New Opening: One of Abu Dhabi’s oldest hotels gets reflagged

One of Abu Dhabi's oldest hotels was reflagged on December 31, 2018, the busiest night of the year. Hotelier sits down with the opening team of the Radisson Blu Hotel & Corniche Abu Dhabi to find out how the property plans to make a mark


With plans to reach 100 hotels and 20,000 rooms in operation across the region by 2020, Radisson Hospitality is keen to accelerate the expansion of its Radisson Blu brand in the UAE.

On November 1, 2018, the group announced the signing of two hotels in the UAE.

Signed in partnership with Abu Dhabi National Hotels (ADNH), the Radisson Blu Hotel & Resort, Abu Dhabi Corniche and the Radisson Blu Hotel & Resort, Al Ain, are poised to play a significant role in the group’s growth in the Middle East.

Both these properties are historic landmarks in their own rights, which were operated by Hilton before being reflagged on December 31, 2018.

When it opened in 1969, Hilton Al Ain (now the Radisson Blu Hotel & Resort, Al Ain) was the first modern hotel in the Emirates. Meanwhile Hilton Abu Dhabi (now Radisson Blu Hotel & Resort, Abu Dhabi Corniche) which opened in 1971, was one of the first five-star hotels in Abu Dhabi and has been a well-loved property in the capital’s expatriate circles.

“The fact that it’s one of Abu Dhabi's oldest hotels is much more of a positive for us and doesn't pose any major challenges,“ commented an upbeat John Losasso, senior vice president, operations at ADNH. “Of course, for people who know the new brand, it's easier for them to accept it, than it is for those who don’t know it. It’s up to us to convince them.”

Losasso characterises Radisson Blu as a young, vibrant brand, with the potential to reinvigorate the local community and boost occupancy. “The reflagging has been a positive development as Radisson Blu is a very desirable brand to have within the community. It will take some time for people to accept the new name. Any transition takes time, particularly from one company to another, but I think we have a bright future.”

With the building and decor showing the effects of more than four decades in operation, both hotels will undergoing extensive upgrade works as part of a full conversion plan.

“Phase one of the refurbishments of the Radisson Blu Hotel & Resort, Abu Dhabi Corniche, will start this summer, beginning with the rooms,” said Losasso. The hotel will continue to be fully operational during this time.

Located on Abu Dhabi’s prime Corniche Road, the property features 327 rooms and suites, and makes the most of its landmark location. One of its biggest attractions is the 11,000m2 of private beach across the road, as well as an extensive dining and entertainment offering, featuring eight international restaurants, two cafes, four bars and a nightclub.

The meeting and events space will include two ballrooms, a boardroom and six meeting rooms, covering more than 2,000m2. Leisure facilities at the hotel include three swimming pools, a fully equipped fitness centre and a beach club with watersport activities. 

Speaking on the proposed upgrades, Losasso said: “All the refurbishments  are scheduled to take place over the next couple of years in phases, with design inputs flowing from the ADNH board. I've seen some of the designs and they look promising, with a young, vibrant and cool vibe. We will be starting  the mock-up rooms in a couple of months and have huge plans to revamp facilities on the beach front.”

While the interiors and systems were due for an upgrade, over the years, it's been the people who made this property a part of Abu Dhabi's social fabric.

Cluster head of HR at ADNH, Francis Ambatt, spoke on how the reflagging affected human resources. “When there is a rebranding, it is accompanied with a lot of apprehension, as the property was under the same brand for more than 40 years.

“There is natural attrition of staff, but there may also be critical roles staffed by people who do not share the same vision as that of the new brand. We had existing vacancies and anticipated a percentage of people moving out under the new brand. Therefore, we had a strategy in place to recruit people, without affecting the spread of employees, even before the reflagging took place.

“One of the strategies we had is promoting internally,  and we brought in existing employees to fill four or five critical positions, going up to the level of unit head. That gesture also speaks well to the rest of the team as a morale booster.”

“It’s very important that the staff feels part of a team, part of a unit. It’s not only the top management but how we bring everyone together,” Losasso added, “That’s my long term strategy and historically if that happens, your hotel will always succeed.

“The vision going forward for both new Radisson Blu properties in Abu Dhabi is obviously driving the topline and my philosophy is to motivate the staff, really bring back the fun aspects and take it back to basics,” said Losasso.

So was it commercial considerations that made owners ADNH choose the Radisson Group?

Losasso declined to comment on the specific reasons for the reflagging. “It was a decision by the board. The Radisson Group is quite strong in Dubai and we wanted to bring them to Abu Dhabi. It's an agile and vibrant young company which adds a different element to our portfolio. It was a smart decision and the future definitely looks bright.”

Losasso believes the branding change will help the property boost its occupancy and average daily rates. “We have got a great sales team in-house. At  ADNH, we have clustered all our teams together so we can pool the best attributes of each team. What we see on the books is looking very positive, so obviously the strategy is working. Abu Dhabi is a specific market, with its own challenges so we need to see how we can come up with innovative ideas to attract new business to our properties.

At the operational level, the rebranding posed its own set of challenges.

Cluster director of revenue Oilyana Topchieva commented: “The systems used at Radisson Group are different from those of Hilton, so this was the main  challenge in setting up the back end. Going forward, for this year the Radisson Blu brand needs to be absorbed well and be well liked by the public especially online travel agents.”

At the announcement of the reflagging, Elie Younes, executive vice president & chief development officer, Radisson Hotel Group, said he was delighted with the two marquee hotel signings and the strategic relationship forged with ADNH. “The UAE remains one of our key focus markets in the Middle East, and these hotels give us the chance to cement our position in the country with Radisson Blu, which remains the largest upper upscale brand in Europe and a leading brand in its segment in MEA.”

For Losasso, ultimately it's team work that makes the dream work.

“We have a team of young people who come up with innovative ideas. They have a different outflook on things. While the year ahead ahead is going to be tough, I believe that if you have the right product, with the right staff, success is assured.”

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