FEATURE: An A-List service

Posted under Interviews & Features.
by Patrick Ryan | Published 10 months ago

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Hotel News Middle East talks to some of the industry leaders about how they cater for A-List celebrity guests…

Darren Darwin - general manager Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar

Darren Darwin – general manager Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar

It is not uncommon to turn on social-media and read that celebrities such as Will Smith, Justin Bieber, Mariah Carey, Kim Kardashian and Tom Cruise are currently spending some much-needed vacation time in the Middle East.

The region’s hotel industry is synonymous with glitz and glamour and is the envy of the world, and rightly so.

With that mind, Hotel News Middle East decided to discuss how the industry manages to cater for world-famous guests.

The first question that had to be asked was, despite some negative headlines about challenging conditions across the globe in terms of the fiscal climate, is the Middle East still popular with A-List celebrities.

“Absolutely. Although A-list celebrities have the means to visit any destination imaginable, they choose to come back to Dubai time and time again – and it’s not hard to see why. Dubai’s reputation as the ultimate luxury destination is well deserved,” says Seema Pande, commercial director at Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates.

“The city has an exceptional range of hotels, villas and resorts offering elegance and – most importantly – privacy.”

Pande says that when you add the weather, architecture and luxurious spas into the mix, plus incredible shopping, dining and nightlife opportunities, and an assortment of world-class sports, arts and entertainment events, you really do have the ideal destination for celebrities.

Darren Darwin, general manager, Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, was equally ebullient about the Middle East’s standing – adding that Oman, in particular, has strengthened the region’s hand.

“In recent years, Oman has entered the world stage as a luxury destination thanks to government efforts as well as its stunning landscape, rich culture and welcoming hospitality,” he says.

“This in turn has resulted in it attracting the attention of high profile celebrities, both from within the Middle East and across the world, who lead the pack by visiting the latest ‘on-trend’ destinations that offer world-class hotels and excellent flight connections.”

Darwin says that Anantara Al Jabal Al Akdar Resort has garnered significant attention throughout the world, due to its spectacular mountaintop location and sensational views.

It is this unique offering, Darwin says, that has made his property such an attractive prospect for celebrities.

“Our remote location means we’ve had the opportunity to host several celebrities at the resort, the majority of which are looking for somewhere to escape for privacy and exclusivity,” he says.

“With a large selection of villas complete with private infinity pools and personal villa hosts, we are the perfect choice for those seeking discretion. Several of the villas even have private entrances for cars so they can arrive without being seen and spend the entire time relaxing and in the seclusion of their villa overlooking the canyon.”

Darwin points out that he takes a hands-on approach to VIPs and celebrities.

“I personally handle all enquiries and arrangements to ensure they have a memorable and peaceful stay, away from people asking from autographs and photographs,” he says.

“We normally work closely with their teams to devise an itinerary based on their preferences, whether it’s activities, spa treatments or dining. For example, we recently had a high-profile celebrity and his family stay with us and he wanted to spend as much time as possible doing fun activities with his children so we arranged mountain climbing, a guided trek to the nearby villages and a special dinner in their villa.”

While celebrities can be demanding, Darwin says, the key is to make sure they are treated the same as all guests – and that all patrons at the property are given a service that is second to none.

Pande says that each guest is different, including celebrities, which means each guest has a unique set of requests.

MOE Exterior“That said, our experience of hosting celebrities is that most don’t come with a wild list of demands, more a request to have everything as normal as possible,” she says.

“From our side, there is obviously a need for specific communication around in-house VIP guests to ensure recognition of their needs, and we always recommend celebrities stay in the exclusive Aspen Chalets, which affords them more space and privacy.”

Celebrities, like anyone else, appreciate that extra personal touch, says Pande.

“We will often prepare customised amenities, which could be anything from their favourite flowers or their favourite drink or perhaps a sweet treat specially customised by chef. It’s really about the little touches that make their stay more memorable,” she says.

It is a sign of their professionalism that both Darwin and Pande refuse to discuss the identities of some of the celebrities who have stayed with them – much to Hotel News Middle East’s disappointment.

However, we did get to ask how do other guests react to celebrities in their midst.

“From time to time a guest might want to take a photo, but they generally appreciate that, just like them, the celebrity may want some privacy,” says Pande.

“Of course, some celebrities are very open and willing to do it, especially if they are in town for work reasons, and you can tell if they are comfortable with the situation.”

It’s a similar situation in Oman according to Darwin.

“We tend to find that celebrities can enjoy the resort without guests disturbing them,” he says.

“They may ask for the odd photo, however this doesn’t happen often as the majority of our guests are used to spending time in environments where they might rub shoulders with celebrities.”

Darwin gives the example of a famous British actor who stayed in the property with his family and how the hotel staff were able to make his stay more enjoyable.

“They’d booked two different room/villa categories so he and his wife were located on the other side of the resort from their children,” he says.

“Luckily, our three-bedroom Royal Mountain Villa was available, so we managed to upgrade them and provided them with a barbecue dinner on the terrace. He was overjoyed, particularly as his job involves a lot of time away from his family, so he really relished this quality time with them.”

It sounds like smooth-sailing with celebrity guests but as Darwin and Pande illustrate – it is not without challenges.

“Depending on the celebrity, they may come with some specific security arrangements but, in those instances, there is a detailed briefing to ensure any plans are effectively implemented,” says Pande.

“Aside from that, it is no different to how we approach all our discerning guests – we want them to leave having had a memorable stay and looking forward to coming back again.”

Darwin adds: “There are often last-minute changes due to their busy schedules, whether it’s a late arrival or change of dates.

“Also, they tend to book very last minute over busy periods such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve or Eid, which makes us hard to secure the room type they want or extras such as spa treatments and activities. However our teams are very well versed in handling these situations, and always manage to pull it off for them.”

It seems that the Middle East is still very much high on the celebrity radar when it comes to vacations.

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