A pioneer of the social scene in the northern emirates, Lava beach club is part of Fairmont’s vision for an international, 5-star beach experience on the UAE’s east coast. Hotel GM Omar Souab and director of F&B Heinz Giering, tell Patrick Ryan about the concept, the food and making a splash in Fujairah…
As far as tourism in Fujairah goes, the east coast emirate is a sleepy fishing town with an economy built on agriculture and shipping. As of 2014, the population stood at 202,667 people. Despite this, Fujairah has built – and maintained – a reputation for weekend getaways among the UAE’s expatriate residents, thanks to its mountainous terrain, cool climate, white sandy beaches and hot, cold and mineral springs.
Now looking to diversify its tourism mix, Fujairah’s plans follow a similar formula to places like Ras Al Khaimah. Following the opening of successive luxury hotels since the start of the decade, the emirate witnessed industry growth of 8.7%, 2014 – 2017, compared to the national average of 5.7%.
Until recently, the hotel stock to support the weekend market in Fujairah has been limited, but with a pipeline of luxury hotels lined up for the coming years, Fujairah now has its sights set on transformation via tourism.
Abu Dhabi-based developer Eagle Hills has two projects, The Address Fujairah Resort + Spa and the upcoming Palace Fujairah Beach, and brands such as Rotana and Intercontinental are gaining market share since their arrival. However, it is the entrance of Fairmont – the first global 5-star upscale brand – that will set Fujairah apart.
Located in the coastal region of Dibba, within a two-hour drive of Mussandam, Fairmont Fujairah Beach Resort joins a portfolio of more than 70 hotels globally.
Offering 180 rooms and suites with sweeping views of the Indian Ocean or mountains; guests can enjoy private balconies; the UAE’s second Willow Stream Spa, inclusive of VIP suite; five restaurants and bars; a four-bedroom penthouse and Lava – the first beach club on the Indian Ocean coast and the first of its kind in the UAE.
While a contemporary luxury brand, Fairmont doesn’t shy from selling itself on nightlife in the Middle East, providing a home for Cirque Le Soir and Cavalli Club in Dubai. The concept in Fujairah is to fully utilise the breath-taking panoramic views and cool ocean climate, to bring a new element to local nightlife: a slick beach club to rival those of southern Europe by day, and a 400-capacity venue for parties and events by night.
At the centre is the Lava pool, tiled in red, orange and yellow and complete with Jacuzzi streams. Elsewhere, guests can enjoy gourmet food, drinks at the sunken pool, an outdoor shisha terrace and live DJ music with AV equipment provided by project partner Bosch. Luxury sun loungers surround the pool and the hotel offers five private chalets for day hire, equipped with sofa, TV, mini bar, bathroom and outdoor lounge seating.
For the VIP’s –which the resort is fully prepared to cater to – the party continues in the privately accessed, four-bedroom Lava Penthouse, overlooking the pool and providing the option to tune in directly to the music played live by the DJ below.
Omar Souab, hotel GM, explains: “I think everyone is impressed. I don’t think there is anything like the Lava pool in the rest of the Middle East. The whole concept is unique and people really appreciate that. The size of the club is massive, the quality of the food is very good and word of mouth about those things has generated interest in the local community.”
To fully utilise the space, family elements have been added for the daytime, with a kids’ pool and splash pad and an over-21 policy in effect from 8pm. The shisha terrace, IAMMAI, overlooks the Lava pool and attracts its own clientele after sundown, helping the hotel to cater to two diverse crowds simultaneously, day and night.
Souab continues: “We are finding a nice balance between our two sets of evening clients – the locals who are a big part of our client mix and then the expatriates and international visitors.”
The fresh approach to luxury hospitality isn’t only new to Fujairah. Taking the “edgier” approach is something even Dubai hasn’t introduced to mainstream 5-star hotel operations. At Lava, it’s all about bringing a casual approach to luxury service with outgoing staff, preferably tattooed or bearded (where appropriate).
While this isn’t entirely millennial influenced, the niche is inspired by the younger luxury guest as well as the 30 and 40-somethings who like to enjoy life in the UAE, by relaxing at a 5-star beach club.
Testament to the allure of the Fairmont brand, the hotel was an instant success with the local Emirati market, who own 40 villas and 65 apartments in the complex and are regulars at IAMMAI.
Souab comments: “Most of our early guests were from the UAE, with a lot of local Emiratis in the first 10 months of operations. Now, the beach club attracts Australians and Europeans, we have seen a greater number of expatriates from Dubai and Abu Dhabi and we have tied up with tour operators in our key international source markets of Russia, Germany and Scandinavia.”
To balance occupancy and F&B demand through the week, Souab aims for an ideal guest mix of 30% Emirati, 30% expatriate weekend business and 40% long stay guests, predominantly from Russia and Europe.
He continues: “Fujairah is known for its water, mountains and the climate as well, but now we are bringing something new. As the only beach club in the area, we are pioneers in the northern emirates and we are teaming up with some well-known brands in Dubai to increase our exposure.
“The beach club is our main attraction and we picture the resort getting busier as people come from other hotels for the Lava experience. It will take a few months to build momentum but I think it will get better every month until we really create something new for Fujairah.”
Keeping it local
As with anything in the UAE, cuisine is central to the hotel’s offering and while Fairmont Beach Resort Fujairah fully embraces the trend, it does so in its own style.
Across the hotel’s five outlets (see box) the focus falls on locally sourced fresh produce and seafood. Director of F&B Heinz Giering explains: “Throughout the property we tried to bring something new to the northern emirates and we tried to do that across all our F&B outlets, too.”
At Copper Lobster, that includes fresh catches of Omani rock lobster, at Arteasan it blends art and tea and, at Lava, it is the foundations of the MediterrAsian concept, fusing the fresh flavours of Mediterranean and Asian food, while sourcing as close to the hotel as possible.
Giering continues: “Seafood is obviously a very big part of this country. All our fish comes from the local market and we have locally cultivated oysters. We have a lot of suppliers we are working with, including a local farmer for organic vegetables. Our bars also use locally sourced ingredients in our cocktails and mocktails and we use some locally manufactured tableware.”
While the local focus is practical in the somewhat isolated emirate of Fujairah, it is also a core element of Accor’s Planet 21. Launched in 2010, the company-wide initiative covers eco-design, protection against exploitation, environmental work and sustainable food supply chains.
Giering says: “We like to give back to the community in that way so we are sustainable but at the same time we give back to the people who support us.
“We see in the F&B trends at the moment that people are going natural. People want to connect with their roots and go back to their old ways. So you’re talking about cooking vegetables only to unlock the full flavour and nutritional benefits, and using things that we have neglected over the years. Ethical and sustainable produce comes into it, too. People are becoming much more aware of their surroundings and it all comes back to the environment.”
F&B is an essential element of the weekend demand driven by Lava. To start the celebrations, Giering has introduced a “dupper” brunch on Thursday evenings, followed by a relaxing day of pool-side F&B on the Friday, before Lava’s weekly event on the Friday night. Food has also helped create demand for the events department, as the hotels gains a reputation as the premier venue for weddings, gala events and MICE functions in the emirate.
He says: “We made a splash putting this hotel up and putting the beach club up. I think this part of the world was a little neglected, but now people have discovered Fujairah as a new destination where they can get away from the hustle and bustle of the cities without having to fly out of the country,” Giering adds.
The marketing drive for the immediate future will include brand tie-ups with Dubai-based promoters and nightlife names and a full events calendar at Lava until the start of Ramadan.
Souab concludes: “People have a perception that Fujairah is on the other side of the world but it’s only 90 minutes by car, with no red lights. With the quality of the Fairmont and the new generation of luxury hotels here in Fujairah, it is really being transformed and I’m encouraging everybody to come and have a look. I’m sure you will like what you see!”