GM Interview: Wael Maatouk

Habtoor Palace, LXR Hotels & Resorts' general manager Wael Maatouk talks about redefining guest experience with the debut of the luxury Hilton brand in the region

Executive interviews, Operators

Popular for its opulent exterior with Beaux Arts-inspired architecture throughout all the guest rooms and public spaces, Habtoor Palace — formerly known as The St Regis Dubai — is part of Al Habtoor City complex, the upscale hospitality, residential and leisure complex with three five-star hotels on Sheikh Zayed Road located just steps away from the Dubai Water Canal. At the helm of the luxurious property, which features 234 suites, is Wael Maatouk.

Maatouk was brought on as general manager of the property in August 2018, after the Al Habtoor Group ended its partnership with Marriott International and signed a franchise agreement with Hilton Worldwide for the operations of the three properties on the complex on July 9, 2018, which went into effect on August 1, 2018.

At a joint Habtoor Hospitality and Hilton press conference, the US hotel chain revealed that Habtoor Palace would be operated by LXR Hotels & Resorts, a regional first for the luxury brand, which was debuted in 2005 by Blackstone.

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W Dubai Habtoor City was reflagged to V Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton with 356 rooms and the Westin Dubai Al Habtoor City was transitioned to Hilton Dubai Al Habtoor City with 1,004 rooms on offer. As part of the franchise agreement, Maatouk confirmed to Hotelier Middle East that the LXR brand will be providing global marketing, branding and other services for the hotel.

“LXR will be the newest version of luxury brands under Hilton Worldwide. LXR will be taking care of individual luxury hotels, while the property can retain its identity, branding and can still be under the umbrella of LXR hotels & Resorts,” he says.

It’s been a couple of months since the handover and Maatouk says the team has been heavily focusing on creating awareness about the new brand in the complex, as well as investing time and effort in positioning Habtoor Palace as one of the “go-to luxury destinations” in Dubai.

“What we are now working on is the branding of Habtoor Palace. The luxury and appearance of the hotel will, of course, brings big value to the hotel. LXR on the other hand, will bring the luxury network to the Palace. It’s already well known in the market as a beautifully designed property and its architecture on the interior and exterior is well recognised. Now, we are working on creating an overall experience of luxury for the guests,” Maatouk explains.

Asked how the hotel will differ from its predecessor in terms of management, Maatouk is quick to point out that the move to reflag has been advantageous for the property and the complex at large in terms of flexibility, quality and standards.

“Habtoor Palace now isn’t really tied to a brand that dictates what the experience should be. It’s in our [Habtoor Hospitality] hands to provide the experience that we want or address what the guest wants and needs. This is an advantage of being franchised – you take the benefits of the brand, which is visibility, but then you’re able to create your own experience for the guest, too. This is exactly what we are doing with the Habtoor Group – to create a specific experience for the Habtoor Palace and provide that for the guests. This will also give us more space to manoeuvre, to listen to the guests and tailor an experience they want rather than being stuck with a brand that dictates the experience and dictates how we should operate,” Maatouk elaborates.

The hotel, Maatouk points out, targets guests who are seeking total privacy and unique luxury experiences.

“Categories of suites we have on offer include the signature suites like the Winston Churchill suite, the Bentley suite, the Royal suites and the Grand suites – all these are to suit a certain clientele. We are not trying attract the masses. With only 234 units and individualised butler service for each room, very few hotels in Dubai offer this sort of luxury service,” he stresses.

With Hilton working on brand presence, another challenge for the hotels in the complex, especially for Habtoor Palace, has been diversifying the source markets and the segments.

“The traditional market for Habtoor Palace in the last two years was mainly from the GCC. Now we are trying to expand to some of the other source markets. We are also focusing on emerging markets like India and China, as well as CIS. We are also working with Hilton Worldwide on a more strategic partnership to attract guests from Latin America as stopover tourists in Dubai,” Maatouk notes.

While Habtoor Palace is set on welcoming the luxury segment, the hotel is in close proximity to its two other five-star sister hotels, with the complex collectively offering more than 1,600 rooms. Asked if this poses a competition issue, Maatouk says the three brands offers very different guest experiences and instead “complement each other”.

He says: “I don’t think we are in competition. I think each of the three hotels have their own identity with their own target segments. As a matter of fact, I think we complement each other. Guests at Habtoor Palace will have a luxurious experience, while also having complete access to the entire complex,” he points out, referring to the 27 restaurants and lounges at the Al Habtoor City complex, two spas with 35 treatments rooms, several meeting spaces, three ballrooms and the Le Perle by Dragone show located inside the V Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton.

“My leadership philosophy is simple: I’ll take care of my 400 staff members and they will in turn take care of the guests to provide the luxury experience they deserve when they come to Habtoor Palace. I want to be on the floor with them, escort guests and also welcome them. That’s the only way I know to do it,” he explains. “LXR Hotels & Resorts comes into the picture within the umbrella of the experience and will help market the property to the luxury segments we want to attract.”

However, Maatouk says he is realistic and acknowledges the challenges that may lie ahead in the immediate future.

“Moving forward, we are getting connected with all the accounts and all the guests we are conducting business with. Our goal is to increase our market share day-after-day in the region.

“This is normal and we are going through a very positive phase now where we are ramping up for the business especially with the new season. I think figures look very positive. We are just going to keep pushing for a fair market share and increase it, year after year,” he concludes.

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