Azar Saliba, general manager, Jumeirah Al Naseem talks to Hotel News Middle East about life in charge of one of Dubai’s most prestigious properties
What can you tell us about your professional experience and history?
I started my career in hospitality back in my home country of Lebanon where I worked as a front desk agent in an independent hotel. I worked there until I moved to Dubai in 2002.
My first role with Jumeirah was as front office manager at Jumeirah Beach Hotel in 2006. I worked my way up and was appointed director of rooms at the same property, where I was responsible for the smooth running and operation of the guest services, reservations as well as concierge.
A few years later I had the opportunity to join the team at Jumeirah Creekside during their pre-opening phase after which, I was given the chance to lead the first hotel to open within Madinat Jumeirah Resort, Jumeirah Mina A ’Salam.
This resort has very much been my home since then as I moved to Jumeirah Al Qasr and Jumeirah Dar Al Masyaf, where I was promoted to my first general manager position in 2015. Recently, I was offered the position of general manager of Jumeirah Al Naseem, the last and final chapter of Madinat Jumeirah. Here, I am able to leverage my years of experience and continue to position the hotel as one of the best properties in Dubai.
How has that influenced your management philosophy?
Working in a multicultural city like Dubai alongside working in the hospitality industry, has given me the opportunity to work with many different nationalities and cultures. This has taught me to adapt my management style to the different cultures I work with on a daily basis, enabling me to always get the best out of my colleagues.
What would you say are the main factors that make a great GM? My number one factor would be to lead by example. Not only does this make for an excellent GM, but it also makes a great manager and colleague – it’s something I strive to always achieve. Other very important factors would be to care both for your guests and your colleagues, as well as looking after the product and being passionate about your role, as this ultimately reflects in your performance.
How do you feel the hotel is performing this year? We’re delighted with how the hotel is performing after being open for just over a year. The team and myself have already welcomed many of our guests back which is a positive sign that we are doing things right! Furthermore, Dubai residents have embraced Jumeirah Al Naseem – they regularly visit our food and beverage outlets and are actively benefitting from our UAE resident room rate offer.
What are your targets and expectations for next year? For 2018 we strive to continue growing, building awareness locally and internationally, as well as improving our service standards and ensuring seamless and memorable experiences are made for our guests.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the region’s hospitality market? For many years, the UAE has been known as a luxury destination – and it has continued to uphold this reputation, meeting luxury travellers’ demands. In the future, high-end travel to the UAE will only continue to grow as it is one of the most popular tourist destinations promising tourists a taste of the luxurious lifestyle.
We are however mindful that what people want from luxury is changing – and many travellers are now seeking an understated sense of luxury, which doesn’t compromise on service or experiences. Jumeirah Al Naseem fits perfectly into this category and helps to complement the portfolio of different experiences we offer for different guests and different occasions within Madinat Jumeirah.
What are the operational priorities for you as general manager? There are many priorities to keep front of mind when running a hotel, but my number one priority is to be on the floor as much as I can, so I’m close to my team and guests. When I am not in meetings, I like being able to welcome and speak to guests and be accessible to my team, as I do feel it really makes a difference.
This also gives me the opportunity to see how operations run first-hand and helps me in providing my team with the right tools and resources for them to be able to do their job, thereby ensuring our guests have seamless experiences throughout their stay. I also like knowing about the events that are taking place, not only at the hotel but also in the resort, as well as any external events that may affect the running of our regular operations. As a general manager it is also important to be aware of what is going on in the industry, be it new local or international trends that could be implemented in our rooms and restaurants to enhance our guest experience. I also like to know about back of house trends so we can streamline operations.
How would you describe your approach to leadership and staff empowerment? I see myself as a guide who supports his team in facilitating and achieving their goals and not a person who micro manages each of their moves. I believe in empowering colleagues to take decisions by leading by example, as well as being tolerant of the mistakes that can happen along the way.
How do you approach your performance targets? As the last and final chapter of Madinat Jumeirah, Jumeirah Al Naseem brought a more contemporary flair to the overall resort as well as to the wider hotel scene in Dubai. We have been very lucky with the public’s reaction to the new property and saw healthy occupancies from the first few months of operation, which is not all that common. Madinat Jumeirah’s four properties complement each other perfectly, offering different experiences for different guests.
How does the hotel fit into the group’s portfolio? Jumeirah Al Naseem was Jumeirah’s most recent hotel opening in Dubai and as it was a long time coming, there were high expectations behind it. Jumeirah Al Naseem complements Jumeirah’s current hotel offering on the beach and very much reflects the growth of Dubai delivering a strong sense of place. The hotel is a vision of the Dubai of today which is reflected in the Emirati artwork created by Mattar bin Lahej located in the entrance and the lobby areas as well as the uniforms worn by our Emirate female colleagues designed by a local brand Slouchy’z .
What are your three favourite features of the property? Although it is difficult to only chose three personal favourites of the property, my number one would be the incredible views of the beach and Burj Al Arab from nearly every corner of the hotel. My second favourite is Rockfish Restaurant, a Mediterranean seafood restaurant offering the freshest produce in beautiful surroundings and provides impeccable service. There is nothing quite like sitting on the terrace enjoying a relaxed weekend lunch or dinner listening to the waves. My final choice would be the variety of leisure facilities the hotel offers with its five swimming pools including the first adults’ only pool within the resort.