New opening: All Work All Play at Holiday Inn Dubai Festival City

Adding to the cluster of IHG properties within Dubai Festival City after its opening April 18, 2018, the Holiday Inn Dubai Festival City is the flagship of the brand for the region.

Hotelier express, Operators

Mid-market is the trend du jour, and operators are certainly tapping into the demand for affordable hotels in the region. One such operator is InterContinental Hotel Group among whose portfolio includes the Holiday Inn brand. While that brand is by no means new to the region, IHG and Al-Futtaim, on April 18, 2018, opened the UAE’s largest Holiday Inn at the Dubai Festival City cluster, joining the InterContinental, InterContinental Residences, and Crowne Plaza.

This hotel is also meant to be a flagship for the brand, and it’s why the property’s general manager Patria Puyat, taking on her first GM role, is determined to get it right. We meet her a few weeks before the opening onsite and the hotel is a flurry of activity. Final touches are being added to the lobby, and training is ongoing, while Puyat answers what seems like an avalanche of phone calls. Despite that, she’s smiling. She tells me later on: “It’s not easy because there are a lot of times when you just have to smile. The learning I have had from this experience is understanding when you fight to win, and when you decide it’s okay to retreat.”

Moving to this hotel from the Crowne Plaza in the same cluster, Puyat tells Hotelier: “I’ve been in the business for 27 years as a hotelier, and it’s certainly, for me, a super new challenge in this area.” Being part of the process from the beginning, Puyat compares it on a bigger scale to her previous experiences with conferences & events (C&E). She comments: “I did C&E for a long time and that’s a department where you build something from nothing, and the energy you get after it is finished is absolutely amazing. That feeling, I thought, would be there in a big scale with pre-opening.”

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In fact, having put together her own personal development plan early on r, it was a couple of years ago when Puyat told her managers that she wanted to elevate her career into hotel management. She says: “I was very lucky that I had a boss who believed in me and saw the potential in me. Soon I heard that we were going to have this new hotel coming up, so I put it out there. A lot of people asked me, ‘how did they know [that I wanted the job]?’. You have to tell them! If you don’t step forward and raise your hand, how would they know?”

So now, Puyat is the captain of the ship, and she says the opening of the Holiday Inn Dubai Festival City was strategic on many levels. She comments: “The Holiday Inn stands for family, for you being yourself, for guests that are empowered, and for colleagues that can express themselves.” Puyat continues: “The details of this property are very well thought of. It’s well connected to the mall, and our owners have said that they want Dubai Festival City to be a destination. And we are a destination.

“We are seven minutes from the airport and eight minutes from the city so we are in the middle. Plus we are connected to the cluster. The IHG cluster in Dubai Festival City is the biggest cluster for IHG with the addition of a Holiday Inn.” In fact, at the time of going to print, this is set to get bigger, as IHG revealed another management agreement with Al Futtaim to debut Staybridge Suites Dubai Festival City. The 160-key hotel will be the fifth IHG property in the Dubai Festival City cluster.

She says: “We feel that we are in a good position. Business is good when your location is good, and when the external elements around you are good as well, you have a winning proposition.”

Area director of sales & marketing Sayed Tayoun points out to Hotelier that the IHG Dubai Festival City cluster has been in the market for 10 years and already caters to a variety of segments and markets. “The Holiday Inn element is to complement our offering for our customers by offering a mid-scale brand-defining [concept] like Holiday Inn. We have been very lucky to work with owners like Al Futtaim who have really invested in the product to be a great example of what the future of Holiday Inn would look like. Now we are complementing our product offering, and the destination we are in helps us play on every single market segment,” he adds, very much reiterating how the cluster can now gain further market share.

Part of what will add to its market share is events. Putting her MICE hat back on, using the cluster to capitalise on the MICE opportunities in the region can only make perfect sense, Puyat believes. “What Holiday Inn brings is that second level. Organisers would like to talk to a company that can answer all their needs. Because we have a massive inventory of rooms we have now become more flexible in terms of size of groups that we can access and the different meeting rooms and venues that we can offer. InterContinental and Crowne Plaza was already a great cluster and when you add another hotel room into the mix, it just gives you variety.”

Tayoun adds: “IHG Dubai Festival City is a leading MICE destination; we have more than 10,000 square metres of event space [across the cluster]. We need to leverage our position within the MICE world and attract and increase our market share, whether by taking bigger groups and hosting them in different brands and cluster or focusing on purely Holiday Inn markets.”

But it’s not just MICE. The location, Puyat reveals, also lends itself to leisure groups, stopover groups, airline connections, and sports associations. “Holiday Inn is a family-oriented hotel, and we really have done a lot of marketing towards families to come and enjoy the hotel because it’s built for everybody.”

Tayoun reveals that the property’s top souce markets are similar to that of Dubai (Europe, India, GCC and the US feeding into corporate business, and Germany, U.K., Eastern Europe, India, China, Russia and CIS for leisure), but states that the brand will help the cluster “access segments that are rate-driven customers whom traditionally we did not have access to”.

When it comes to rates, hotel has opened with an offer at AED510 net (US $138) which includes the room and the amount paid for the room going back for use as F&B credit in the hotel. This offer will run through the summer, although guests can also avail of the straightforward rate at $100 with breakfast.

When it comes to food & beverage, the hotel has opened with two outlets: all-day dining outlet Sirocco, and healthy cafe concept with some indulgences, Zest. The rooftop is also meant to be a restaurant and bar; however the space is leased out to a third party, which is as yet unrevealed and will open later.

IHG representatives have often previously commented on the importance of its people. Puyat is no different, and says that to have put together a great team was a huge milestone for her. But what is impressive is that this first time general manager has also written the manning guide of the Holiday Inn differently from any other at the moment. I question what that entails, and Puyat explains: “We have incorporated a lot of jobs together. For example the normal front office manning structure is seven levels, we have three.

“This increases the productivity of the team because you remove people whom you think are delivering guest experience but are actually not. This is a very lean structure. We have housekeeping attendants, not room attendants and laundry attendants, as another example.” This will be rolled out in other locations, and Puyat adds that this also allows the hotel to pay better.

Efficiencies aside, the hotel also has a diverse team — both in terms of gender and nationality. Gender diversity is important, Puyat says, and reflects that she’s experienced entering boardrooms full of men for most of her career and believes it’s time to change. “You just need a balance. I strongly believe that what men can do, women can do. I don’t see a difference. People who say, ‘this is a man’s job!’, I ask ‘Who said so?’. Gender diversity and equality is important, as well as nationalities. Rainbow hiring is key; here in the Holiday Inn you will see departments of only a maximum of 13-15% from the same areas.”

When it comes down to the opening, training and soft skills can make or break it. Puyat comments: “Opening a hotel is not just about a product, it’s also about soft skills. All our brands have their own identities; we may belong to one family but we are individual. When guests go through our doors they need to experience Holiday Inn. And consistency with Holiday Inn around the world is what IHG stands for.”

She firmly reiterates that the property is a mid-scale offering and will not make any pretensions to be luxury, albeit while offering high quality products. Tayoun concurs and adds: “Honestly the details here are very well thought of; they are very practical and this is what Holiday Inn is all about. It’s practical, it’s fresh, it’s easy. It’s functional, it’s not luxurious — while of a high calibre.”

He continues, going back to the point he made earlier: “Our USP and advantage is the reputation of IHG DFC as well as the existing infrastructure. It’s about extending, rather than opening something brand new in the middle of nowhere. We have the benefit of hitting the ground running because we are part of an existing, very well established framework here.”

All of which bodes well for the debut of the flagship Holiday Inn, and Puyat concludes: “What I really want to achieve is for us to be able to deliver a Holiday Inn to brand. I want to be able to deliver a Holiday Inn that has the guest experience journey consistently, deliver a Holiday Inn that is profitable for both our owners and management company, and deliver a Holiday Inn that is the number one place to work for our colleagues, because when they are happy they will make our guests happy.”

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