Feature: The 5-star feeling

Posted under Interviews & Features.
by Patrick Ryan | Published 1 year ago

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At the iconic Fairmont Dubai, general manager Ammar Hilal is decoding guest emotions to create the ultimate luxury experience…

Fairmont GM - High res 01When it comes to measuring a hotel’s performance, the conventional indicators are closely tied to the bottom line – the number of guests in the property, the rate they pay per night, etc.

However, figures tell only half the story. Demand peaks could drive a full occupancy but, if some guests leave unhappy, reputation will soon reverse the results. So imagine if hoteliers could measure – and instantly act on – the emotions of each guest in order to create superior levels of engagement and satisfaction for each and every check in.

According to Ammar Hilal, general manager of Fairmont Dubai, this might be the future of hospitality: no guest feedback form, no happy face buttons on the concierge desk and no “two-minute” mobile survey.

Up to the digital revolution, Hilal foresees the implementation of an emotional measurement tool which uses a web-cam and software to detect micro-movements in facial expressions, the temperature of skin and even a person’s heart rate – crucially the technology does not include facial recognition. Simpler versions, with a more plug and play approach, are a simple barometer of an individual’s positive and negative energy.

It’s a favourite within the advertising industry and a tool of intrigue for academics around the world. Cementing its place in the business tech repertoire of the future, Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon have all invested in the technology. Is it simply a matter of time before it reaches hospitality?

Hilal says: “Customer experience has made significant progress in using metrics to measure overall satisfaction, but when it comes to emotions, this approach doesn’t work. Traditional metrics are simply not enough. If you want to understand your guests’ emotions, you should consider instant solutions or constant unobtrusive interaction in order to pre-empt their needs and desires and to take care of them before they reach a potential “pain point” during their stay with you.”

“I think the future is all about how you measure emotions. We have a Minister of State for Happiness in the UAE, which showcases the government’s commitment to provide services that achieve customer happiness and I believe, hotels should also invest in designing intelligence platforms and advanced tools that allow you to measure the guest’s experience and drive high satisfaction ratings.”

Positioning ahead of the curve, Hilal would like to prioritise such implementation at Noire, Fairmont Dubai’s ground-breaking dine in the dark concept, which starves the sense of sight in order to heighten taste, smell and touch.

Guests will be invited to measure their positive and negative energy by placing their finger on a sensor before and after the meal, to demonstrate how stress levels decline during the experience.

Hilal explains: “Noire has been extremely popular because it removes visual cues which overstimulates the other senses that contribute to taste. The philosophy is if you are in the dark you have a much higher sense of taste, texture and smell. We will soon add a feature to measure guests’ emotions on arrival and departure at Noire, and demonstrate how stress levels decline after the meal. It really completes the Noire story.”

Creating wow factor

Recognising guests’ emotions is only part of the plan to keep ahead of the competition, as Dubai opens more than 120 new hotels in the run up to 2020.

Celebrating its 15th anniversary in May 2017, Fairmont Dubai was the first Fairmont hotel outside the US and Canada and the first true 5-star property on the emirate’s arterial Sheikh Zayed Road. A default flagship in the global portfolio of more than 70 properties, Fairmont Dubai’s reputation is founded on spacious rooms, great social scene, excellent dining and a strategic location.

Since arriving to lead the hotel’s 540-strong team in June, Hilal has been heavily engaged in learning about the building, its people and guests, leading open and closed discussions with team members and laying down the groundwork to truly create a roadmap to success.

Hilal begins: “A clear strategy can only be formulated once you have a good understanding of the existing operation and a good idea of the competencies of the team, so you can achieve your targets.”

In doing this, Hilal draws on a vast experience working in four continents, nine countries including, London, New York, Hawaii, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Mauritius, to name a few. He has twice worked at Burj Al Arab, most recently as hotel manager.

He says: “I am delighted to be taking the helm of Fairmont Dubai, especially at such an exciting time in the hotel’s legacy. I am also fortunate to work with a very dynamic and motivated team.”

After months of observations, and with next year’s budget now in place, Hilal’s collaborative roadmap for the future of Fairmont Dubai is now in execution mode, and he wants each team member to feel a sense of pride and ownership over the plans.

Work will focus on F&B and to maintain Fairmont’s relevance in Dubai’s highly competitive social scene. This includes a plan to renovate Bridges Sports Bar; expand the popular Pronto café, a day-time favourite catering to the residence and office tower; and add new dining concepts, including an afternoon tea in the lobby lounge and a family brunch. In Q2, 2018, the all-day dining restaurant, Cascades, will potentially undergo an upgrade to enhance interaction between chefs and diners.

Although a full refurbishment is planned in the coming years, the hotel recently completed a multi-million dollar lobby renovation and made some adjustments to its rooms and suites. With demand for extended stay accommodation on the rise, kitchenettes have been installed in some one bedroom units, with many removable to retain flexibility to the market’s needs.

Explaining the approach, Hilal says: “Every hotel has to renovate from time to time, whether it be minor improvements or a complete facelift. What is even more important, however, is to consider the timing, competition, market economics, latest trends, which all enter the equation as to when a renovation should take place. Hence, we are currently studying all factors that can achieve the strongest returns.”

Leading from the heart

If there was a guide to being a hotel general manager, it might begin with tips such as “forge a strong team ethic” or “focus on providing an exceptional guest experience”. For Hilal, joining a hotel that already meets many of these criteria, that’s only the start.

A significant part of his focus over the coming months will remain on the team, identifying those who are ready for their next career progression and, as always, making sure everybody is happy.

Always keeping an eye out for the next leader, Hilal prides himself on driving team members’ development, saying: “I often push people to go out of their comfort zone. When people challenge themselves, they find more opportunities to make a difference and turn up amazing results.”

The focus on happiness is already generating ROI. The hotel has enjoyed strong performance in the second half of the year, scooped prestigious awards underlining the team’s commitment to delivering consistently high levels of service and, with a spectacular festive season and a packed events calendar for Q1, the hotel is looking forward to more success.

Hilal concludes: “The increased competition among hotels is necessary and healthy but we prefer to believe that we are not in competition with anybody but ourselves. Therefore, our goal is to always beat our last performance. With this sustained level of energy, passion and the amazing family feel we have here in this hotel – I’m confident we will achieve more next year.”


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