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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

On the move: the secrets of hotel success

A new book featuring interviews with management from two of the UAE's best hotels reveals best practice for optimum service and complaint resolution

Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, at night. Anantara
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, at night. Anantara

Isadore Sharp, the now 86-year-old Canadian hotelier who founded the Four Seasons brand of hotel management in 1960 and is still its chairman, found a niche for his company when he realised that there was demand for quality business hotels offering personal service and all the comforts of home. He realised that people wanted something between a small motel and a huge hotel with hundreds of rooms, and would be willing to pay a certain amount for the guarantee of certain amenities.

“The reason for our success is no secret,” he says. “It comes down to one single principle that transcends time and geography, religion and culture. It’s the Golden Rule – the simple idea that if you treat people well, they will do the same…One way to characterise Four Seasons service would be to call it an exchange of mutual respect performed with an attitude of kindness.”

These words came to mind this week reading a new publication by Rahim Kanani, a Washington-based writer on leadership, luxury and travel who has interviewed the world’s best luxury hoteliers on leadership, management and the future of 5-star hospitality. Two of the 36 people who made the cut for his latest book are in the UAE: Axel Bethke, the German general manager of Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara - in my opinion probably the best hotel in the UAE - and Ayman Gharib, the Lebanese managing director of Raffles Dubai.

Both offer insights into the secrets of success in the hospitality industry – which is difficult to achieve because of its dynamic nature and huge mix of expectations and personalities. “I believe that true luxury is about how our guests feel when they stay with us – something we call emotional luxury,” Gharib says. “I always encourage my team to use creativity and discretion when looking for opportunities to wow our guests with memorable, unexpected moments.” If only all hotel staff exhibited such thoughtfulness.

For Bethke, “diplomacy” is a key skill, not least when things go wrong. “When a guest experience is not up to par, you must first understand the nature of the issue and the source of the problem. If it is a guest complaint, you must be an active listener showing genuine concern. When guests are angry, you must kill them with kindness. You must be sincere and honest. You must make them happy again swiftly and totally. In cases like this, staff empowerment is a critical element to make things right without involving leadership. Afterwards, you can investigate the issue and figure out what went wrong so that you can fix the root cause. Once you have a solution in place, you must share it across the team so that the mistake or issue doesn’t happen again.”

He too is looking to wow his guests. While once luxury hotels were novelty, the industry is now much more competitive. “Now, our guests in the luxury segment live in beautiful homes, drive expensive cars, have the latest technology, and consume the best food. The question now is how we can still surprise them.”

The answer, Bethke says, is simply to “become acutely aware of what our guests are looking for. Today’s luxury travellers are eager to experience the country, culture, and tradition of the destination, something they simply cannot get at home.”

Bethke tells a story of a regular guest who would spend “a few months” at his hotel each winter, but on his latest visit could only stay until the end of October due to other obligations. “He was quite upset that he couldn’t spend Christmas at our hotel, so a few days prior to his departure, our team organised an early surprise Christmas party in his suite. We all celebrated with him, and it was one of the best moments of my career.”

Anticipation at its best? Merry Christmas.

A Wealth of Insight: The World's Best Luxury Hoteliers on Leadership, Management and the Future of 5-Star Hospitality is out now

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Read more:

Lost? That will be (at least) $20,000

On the move: is privacy the ultimate luxury?

On the move: a brief moment of brilliance

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