at the hotel for something like a not properly cooked egg’. I don't want them scrambling and looking for a manager, I want them to make decisions,” Zeolla adds.

Food and Beverage

Renaissance has a mix of both celebrity-focused and home-grown F&B outlets. Celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto will open Morimoto Dubai, featuring a menu of contemporary Japanese cuisine that infuses traditional dishes with western ingredients and preparation techniques across three private dining rooms and terraces with views of the Burj Khalifa. Southern French farmhouse-inspired restaurant Bleu Blanc and urban Italian themed Basta! — both concepts by chef David Myers — are also set to become culinary highlights. The hotel will also introduce Bhar, from the Arabic word for spice, designed to offer Middle Eastern cuisine.

According to Gilles Perrin, the hotel’s director of culinary, the team didn’t just want another celebrity chef working out of his/her London head office. He believes Renaissance Downtown Dubai’s F&B offerings will fill in the gaps when it comes to the emirate's food and beverage scene.

In a recent interview with sister title Caterer Middle East, the “Gypsy Chef” David Myers shed some light on his decision to open three distinct concepts in one hotel. “Dubai is such a hub. It’s a melting pot of cultures and it’s such a cosmopolitan city. It’s been developing year on year in such a fast, trend-setting fashion,” he said at the time, and added: “If you’re going to be considered a global restaurateur and you’re not in Dubai, then you’re not a global restaurateur.” Myers places great importance on being part of Dubai’s maturing culinary scene and sees great potential in his partnership with the property that houses his venues: “You’ve got to be here. You’ve got to be on the map, so when this opportunity came up for this particular project, it just fit. It’s a boutique hotel, 300 rooms; all the other hotels are really large with large restaurants, but to be able to bring three really cool, unique, authentic concepts to this hotel and to this location is exactly what we do.”

And director of culinary Perrin agrees. “It’s not the case that something is missing in Dubai’s culinary but that we are bringing something new and interesting in terms of what we are trying. We bring to Dubai a restaurateur or a chef, but not your typical restaurant chef blandly cooking a recipe from the other side of the world,” Perrin adds. According to Perrin, it’s more a case of only the best surviving.

Business Unusual

Renaissance Downtown Hotel, Dubai has all of the brand’s quirky experiences, including ‘Evenings at Renaissance’ where guests can connect and socialise. For the true social discoverer, the hotel’s ‘Navigators’ will help guests navigate the neighbourhood by highlighting hidden gems and handpicked local discoveries. Additionally, the hotel will also open an all-suite spa concept — Six Senses Spa — this year, which will feature six treatment suites, each dedicated to a different sense: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell and intuition.

Realising the importance of social media and creating a buzz in a market  where travellers are heavily reliant on what is happening on their social feed, Renaissance Downtown Hotel Dubai even has a dedicated social media executive to make sure the hotel’s social media handles are up to date.

And according to director of sales and marketing Jeannette Smit, hotels have come a long way from the traditional formats of sales and marketing that was practiced in the old days. “Nowadays people are much more into social media and we need to be focused more on the social part of our business,” Smit adds. “It’s just the way things are and the way the industry has moved.”

In keeping with its motto of ‘Business Unusual’, the opening night concert had a private concert with music superstar Gwen Stefani, which followed a recent announcement of a global partnership with Universal Music Group, which will see the brand bring its music series to the UAE. Members of Marriott’s loyalty programmes, Marriott Rewards, which includes The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, are able to redeem their points for the Ultimate Fan Experience packages around the concerts.

Stefani’s concert quickly found itself the subject of considerable buzz throughout Dubai, particularly on social media. In Zeolla’s words, the concert did what it was designed to do: tell the world that the Renaissance Downtown Hotel, Dubai is open and waiting for customers.

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