GM Interview: Daniel Kingston, Vida Emirates Hills
We catch up with Vida Emirates Hills general manager Daniel Kingston, to talk about his approach to leadership, the importance of community engagement and standing out in a crowded market
Vida Emirates Hills general manager, Daniel Kingston started his career with a very old family owned hotel in London, its claim to fame was that it was the first hotel in the world to have an en suite in every room.
Thankfully they have undergone some renovations since those days. He then spent many years working with W Hotels, including opening the first W hotel outside of the US as well as opening the first W in the Middle East. Most recently, he was involved in the opening of the first Vida hotel, the Vida Downtown and that was where he says he fell in love with the brand.
When it comes to his leadership style, Kingston has a very guest focused approach. He says: “Nothing is too much trouble for our guests, every decision made is on how this can improve our guest experience.”
Another key philosophy is the importance of ensuring the hotels he operates have a sense of personality: “Our guests want to feel that energy the moment they walk in the door, you can have all the prettiest hardware, however until you add that people element, the hotel doesn’t really come alive. I have been very fortunate to work for some very strong brands. It’s important to maintain the integrity of your brand in every touch point, from the guest experience through to managing your team.”
Kingston also underlines the importance of people skills, the ability to manage different walks of life and keep the different team members engaged and motivated. He explains: “Not to sound cliché, but listening skills - there’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth, we don’t have all the answers and we need to listen to those experts in their fields.” He continues: “I would also say the importance of making informed decisions and understanding how these decisions align to your businesses goals and objectives. Last and certainly not least, making training and succession planning a key part of the culture you are trying to create.”
Making a Mark
The Vida Emirates Hills has embraced a sustainable approach to hospitality. Along with the usual green initiatives such as linen and room servicing processes, the property is eliminating single use in-room amenities. Kingston says: “We do not use single use plastic in the meeting rooms and provide filtered tap water for our guests. We have also introduced ‘Keep Cups’ for the guests to purchase, if a guest has a Vida Keep Cup, they can purchase their coffees at a heavily reduced price.
“In addition, we have “Charicycle” bicycles in all our hotels for our guests to use on a complimentary basis, Charicyle has a wonderful message behind their bicycles. We are also partnering with Ro’yati Society with our unique “Travel Lighter” initiative, all our guests are invited to leave an item (or two) behind for those less fortunate.”
In terms of facilities, the hotel has a striking pool deck, with an Infinity pool overlooking the Emirates Golf course and the Dubai city skyline. This is already becoming a selling point for the property. Kingston explains: “This is already proving very popular for wedding enquiries, as it has a unique indoor and outdoor option for the guests, which with the un-certain Dubai weather, is giving guests a great option.”
Another selling point is the F&B, with two concepts to choose from: “Our Social Eatery, Origins, is a beautiful space with a focus on locally sourced ingredients, (in partnership with Greenheart Farm) as well as food with a story behind it.
“Lastly, our neighbourhood gin bar, Junipers, which is already a huge hit with the local residential market. With an eclectic design and focus on gin-based libations, it is a fabulous after work spot.”
Some would say it was a risky move to open a hotel in June but Kingston says it paid off: “Summer is always an interesting time to open a new hotel in Dubai however, we are very happy with where we are at, as we have used the summer months to focus on service and iron out some of those kinks. The really pleasing thing is the level of interest and potential that we are seeing for post summer, so we expect great things.”
In terms of performance, he concedes that there is room for improvement: “Obviously, this year has been about opening the hotel and getting the hotel settled, next year we will be a lot more aggressive in terms of expectations. We have a few new Vida properties coming on-line, so this also gives us a great chance to leverage off an increased presence in the market and really grow and develop the Vida brand.”
In a marketplace flooded with international operators, Kingston sees the value in a home-grown brand: “Dubai is in our DNA, it’s very dynamic with a focus on the young, entrepreneur mind-set and I really feel it’s a great representation of the emirate. This is further reflected at Vida Emirates Hills in terms of the space we want to create for our guests, as well as some of the partnerships we have established. For example, we have partnered with Let’s Work, a home grown start up that focusses on co-working spaces, it’s really exciting to see all the different people working in the hotel and helps bring a different energy into our spaces.
“We are also one of the few lifestyle hotels that are really well positioned for golf, with the ability to leverage on Emaars’ world class golf courses. We are seeing a lot of bookings coming in from November onwards. The wonderful thing about Vida Emirates Hills, is you almost have a resort like feel, but are not even five minutes from the Marina.”
With four residential towers in the development and 21 retail spaces, Kingston is very much focused on the community: “We are working on creating various events that encourage the community to come in and enjoy the hotel as well as establishing partnerships with the local community.
“Obviously, it’s a very challenging environment, however Dubai is still such a dynamic city with a great global footprint, there are still many guests visiting the city and living here, so it creates a tremendous opportunity to create compelling offers that attract guests to your hotel and restaurants. I don’t think it’s about being cheap and offering discounts, it’s about looking at those value-added aspects that bring people in.”