Cover story: Style & Substance
Andaz Dubai The Palm aims to be a locally relevant, design-forward luxury property that serves its surrounding community. Claudia de Brito speaks to general manager Kifah Bin Hussein
Kifah Bin Hussein was studying computer science when he fell into the hospitality industry: “One of my friends said that they could provide me with a temporary job so I took the opportunity. I went there and I really liked the industry. It ticked a lot of the boxes that I wanted to achieve in my career. One of them was being close to people. It was also a career that offered a lot of development opportunities and this was the case with the hotel industry.”
A temporary job soon became a permanent one and, as a result, Bin Hussein decided to take a more structured and established approach to his career progression by enrolling himself in training programmes focused on leadership, finance and marketing equipping himself how to be an effective operator and run a hospitality business.
With Hyatt for more than 20 years, Bin Hussein talks about what makes a property an Andaz property: “Hyatt introduced this brand 12 years ago. The brand identiﬁed the type of clientele that requires this brand of lifestyle brand that offers an experience for people who want to be inspired by the space that they stay in. That is art-focused and takes a different approach to the way the industry has been tackled. Andaz is one of the luxury lifestyle brands that we have in addition to Alila so what we offer is for people to experience the destination as if they are locals. We say that as part of the Andaz experience, you arrive as an expat and leave as a local because we try as much as possible to give you an understanding of the local culture which is reflected in the design, the F&B experience that’s offered, the recreational facilities and the spa.”
An integral part of the Andaz approach is to encourage guests to leave the hotel and experience the destination through curated recommendations. Bin Hussein says: “My priority is to make sure that people have all of the necessary tools to operate with success. If you equip people with the tools and give them the space, confidence, trust and care, they will excel and produce the results that you desire. I have a fantastic team who come from different backgrounds. We have 65 different nationalities but the harmony that we have is exceptional. The care that I see shared amongst them touches my heart.”
Another priority for Bin Hussein is sustainability: “We need to contribute to the protection of our planet. We have taken the responsibility as a hotel to be an effective member of the community on The Palm. We plan to do as much as possible to help protect the environment. This is a lifetime’s investment. We won’t see the beneﬁts in this generation We’re trying to eliminate single-use plastic and focus very much on environmentally friendly products. This is usually a much more expensive exercise but for us it’s a commitment in the way that we operate the hotel. We’re going to see this through until it’s 100% achieved.” When it comes to in-room amenities, the plastic mini bottles are nowhere to be seen.
Bin Hussein adds: “We are using dispensers but this was a huge point of discussion because people were saying that we had to choose between luxury and looking after the environment. But we can be environmentally friendly and at the same time be a luxury property. There’s no harm in removing the mini bottles and introducing these systems that are sustainable and nicely designed. They will look sleek and elegant.”
According to Bin Hussein, response from guests was very positive when they introduced dispensers in another property in the group: “A lot of people recognised what we were doing. They said that other companies should do the same in order to minimise or completely eliminate the use of plastic. Recently, some of the major hotel chains started using alternative options such as dispensers.”
The property has gone to great lengths to ensure that the products (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion among other things) in those containers meet the standards of its discerning guests: “We work with a master perfumer from Universal Beauty FZE whose job is to create the products. He’s a fourth generation perfumer and we’ve done a lot of trials on the products and the feedback has been fantastic.”
Bin Hussein says that the property’s green approach will affect the procurement of food and beverage and back-of-house, where there will be a water bottling system. Taking a local approach to food up a notch, the property is working closely with Greenheart Organic Farm to source its vegetables and is growing fresh greens onsite with a US-based company called Green Container Advanced Farming (GCAF).
Bin Hussein explains: “This is a new initiative that we have taken on board. We know for a fact that we will be the ﬁrst hotel to implement this. I know in the past some hotels have tried to do a greenhouse but this is something different. The temperature is controlled by computers. There will be containers to grow these green leaves. Dedicated experts will be based on the premises and the agreement is that we use all of these green leaves within the property. We’re conﬁdent that the quantities we produce will be sufficient. We’re also working on having this available for the community so if they want to come and purchase directly from us, we’ll be able to offer them at a minimal cost.
“Dubai in general is overpriced when it comes to the F&B scene. We’re offering experiences to our clients but it doesn’t mean that it’s exceptionally expensive or daylight robbery. We put ourselves in the shoes of our clients and we ask ourselves the same questions - if I would be paying this much for lunch, would I go back to the same place? How often would I go back? Our intention is to make our F&B accessible. We’re not looking to make huge margins but we want to make sure that our outlets are ﬁlled and to continue with the consistency of clients and turnover of receipts. At the same time make sure we don’t compromise on our products and services because of the price. We know that Dubai is overpriced when it comes to F&B. We don’t want to take the approach. We want to be affordable, accessible yet offer exceptional food service and quality.”
According to Hussein, a lot of time and effort was spent on identifying what was missing in the market: “The trend at one point was to get a Michelin star restaurant chef and brands from across the globe and just open. Now this trend has faded and I can give you examples of well-known Michelin star restaurant chefs who opened and closed within less than six months. Other people who have no idea how an F&B operation should be run, have invested in the look of the place and the design but they didn’t capture what people are really looking for. We want to have home grown concepts and we believe in these concepts that we’ve developed. We know that they’re sustainable and they will generate the outcome that we’re anticipating.
“People are looking for experiences. They want to try something completely different. At the same time, they don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on their experience. We did a very good study of the market to understand what the needs were. Understanding the nature of The Palm, we know that the people who live here hardly leave The Palm to dine. And it’s the same thing for the people who live on the mainland. They see The Palm as a leisure destination where they come on weekends so our focus is on our local community.”
The property’s five F&B outlets include The Locale, an all-day dining neighbourhood eatery located on the ground floor; Hanami, an Asian restaurant on the 15th floor offering an edgy take on traditional Japanese Izakaya; The Andaz Lounge, an antioffice open 24 hours a day for guests and residents with a fully stocked bar serving cocktails and coffee; Knox, an underground urban bar where entry requires guests to give two ‘KnoX’ at the door and La Coco Beach Club where guests can order light bites.
Bin Hussein says: “The Locale is our neighbourhood eatery that offers international cuisine and the concept is inspired by the different hidden gems within Dubai. This is part of the experience that we’ll offer customers coming from abroad. This is one way for us to offer them a local experience with the different cuisines that Dubai has to offer. “We’re thinking of this space and the beach club as extensions of the living rooms of the people living around us. We want them to feel as comfortable and as engaged as possible in the hotel. We’re creating a lot of activities to engage the local community such as Ripe Market and we’re also getting a Cuban boxer to come to teach the neighbourhood kids how to box. Twice a week, we’ll offer this as a free service for kids up to 12 years old.”
Giving back is how Bin Hussein says the property will stand out from its competitors that are set on The Palm: “We haven’t seen that effort to engage the community at that level. That’s what we’re trying to tap into. “On the physical side of things, I really love about the hotel is the art. Everywhere you go within the hotel, you’ll see lot of art by local artists and that’s the reason I like it. I don’t have anything against international artists but there are a lot of great artists in Dubai and the moment you see their work, you get inspired. The third thing I like about the hotel is the pool on the 13th floor. We call it the Cabana pool. It has mosaic flooring and it’s different from pools that I’ve seen in other hotels. It’s special because of its location and the tranquillity and peace you get when you’re there is outstanding.”
Talking about the current state of the market, he says: “We have seen an in crease in supply but it’s something that’s been in the pipeline for some time. We know these things are coming up. There are different points of view in the market on whether this is something that should be regulated or if we should stop opening more hotels but I believe that, with the increase in supply the market will be saturated for a while but actually supply and demand will come to a stage where it’s going to be a healthy balance. This will take time but operators and owners need to recognise that the market conditions have changed so the top line and bottom line that they used to receive isn’t going to be the same any from what happened in previous Expos like Shanghai and Milan. As long as we know that there’s a plan and everybody is taking part in making things happen, I don’t think we have to fear anything.”
Still, Bin Hussein says properties in the region can learn from more established markets: “The way we run our business has to change and learn from the European and American business models. They run a lean manning system. Dubai has always been a luxury destination where you’re overstaffed in most cases. Hotels need to start taking a different approach in order to start being more sustainable and proﬁtable.”