John Clifton, general manager of The Bonnington Jumeirah Lakes Towers, tells Hotel & Catering News Middle East all about the first full-service, fully licensed, luxury hotel in the neighbourhood and the only Irish family-owned and operated luxury hotel in Dubai.
Clifton is a well-seasoned hotelier with over thirty years of experience within the hospitality industry. Born in Dublin in 1958 and after completing full time education at Blackrock College Dublin, he didn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Structual Engineer and had considered law, but during an indecisive time his father drew his attention to an ad in the Irish Times inviting applications for a Hotel Management Programme with Irelands largest hotel, The Burlington. Following an interview, within a week, destiny took over.
In summary, Clifton worked his way through each department learning every facet of the business with very hands-on experience which has been invaluable and over a period of thirty years and went from being a junior to general manager.
Although he completed an academic degree in Hotel Management, the kind of experience the Burlington offered was invaluable and cannot be taught as the nature of the business can only be fully appreciated in a hands on way, and at this point there was not much that he had not experienced.
The only constant is change and after closing the Burlington and then reopening the Burlington under old and new ownership, he worked with The Dalata Group, currently Ireland’s most successful and largest hotel group. When an opportunity to make a change and come to the UAE arrived, and resulted in making the move eight years ago, Clifton joined The Bonnington Hotel and McGettigan’s group in 2013.
His career in the hospitality industry and extensive knowledge made him the ideal candidate to lead the The Bonnigton Jumeirah Lakes Towers and position the property as the frontrunner in Dubai’s luxury hotel market.
What are the unique points of the hotel?
Ideally located in the heart of Jumeirah Lakes Towers along Sheikh Zayed Road, The Bonnington is the only standalone Irish Hotel in Dubai offering genuine Irish Hospitality and quality service. It is within walking distance of a host of luxury shopping facilities, malls, restaurants, bars, metro line, numerous beaches, the world’s top golf courses and a few minutes’ drive away from the International Airports, making it an ideal location for tourists and business visitors alike.
The beautifully designed hotel features 188 rooms and 20 suites, 272 deluxe serviced hotel apartments comprising one, two and three-bedroom units, five outstanding restaurants and bars and six fully equipped conference suites. The hotel also offers a unique Leisure Deck on the 11th floor which has an infinity style swimming pool and a panoramic pool bar where you can enjoy a refreshing beverage or a quick bite along with breath-taking views of Dubai’ glittering skyline.
What are the main challenges you face in hotel management?
With over 40 years in hospitality, I have experienced many challenges, each unique in their circumstances, including recession, changes of ownership, environmental issues such as foot and mouth, bird flu, and more.
The hospitality business has to respond accordingly. Experience is what you learn from all the challenges you’re faced with and therefore keeping a steady ship involves leadership, clear communication, the full facts and the ability to adapt when necessary – all at the heart of any challenge.
COVID-19 is a perfect example of adjusting in order to survive an economic crisis. Our priority is to assure our guests and colleagues that we’re taking all the steps necessary to ensure their health and safety while adjusting to the current pandemic. This requires implementing all the required measures, and becoming innovative via technology to communicate and reassure our guests and customers.
With the drop in occupancy and the impact this has had, plus industry fluctuations on various OTAs, it will take a lot of focus to pull it back, however, one thing I am sure of is, recovery will come and when you know your customer and take care of them they will return.
What’s the importance of online hotel reviews and social media feedback and how much do you take on board?
We take all social media seriously. It’s very important to us as it relates to our online reputation. This is reviewed and discussed daily as part of our senior management meetings. It gives us insight to our overall performance, which allows us understand our strengths and also where we need improvement.
This is a continuous exercise where we track our guest satisfaction score to ensure we maintain DTCM requirements and, in addition, take on board critique we may receive and respond to it. We also acknowledge and appreciate our colleagues’ efforts when recognised by guests and we reward and acknowledge their input and good work.
In the 21st Century, reviews and feedback are tools visitors share worldwide. We’re delighted to have been recognised in our category to date, as preferred Hotel of Choice, along with Certificates of Excellence from a variety of different online media channels, such as, TripAdvisor, Booking com, and Agoda.
How do you evaluate employee performance and keep your team motivated?
Our Training & Quality department play a vital role in this area to ensure that everyone is on track and delivering their best performance. Building a strong team spirit is the core of this. All employees receive ongoing appraisals. This develops their ability to deliver their best and identifies their strengths, weaknesses and if they may benefit from training or mentoring.
We carry out regular spot checks in relation to knowledge and skills and deliver direct feedback. We aim to create a positive outlook to critique. We reward best performing colleagues and teams throughout the year measured by their delivery of duties and performance: this also acts as an incentive and maintains motivation.
What system do you have in place to resolve guest complaints?
We track our guests’ feedback internally and also via our online management system. We respond immediately to ensure our guests see we take their issue seriously. All related issues are referred to the relative Head of Department and discussed at Senior Management daily meetings. A response will always be delivered to ensure a personalised communication for guest satisfaction.
What would you like to tell visitors about the hotel’s F&B offerings?
The beautifully designed hotel features five award-winning restaurants and bars. The Cavendish Restaurant is the signature restaurant of The Bonnington Hotel, which caters to every preference with a unique fusion of delicious international cuisines – serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The hotel also boasts a modern and stylish bar where you can choose to relax and unwind indoors or outdoors with some masterly mixed beverages, a fine glass, or some light snacks.
The hotel also offers a unique Leisure Deck on the 11th floor which has an infinity-style swimming pool and a panoramic pool bar, where you can enjoy a refreshing beverage or a quick bite along with breath-taking views of Dubai’ glittering skyline.
For the ones looking for authentic Irish experience, McGettigan’s Irish Pub offers the best of all things Irish. Here, you will find a selection of beverages, delicious Irish breakfasts and other fine Irish fare in a modern, yet warm and homely environment.