Ras Al Khaimah is an unsung hero of the Middle Eastern hospitality scene but that’s all going to change according to the newly appointed general manager of the emirate’s Waldorf Astoria, Alan Stocker.
The general manager of Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah believes that people don’t realise just how much potential there is in the emirate but, if Alan Stocker gets his way, that won’t be the case for much longer.
There is an attitude, Stocker posits, of Ras Al Khaimah being treated like a suburb of Dubai – he says this couldn’t be further from reality.
“When people talk about the UAE they presume that Dubai represents the entire country,” says Stocker.
“That’s not the case and Ras Al Khaimah is an emirate in its own right. I think we need to do a lot more work on that basis here, as it adds a lot more value to a destination when you talk about it as an emirate.”
Ras Al Khaimah, Stocker says, is in a unique position compared to the rest of the UAE in that it can reap the benefits of being relatively close to Dubai while offering a completely different experience to the city at the same time.
He gives the example of his hotel’s sister property, the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah.
“The beauty of this location is that it is 50 minutes away from the airport, and if you look at our sister property on The Palm, by the time you factor in traffic and stopping at traffic lights, it takes about the same time to get to the hotel as here,” he says.
“It’s a straight road up here and what we offer is an Arabian adventure away from the hubbub of city and work life which can be quite hectic.”
Ras Al Khaimah is first and foremost a holiday destination, says Stocker, which means people come to the emirate to chill out and recuperate but it is close enough to Dubai to offer the best of both worlds.
It’s testament to the emirate’s appeal that business is booming for Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, as Stocker explains.
“April was actually one of the best performing months since the opening of the hotel,” he says.
This year when we look at the forecast going forward it should be a really strong year.”
This is down to a combination of things, Stocker says, not least a campaign from the local tourism board and hotels to put the emirate in the spotlight.
“It’s really coming to the forefront now and I’m confident we can stay on the forecasted numbers and on-plan,” he says.
“It’s getting to the point of exhaustion for people who have routinely travelled to Dubai, we are attracting guests who want something different now. The holiday destination becomes all important.”
Being situated in Ras Al Khaimah is one thing but you have to be able to keep the guests happy when they arrive.
While Stocker is not complacent about the challenges of keeping guests happy, he is more than confident that Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah cuts the mustard in that respect.
“In terms of the property, we have a palace style in both architecture and in the exterior. The rooms and corridors are arguably oversized,” he says.
“At the same time though we have to make sure service levels are in line with that.”
It comes as little surprise to find that Stocker has ended up as the general manager of one of the Middle East’s leading luxury hotels, given how instrumental the industry has been in both his career and life.
“I came in to the industry through my father, who was working with Sun International in South Africa,” he says.
“I spent my holidays running around glamorous hotels and would see the hotel team at the bar drinking beer and thought this was a job I could do.”
Stocker, who hails from Cambridge, UK, started his career in his native country before getting the urge to broaden his horizons.
“My first role abroad was the opening of Disneyland Paris, which at the time was known as Euro Disney, in Paris in 1991. That was my first walk away from the UK,” he says.
“After Disney I travelled all over the place. I have been in the Caribbean, I’ve been in Mauritius, I’ve lived in different locations like South Africa and Jordan, and I try to incorporate those cultures and different styles into my own career.”
Stocker says he tries to take the best elements of all the people he has worked with and put them together. It’s clear from speaking to Stocker that team spirit and a positive attitude are sacred to him.
When he took over the property in January one of the first things Stocker did was sit down with each individual staff member.
“By doing that it fast-tracked me into the hotel and helped me get to know all the staff members and what their paths have been and the direction they want to go in,” he says.
“It’s important for me to get the input of the staff and connect with them. I try to help create a competitive environment.”
Stocker says he has been known to subliminally plant the seeds of competition among his staff, but that the results speak for themselves and he isn’t afraid to reward his employees when the desired results are delivered.
“I love to celebrate, I like to crack open the bottle of champagne and have an ethos of work hard, play hard. We have to make sure we can celebrate wherever we can and that creates a fun environment with the team,” he says.
“When I was in China and had good results come in, we would enjoy that one or two hours together and it was amazing to get that one simple touch, it went a long way, and I am looking forward to doing more of that.”