No stranger to new challenges, Philip Fitzgerald Jones, general manager, Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach Hotel tells Sophia Soltani how successfully opening 14 new properties, alongside working across various oceans takes both soul and stamina to survive in this industry.
A seasoned hotelier, Philip Jones has fulfilled roles over the course of a 23-year long career in the hospitality industry over rooms division, assignments in the front office and housekeeping departments with independent hotels and international operators including The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company in the US.
No stranger to adversity, Jones has been part of 14 successful hotel openings, which led him to the sunny coast of Dubai where he moved to take over as hotel manager at The Ritz-Carlton in Jumeriah Beach Residence in 2008.
In January 2012, he joined the Mövenpick Hotel Hanoi in Vietnam as general manager. And a short two years later, Jones seized the opportunity to manage the Mövenpick Heritage Hotel Sentosa Singapore in the same capacity.
In his third appointment, as general manager of Mövenpick Hotel, Jones has taken over the helm at the Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach in Dubai in January 2016.
MORE THAN LUCK OF THE IRISH
“I started my career in my native country of Ireland at an independent boutique hotel called Barberstown Castle. I worked there for five years, whilst attending school and qualifying in hotel and restaurant management. Shortly after graduating, I moved to the United States where I began my first assignment with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. Over the course of the next 12 years, I had the opportunity to work in seven different properties and be involved in the opening of 13 more,” says Jones.
Equipped with extensive hospitality knowledge, Jones insists that despite the influx of new hotel brands being introduced into the market, guests are looking for long lasting relationships with brands they trust.
“Over the past few years, we have seen so many new brands come to the market and establish themselves successfully by taking a very different approach both to the facilities they provide and the type of service they offer, each one targeting a different type of lifestyle.
“Moving into 2017, I believe many of the more-established brands will continue to evolve with the times and re-evaluate their image and how they are perceived in the market.”
Elaborating on how Mövenpick is a great testament to this, he adds: “We just launched our new brand guidelines and logo, which are sharper, more vibrant and feature more lifestyle imagery. This, together with our more experiential approach to service, will create unique moments for our guests.”
Looking back at 2016, it is no secret that the hospitality industry across the entire Middle East faced their fair share of challenges due to the decline in oil prices, political instability in neighbouring countries, but Jones insists that “the biggest impact in 2016 came from the drop in the price of oil, which affected the number of visitors from many GCC countries. Also, the Brexit referendum in the UK and the eventual decision by the British people to leave the European Union saw the value of the sterling drop, and therefore, many UK tourists sought cheaper alternative destinations.”
But despite the challenges, Jones reveals that Movenpick’s commitment to understanding current market trends helped ease some of the lows throughout the year, he explains: “Although corporate travel was curtailed from many GCC countries, whilst the value of oil remained low, there was still a significant amount of leisure travellers.
“As a result, we conducted numerous sales trips to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar focusing on individual leisure travel. This proved very effective for us, as we saw the total number of GCC guests increase, despite the declining number of corporate guests from this market.”
Tapping in on what Jones calls “the triple S factor”, Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach Hotel continues to thrive in turbulent times.
“Demand continues to be driven by the fact that Dubai is still one of the best ‘Triple S’ destinations – sun, sand and shopping – and this will grow with the launch of many new attractions, such as the opening of Dubai Parks and Resorts, as well as the development of the Dubai Eye. These will drive more guests to the destination.”
He adds: “As a property, we are fortunate to be located in Jumeirah Beach Residence, one of the more vibrant districts in Dubai that is close to all of the above-mentioned attractions.
“Our success in generating high occupancy and good revenue comes from our award-winning restaurants –The Talk and Soul restaurants. We have been recognised by Haute Grandeur as Best Honeymoon Hotel 2016 and World Luxury Hotel Awards as Best Luxury Contemporary Stylish Hotel 2016.”
With F&B making up a massive part of Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s revenue, the increase in stand-alone restaurants building foodie-hubs in areas such as DIFC and Downtown, has arguably impacted F&B outlets in hotels, but Jones insists that the competition is healthy, with “the development of many stand-alone restaurants in Dubai being good for end users, as it has forced all restaurants to up their game and continue to develop new and exciting offerings. Furthermore, the increasing competition has resulted to a more competitive pricing, ultimately benefiting the customer”.
BIG BRAND THEORY
As hotels are not only battling new standalone concepts, many hotels are adopting existing big brands within the hotel, as Jones adds: “It is more challenging for hotel restaurants to create their own identity if they were tied to a mother brand, say for example the hotel.
“That said, we are very fortunate in Mövenpick Hotels and Resorts, as we have more flexibility to develop brands that are thoughtful and imaginative, and engage the hearts and minds of the customer. A good example, of course, is Soul restaurant at Mövenpick JBR.”