Last month, Accor announced the appointment of Afif Salibi as general manager of Raffles Dubai. Formerly a member of the Fairmont Royal Palm Marrakech, within the group’s portfolio, he will lead the strategic direction and manage operations at the property.
In mid-2007, Afif was part of the pre-opening team of Raffles Dubai as assistant front office manager and was later promoted to front office manager. Salibi returned to Raffles Dubai as director of operations for almost three years before moving to Fairmont Royal Palm Marrakech in 2017 as general manager.
Why have you decided to return to Raffles; how did that come about?
Just like how the Raffles’ Service Culture says, ‘Arrive as guests, leave as friends and return as family,’ I believe that I have come back home to my family. It’s my third time here and I have had the pleasure of seeing the hotel evolve through the years and also worked on developing myself at different locations within the company.
I personally grew in and started my career at Raffles Dubai as assistant front office manager in 2007, as part of the pre-opening team and was later promoted to front office manager, before relocating overseas within the company. I returned in 2014 and held the position of director of operations for three years; today, I’m back once again as general manager.
I would also add, with the current situation and global pandemic, the Accor management team and our owning company were keen on having someone who was already familiar with Raffles Dubai, can fit quickly into the role and lead the property to a successful recovery. When I was approached, the natural answer was ‘yes’ and I’m delighted to lead the strategic direction and manage operations at Accor’s most legendary property in Dubai.
How do you plan on motivating staff as things start to open up both globally and on a regional level?
The foundation of our hotel is our people and it has always been our secret recipe for success. Irrespective of the global situation, we will always put our people at the heart of what we do. In hospitality, everyone loves being busy, engaging with and serving guests – it’s a natural element of motivation.
As there is a new reality that we’re dealing with, we need to be proactive, make sure colleagues stay motivated and adapt to the situation. We’re reinforcing our already existing motivational tools and trainings programmes to make sure that our colleagues stay engaged as we ramp up and prepare for travel borders to reopen.
Our colleagues are very much looking forward to welcoming our guests once again with full energy. I’m very proud to see that we have one of the highest retention rates in the city, with many long-serving colleagues, and dozens have been here since the opening of the hotel, which is a testimony to our work culture and engagement levels.
Safety is our utmost priority; we have made sure that our team felt safe and remained motivated and confident about their workplace and future. All colleagues have undertaken rigorous trainings with Accor’s ALLSAFE programme in the past year, with new standards incorporated in both their daily lives and guests’ journey. In addition, the vast majority of our colleagues have received the Covid-19 vaccine.
What are some new guest experiences you’re planning on bringing to the property?
For the pre-arrival experience, flexibility is key in terms of securing bookings and giving our guests the freedom to change their minds with great liberty and little restrictions in an uncertain world.
Once guests reach the hotel, safety is the name of the game and our aim is to make sure that they feel safe while elevating our current guest journey. For more than a decade, Raffles Dubai has been an oasis of calm and charm, beautifully located in the heart of the city with an incredible sense of space, service and unforgettable style.
The hotel, until today, offers the largest standard rooms in the city starting from 70 sqm, perfect for accommodating families, business travellers, and long-stayers. To cater to the local market, we have launched a dedicated UAE resident’s staycation offer, with affordable rates and a focus on family activities.
In addition, we will be collaborating closely with Wafi Mall and VOX cinemas this summer to offer great additional entertainment facilities. The Wafi multiplex will feature activities for kids and adults, including soft play areas, bowling, a kids’ square and more.
Visitors can enjoy watching the latest films on an advanced ONYX screen by Samsung, offering powerful, captivating and larger-than-life visuals. The ONYX screen at VOX Cinemas WAFI Mall is defined as the “cinema of the future” and the first of its kind in the UAE.
As we look forward to welcome regional and global markets, personalisation is about delivering carefully crafted new experiences for guests, tailored to their interests so they can experience local knowledge, culture and one-of-a-kind experiences.
Luxury travellers are searching for more bespoke experiences and memories, rather than the newest, or the most extravagant property. Located on the cultural and heritage side of the city, our hotel concierge and dedicated butlers can help guests sift through the vast array of gems the city and the UAE have to offer. For new markets like Israel, we’re looking into kosher catering and culturally themed events.
Furthermore, with guests’ convenience and wellbeing in mind, the Raffles Dubai mobile application offers a contactless and seamless experience with the option to interact with a personal butler through the hotel’s social media and dedicated digital channels without losing the human touch.
In addition to its digitalisation and sustainability efforts which cater to eco-conscious clientele, Raffles Dubai installed a universal electric vehicle charging station in the hotel car park, supporting technology that produces no emissions.
How do you plan on maintaining the hotel’s TripAdvisor spot?
Consistency is key; doing things right one day is good, doing things right every day and fine-tuning is what we strive for. With ongoing trainings and hands on coaching, our colleagues are taught how to understand each of our guests as unique individuals, to engage with them in a thoughtful and meaningful way. They use the knowledge they develop about our guests’ habits and preferences in order to anticipate their needs and deliver a gracious and intuitive service. We always encourage them to use their creativity and discretion to wow our guests and deliver unexpected moments. True luxury hospitality is about how our guests feel when they stay with us, something that we define at Raffles as ‘emotional luxury’.
We constantly check in with our guests and keep them connected with online content, which would make them feel close with a sense of belonging until they are able to visit us again. At Raffles Dubai, we have a high number of repeat guests, close to 40% of our guests – which is a very high number in the industry.
We maintain such strong guest loyalty through the personal, emotional relationships that our colleagues develop with our guests. Our relationships are built on understanding our guests, our business partners and delivering a seamless and luxury experience.
I’m proud that the property reached the number one position on TripAdvisor when I was director of operations six years ago and that it continues to maintain it out of 761 hotels in Dubai. It has also successfully achieved the top 10 hotels worldwide ranking on TripAdvisor in 2020, being the only hotel in the Middle East to be recognised.
If you could describe what makes Raffles Hotel Dubai unique, what would you say?
People before anything; ultimately, it’s our colleagues that will make the difference in a highly competitive hospitality sector. Our colleagues engage with our guests, they take time to understand each guest as a unique individual, making each one of them feel important, which enables us to maintain such strong guest loyalty.
In terms of product, Raffles Dubai is one of the city’s most-loved landmarks. This stunning hotel in a distinctive pyramid shape conveys a unique architectural statement, while its interiors offer a treasure trove of ancient legends, exceptional artworks and design excellence, emphasising three distinguished heritages: traditional Middle Eastern culture, ancient Egyptian history and refined Asian characteristics.
The Raffles suites are the most popular with the GCC and local market due to their size, design and facilities perfectly appointed to accommodate big families. Offering cultured luxury and drawing inspiration from contemporary Asian and Middle Eastern design, the Raffles Suites and their lavish designs create a residential sanctuary for a sophisticated and luxurious home away from home experience.
Residents can book a 150 sqm Diplomatic Suite, a 205 sqm Landmark Suite, a 301 sqm Presidential Suite, or for the ultimate indulgence, the 441sqm Penthouse suite, or the 650 sqm Royal Suite.
What are your plans for F&B?
Focus on consistency; we have great Arabic cuisine with a talented Lebanese Executive chef, Hassan Abdallah, who is working on elevating our annual traditional experiences such as the popular Ramadan iftar in Azur, as well as our outdoor Raffles Garden cabanas experiences that are most popular this year due to the current situation and social distancing preferences.
Famous for yearly events such as Easter and Festive, we will continue to focus on driving family-friendly offerings. We have adapted the Friday Solo Gusto lunch, offering kids activities including making their own handmade artisan pizza in our authentic wood oven from Verona, Italy. Raffles Salon has also introduced a dedicated children’s afternoon tea, a fun twist on the award-winning floral afternoon tea where kids will relish on their favourite savoury and sweet snacks.
We’re also delighted to see TOMO continuously winning awards year on year. It’s still widely recognised until today as the most authentic and exquisite Japanese restaurant in the country.
In addition, Raffles Dubai has always been popular for exclusive events, from fashion shows to destination weddings, corporate and awards dinners and we’re currently offering flexibility and creating new attractive catering packages, as we get ready to welcome large social events once permitted.
Do you expect the hotel industry to make a full recovery?
I believe that the hotel industry will make a full recovery. It will be a phased recovery, starting with national, followed by regional come summer, then gradual international travel as of Q4 2021.
People long for travel and life experiences; it’s in our human nature and they are eagerly waiting to explore and travel again. Many people internationally have not been able to attend any social events since over a year now. Just imagine what the wedding market will face after over a year of people not being able to tie the knot due to the pandemic.
Once big events and gatherings will resume, combined with the launch of Dubai Expo 2020, we expect a huge boost in tourism. People want to connect again, and physical contact will always prevail over the virtual; besides, we are all “Zoomed Out” and feeling the Covid Fatigue. Only travel and human connections can revitalise that.
We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel thanks Dubai authorities’ swift and effective response to the pandemic, and the successful and accessible vaccination drive. For the past two decades, the government and DTCM have positioned Dubai as a major tourism hub, and it will definitely be one of the first global destinations to rebound.
We’re in one of the safest cities in the world and are ready to welcome back tourists; it’s only a matter of time.