General Manager Luke James joined the hip, modern Zabeel House by Jumeirah, The Greens in 2018; here, he shares his journey with Hotel & Catering News ME.
Tell us a bit more about your journey as a hotelier.
I have over 20 years of experience in F&B and hospitality at a number of international hotels, resorts, beach clubs, restaurants, and bars across Australia and the UAE.
Prior to joining Zabeel House by Jumeirah, The Greens, as general manager in April 2018, I worked for Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Jumeirah Restaurant Group as operations manager, Kerzner (One&Only), Monte Carlo SBM and Media One Hotel.
I began my career by owning my own businesses, which taught me the value of operating a property as if it were your own – I live by that mantra every day.
What’s your management style?
I believe in teamwork and making sure every team member develops, individually and collectively. Running a community-centred hotel, it’s vital to hear team members’ opinions and suggestions – I want them involved in all aspects of decision-making.
I’m very active across the operation, interacting with colleagues and guests. I cannot expect my team to build relationships with guests if I’m not fronting that charge. I believe I lead by example in that respect.
What are the unique points of the hotel?
As a community hotel, our design and overall feel is urban casual, reflected in the funky New York-style rooms and public spaces. The vibe is complemented by our cool and laid-back staff.
We also pride ourselves in our two eclectic in-house F&B concepts, LAH LAH, the pan-Asian kitchen and bar, and Social Company, the super hip dine, drink and chill venue. Both outlets offer something for everyone, every day of the week, whether it’s a place to celebrate, a casual bite to eat, or a venue to welcome the weekend in with live acoustic music and awesome beverage deals. Pooches are welcome, too!
Another concept we launched in late 2019 is the chic and urban pop-up, Asian street food eatery, LAH LAH BAZAAR. As soon as the Dubai weather turns balmy, a new set up comes to life on the massive outdoor area of LAH LAH, with food trucks, pop-up bars, live music and family-friendly entertainment every weekend (Thu-Sat) throughout winter.
Home to the first all-organic spa in Dubai, our in-house Native Club spa boasts a range of detoxifying treatments, while the Native Club gym is packed with state-of-the-art equipment, and is home to a unique and exciting line up of fitness and wellness classes such as bootcamps and relaxing yoga and beats sessions.
An overall community hub, we have plenty of co-working spaces with private lounges and sharing desks at The Study. Zabeel House by Jumeirah, The Greens is the ultimate hangout in the neighbourhood – we’re perfect for work, dine and play.
What are the main challenges you face in hotel management?
Recently, the biggest challenge has been COVID-19. Amid widespread society-wide lockdowns from April to June, movement and travel restrictions placed a strain on the business. It was challenging to stay relevant and bordering on impossible to attract footfall.
My priority was protecting and retaining my team – and they stepped up by steering our ‘Help Thy Neighbours’ initiative, which aimed to help neighbours in surrounding areas during lockdown.
What’s the importance of online hotel reviews and social media feedback, and how much of it do you take on board?
Feedback is imperative to any business. We deal with people every day. Our customer reviews are invaluable – they help us grow as individuals and as a team.
Thanks to technology, we can now interact with guests directly through social media, giving us the chance to be a part of their experience with an omnichannel approach. We keep them happy through in-house services, while using social platforms to stay in the loop of their current experience, making it easier to rectify any issues on the spot.
Staying on top of guests’ feedback through social media, and other online portals, in a timely manner is key.
How do you evaluate employee performance, and keep your team motivated?
Our HR team keeps the family spirit up by organising weekly/monthly catch-ups and one-to-ones, birthday celebrations, internal colleague recognitions (colleague of the month/quarter/year), and other initiatives such as helping colleagues’ families financially facing hardship and assisting me to lead the People of Determination commitment throughout the hotel.
Through our organisational structure, my team has daily direct contact with me, which enables us to maintain very high colleague engagement scores as people feel they have a voice.
What systems do you have in place for resolving guest complaints?
As well as daily logbooks and guest feedback systems, we have a real sense of ownership for when something doesn’t quite go the way we intended. For example, the team are empowered to solve issues or enhance guest experiences by personally taking control of situations to ensure overwhelmingly positive experiences.
What would you like to tell visitors about the hotel’s F&B offerings?LAH LAH and Social Company have become fan-favourite culinary destinations. Guests can retreat to the most remarkable pan-Asian cuisine at LAH LAH, tuck into Asian street food at LAH LAH Bazaar, or feed on homely, classic and heart-warming international dishes at Social Company.
Tell us a bit more about the new measures in place for Covid-19.
Aligned with the government’s health and safety regulations, we ensure social distancing at our venues through strategic table planning. We also make sure there are plenty of sanitisation points throughout the hotel. Upon arrival, all guests’ temperatures are checked, and upon check in, we recommend contactless payment to lessen physical interactions.
Room welcome hampers now also include masks, sanitising wipes and sanitiser gels.
How has your strategy shifted?
The formula remains the same, it’s aligned with our goal of staying relevant within our community and keeping our guests happy through exciting activities and concepts.
Amid the ongoing pandemic, global travel restrictions have obviously affected our strategy. Although Dubai is open to visitors, we’re currently focusing more on staycation experiences over international guests.
What’s on at LAH LAH?
Welcoming the onset of cooler temperatures, Zabeel House by Jumeirah, The Greens has relaunched the pop-up Asian street food eatery and alfresco terrace – LAH LAH BAZAAR.
Set to run every weekend from October 22, LAH LAH BAZAAR will see the hotel’s expansive outdoor terrace decked out with a pop-up bar and food truck serving street food-style Asian eats including light bites, skewers and desserts. Favourites like the Thai fish cake, vegetable spring rolls, chicken katsu sando and tempura prawn skewers are all on the menu.
Guests can also choose one from a selection of meats, complete with vegetarian options hot off the grill, which includes half chicken, chicken wings, wagyu rib eye, striploin, vegan steaks, or Vietnamese aromatic lamb chops – served with BBQ sauce, Korean spicy coleslaw and French fries.
Guests can also indulge in an alfresco ‘Bazaar Brunch’ and tuck into a three-hour package of a specially curated menu featuring some of LAH LAH’s signature dishes, paired with free-flowing house beverages for AED 269 per person. The Bazaar Brunch is available from 6pm on Thursdays and Fridays, and from 12nn on Saturdays.
The opening weekend will host 20 homegrown talents including DJs and live musicians Khalil Barazi, Leon Knight, David Craig, Soulninja and Jon Besant, among others, setting the soundtrack for the weekend with a blend of disco, funk, soul, old school hip hop and house.
Moreover, there will be a schedule of events throughout the three-day fetes, running weekly through the season.