W Dubai - The Palm GM Anne Scott on being a hospitality disruptor

W Dubai — The Palm general manager Anne Scott talks about the W spirit, and why there’s space for two of the same brand in one city

Executive interviews, Operators

Walking into the mock-up room of W Dubai — The Palm, the first thing one notices about the general manager Anne Scott is something one would not expect to see when it comes to hotel general managers – her strawberry pink highlights.

Just by observing Scott’s non-traditional take on her appearance, one can tell that this hotel and its team is aiming to be a hospitality disruptor when it opens in September 2018. Originally meant to open in March this year, the property has since been delayed —but Scott promises that the wait will be worth it.

Since launching in 1998 in New York, W Hotels, has always been known for doing things differently, befitting its wild child status of the overall hotel group. From taking the traditionally staid hotel lobby, adding a DJ and turning it into a night club, to its WOW-suites, and implementing the brand’s Whatever/Whenever service philosophy, nothing is meant to be traditional when it comes to W Hotels.

World over, W Hotels now has 50-plus hotels in more than 24 countries. A favourite with millennials, the group, known for its quirky interiors, has opened hotels in Istanbul, Barcelona, Edinburgh and London. It most recently made its entry into Jordan with the W Amman, and the W Muscat is set to open in November.

With high expectations for the brand in the region, there’s no doubt that W Dubai — The Palm is one of the most anticipated hotel openings and the pressure is on for the team to deliver a product that meets with these expectations.

As Scott reveals, it has been a “fun-filled journey” and the hotel is a “lab of creation”, where every aspect of service and product is continuously questioned in order to innovate beyond the competition. And while many other disruptors in the hospitality industry have entered the market since W’s debut, Scott believes that W is the first mover, with the brand’s members calling themselves the luxury rebels.

According to Scott, disruption really is the order of the day, starting with design. She comments that the design of a W Hotel should disrupt the true perception of what a luxury hotel should be like. The initial stages with the upcoming property involved a lot of collaboration with the owner’s design teams, she reports. “Working with the design team for the W has been a very engaged discussion from the get-go, and you try and make sure that the customer can get the very best of experiences that fits comfortably with their expectations of a W hotel,” Scott says.

She reveals that the design team would engage in meetings at least 10 times a day, in the early days of the project, to talk about what would be the modern thing to do, and how they could do things differently, even down to elements like the names of the light switches.

“We could have an ‘on’ or an ‘off’ switch for the lights, or we could set lighting settings like ‘soft and seductive’ and ‘playful and fun’,” Scott says. “It’s the attention to detail that allows things even as small as a light switch to tell the W story and put a smile on the customer’s face,” she comments.

Every W draws direct inspiration from its destination and each design is meant to defy expectation and spark a guest’s imagination. According to Scott, from the pillow on the bed to the lampshade in the living room, every design detail is different, but conveys the same W spirit.

Scott’s spirit is indefatigable; she joined W Dubai — The Palm after two decades in London and eight years in Asia Pacific, where she held the role of general manager at the St. Regis Kuala Lumpur Hotel & Residences, St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay, The Andaman, a Luxury Collection Resort and Le Méridien Chiang Rai Resort.

“I lived in London for 20 years and I got to a milestone birthday, one where the zero on the end makes it seem like the world is coming to an end, and I thought I'd either end up in London for the next 20 years or that I would go on a big adventure,” she reflects.

She was the first female to hold general manager posts across three luxury brands of the former Starwood Hotels & Resorts and brings 25 years of hospitality experience with her. Her efforts in Asia earned her the designation of ‘Asia’s Leading Woman in Hospitality’ in 2011 from the Women in Leadership Forum, as well as the Starwood President’s Award 2012 for ‘Outstanding Team’ on the launch of a coral nursery. Prior to her time in Asia, she held the role of hotel manager of The Park Tower, Knightsbridge, London – a member of The Luxury Collection.

“My mother encouraged me to go on that adventure and I decided to do a job that was most different from my job in London. I chose to join the pre-opening team of a hotel in northern Thailand and then Langkawi, then China and Kuala Lumpur. When the W Dubai came along, it was such an intoxicating thought that I just had to come here and see what we could do to make this one of the best hotels in the world,” Scott adds.

People maketh a hotel, however, and with W Hotels’ traditional passion points including fashion, design, music and fuel, these also needed to be reflected in its staff, Scott emphasises, making the hiring process for the upcoming property trickier than most. “W is such an iconic brand that people leapt with enthusiasm to get an opportunity to work for a W in Dubai. We had a wealth of candidates apply and that was great from a talent pooling point of view,” Scott explains.

Since food and beverage is at the heart of W’s operations in Dubai, that was one of the first hires that Scott made. “We had 200 top candidates who applied and we whittled that down to a shortlist pretty quickly. We’ve hired two culinary [members] and I’m really excited for the world to see what they can do,” Scott says.

Its six restaurants and bars include: Wet Deck; Torno Subito by Massimo Bottura — his first venue outside Italy; Akira Back — the Korean culinary master; SoBe - a rooftop bar with a South Beach vibe and 360-degree views; Liv — offering Mediterranean cuisine; and W Lounge –— for curated cocktails pre/post dinner.

“We have such a great opportunity to bring out a naughtier side of a beach bar in Dubai.” However, when asked to describe what a naughty beach bar is like, Scott says we will just have to wait until the hotel opens to see it.

On making the decision about the rest of the team, Scott says it was “like when you know you’ve got a good thing going on a first date.When you know, you just know,” Scott remarks.

“It took a long time to get our way through the CVs and the candidates but when the right candidate walks in the room that process happens very quickly. And then you match the product that we built and the talent that’s interested, that’s always a success story.”

Some of the challenges Scott faced as pre-opening GM, however, was no different from any other regular pre-opening.

“My team has probably heard this analogy about 27 times in the first couple of months that they joined: There are good openings and there are bad openings. In a bad opening maybe the opening date is difficult to pin down, in a bad opening one position could be hard to fill, or somebody forgets to order something critical and it becomes a bad opening. In a good opening, maybe the opening date is difficult to pin down, in a good opening one position could be hard to fill, or somebody forgets to order something critical and many processes get delayed.

But in a good opening, the spirit of the team is so powerful, positive and solution-based to fix the situation. The spirit of the team can conquer anything. So it doesn’t matter what you throw into the mix, it’s the team makes it a good opening,” Scott emphasises.

It’s therefore no surprise when Scott explains her leadership style is to make her team believe that everything is possible and there’s a solution for every  issue that arises.

“There’s a solution and an answer to everything and sometimes you just need to find creative ways of getting out of a tough spot. One of the greatest ideas that has been installed in this hotel has come from the talent and my working style is all about creating an environment where people can actually express themselves.”

It’s important that both hoteliers and new hotels express themselves, especially in a market with plenty of choice - and in this case, within its own brand. This opening will mark the second W in the city, but the presence of a sister hotel doesn’t seem to faze Scott. “W Dubai — Al Habtoor City is at the heart of the city and it’s designed to be more for the urban traveller,” Scott explains.

“Dubai is a great example of connectivity and that is a big plus for the W hotels in the city,” Scott says. “There is still space for someone who wants to do things differently from other luxury hotels in the city.”

She says that the hotel business has reached the point where the difference between hotels cannot just be price; rather it has to be rooted in experience.

“With another W hotel in the city, there’s nothing we couldn’t create in terms of synergy. You see that absolute icon when driving up Sheikh Zayed Road and that’s an urban experience, and we at W Dubai — The Palm provide a different experience and without a doubt there’s space for both of us in this city,” Scott asserts.

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