Donned in a denim jeans and blazer to blend in the semi-casual atmosphere at the recently opened Aloft, Palm Jumeirah, we spoke to general manager Max Wiegerinck on how the property is a game changer in Dubai’s hospitality market.
Standing out from other properties under the same name, Aloft, Palm Jumeirah is giving a leisure twist to the business image of the brand with Max Wiegerinck at the helm of the property, having spent several years working with the Inter Continental Group, Ritz Carlton and The Jumeirah Group before joining Marriott International.
“Aloft as a brand was envisioned as the younger sibling of the W hotel which became a design hotel. Aloft was then envisioned as a more affordable option, focused on rates and rooms but not a lot of F&B in America,” Wiegerinck says.
“The brand has been growing tremendously over the word and right now we are bigger than W Hotels and in the Middle East we see a nicer version of the brand, with more focus F&B and The Palm being a leisure destination meant we had to incorporate that. Also, we are the only Aloft in the world with a beach.”
The main target market for the property is the younger generation according to the general manager, “In terms of functionality and design this property has been built to be interactive, be it the pool table in the lobby where people can meet each other over a game or the WXYZ bar to catch up. We also live for music, young people and young artists. All of this is to focus on the younger generation that is interested in exploring the world and meeting new people,” he adds.
Having worked across the world in Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East meant the Dutch national brought in experience from different markets and that has shapes his professional philosophy, “Over here you meet so many different nationalities, not just with your colleagues but guests as well. For this business you have to anticipate the needs of your guests and colleagues and always be ready to adjust and make changes.
“You do not survive in this business if you don’t have a passion for it, not just to do your job but also to serve. You need to be humble and you have to develop your team. In this industry you normally start somewhere as a junior person and everyone wants to make a career so developing your team and giving them the opportunity to grow and get better is very important for any general manager in their position.
“We usually select people based on their attitude and we teach them. There is a lot of focus on training to make sure our staff has the right skills set for the job and as soon as they get there, which normally takes a few months, we then start enhancing it more. Then in a years’ time we see if we can get them ready for the next level. In this industry the good thing is that there are a lot of different levels,” he explains.
“A priority for me as the general manager is to make sure the staff is happy because if they are happy, everything will work out. One specific task for me is to ensure the whole machine works and people are happy, be it from their accommodation to their facilities here at work. I speak to two or three staff members every day for a couple of minutes briefly getting their opinion on things and how life is. CSR is an important part as well. We have already done a few activities with the community and our roof is filled with solar panels, so we ensure we are giving back to the community while making the most of renewable options.”
One of his responsibilities as the general manager at Aloft Palm Jumeirah include building its identity as a leisure destination, as opposed to its counterparts.
“We opened in January and are a leisure hotel which usually takes more time to start up. Tour operators in Europe, which is one of our main markets, take time in booking people and we are a little bit further away from the city for business guests although we have surprisingly had quite a few, so we are not doing bad on that segment although it is not our target.
“Ramadan was little bit quiet except for Eid, people want to go on staycations and we are unique being a 4 star hotel on The Palm. It is very affordable and includes the brunch in the Mexican restaurant. Summer is picking up nicely, which is more with the European tourists and in the coming months we expect to stay on high occupancy.
“Dubai is leisure city and people associate The Palm with leisure as well. There are a few unique features on this property like the view, we made a lot of effort in building this hotel a little bit higher than the ones around so we have amazing views and makes for a great staycation,” he explains.
Speaking about the market, Wiegerinck says growth can certainly be anticipated, however, a growth is profit is not guaranteed.
“In the beginning people did not believe all the big stories about how the market is going to grow and now it is on that path and will keep growing. Maybe not as fast and profitable but it will. It is such a strategic location and the UAE are giving more reasons for people to stop for a few nights. Even Saudi Arabia is taking that direction now as are all the countries around us. I see positive growth but with the competition coming in the market the margins are a little bit less,” he says.
The rates used to be a lot higher and the hotels were all full a couple of years back, so you could drive the rates up and make profit, but now with more competition coming in, you have to be competitive with other businesses. They used to be all 5 star hotels and now we have 4 star hotels, expecting new clients.”
Being one of two four star properties at The Palm, Aloft will be competing head to head with other fire star offerings, according to the general manager, “It is easier for us as we have a more affordable price options. We do not want to compete with them on the facilities as we do not have them, but we will compete with them on being affordable,” he says.
“All of our guests are important, be it international or within the UAE, but in the beginning The UAE is of more importance as people book last minute trips but in other markets you book ahead and we need to get the name of Aloft more known in the region.”