The Sofitel Dubai Downtown general manager on how women can make it in a male-dominated industry, Accor’s RiiSE initiative and leading through tough times.
At a time when hospitality has shifted towards a more familiar path, Sofitel Dubai Downtown is carving its own set of rules. Meet the property’s general manager, Caroline Trichet, who has been inspiring her team to always strive for more.
Sofitel Dubai Downtown boasts an air of sophistication, a different concept of luxury; how would you position the hotel in the Dubai market and how has it maintained this positioning since its opening?
Sofitel Dubai Downtown has a signature French identity, which is woven into its aesthetic, hospitality and guest experience. It’s a modern representation of French hospitality – sophisticated without being pretentious, coquettish without being cheeky.
Catering to international business travellers, expats and local guests from Dubai, the UAE, and the GCC, Sofitel Dubai Downtown offers a memorable and comfortable stay for business travellers and a family-friendly experience for guests with children.
Additionally, it’s also notably the first five-star hotel which is linked to The Dubai Mall via an air-conditioned skywalk. It’s within walking and driving distance to popular tourist and cultural destinations in the area and city.
When you step inside the property, guests are immersed in breathtaking views of the Burj Khalifa and coastline from their rooms and suites. Those travelling on business, or digital nomads, can take advantage of the business facilities and dedicated meeting floor.
Guests travelling for pleasure have a plethora of options to choose from – club lounge facilities with indoor and outdoor seating, a diverse array of dining options and international cuisine, a ballroom area, and a spa.
Sofitel Dubai Downtown takes an uncompromising stance on five-star service, delivering only the finest experiences to its guests. The hotel’s extensive range of dining, entertainment, and leisure facilities, paired with consistent guest satisfaction, enable it to retain its coveted position in the luxury hospitality market.
The property celebrates local culture and tradition, along with French flair; what sort of challenges do you face in operations and management when bringing those two focal points together, and what are some of the intricacies you address while leading Sofitel Dubai Downtown?
Our team is multicultural and hails from various parts of the world; we take great pride in our employee orientation and immerse them in the best aspects of both French and Emirati culture, while still honouring their own. We celebrate diversity and continually aspire to have more of it.
During the pandemic, it was essential to offer our team full support to overcome the challenges faced specifically by our industry. We needed to keep them motivated and reassured, while also maintaining consistency in delivering 5-star luxury service.
The safety of our guests and colleagues is our top priority. At each touch point along the guest journey through the hotel, extensive measures are being taken to protect guests and team members.
Accor ALLSAFE operational standards, which were developed with hygiene solutions specialist Bureau Veritas, a world leader in testing, inspections and certification, have been implemented at Sofitel Downtown, and all Accor properties across the Middle East and Africa.
Before moving on to more details of the property, please tell us a bit more about your background as a hotelier, and when you first discovered your passion working at a family friend’s restaurant.
My career in hospitality technically started when I worked at a family friend’s restaurant, as a teenager, to earn a bit of pocket money. Little did I know, at the time, that it would snowball into a career with the globally renowned Accor Group.
But let’s briefly return to my time at the family friend’s restaurant. I enjoyed all aspects of my role there – from interacting with the F&B team to seeing happy customers leave with a smile. I wanted to experience more of that, so I went on to pursue my bachelor’s degree at Professionnel d’Hôtellerie – Restauration in 1994.
Starting from the ground up two years later, I worked as a waitress at the Sofitel Thalassotherapy, France. Shortly after, my international career started in the UK, where I worked my way up to F&B manager at The Barns Hotel in the UK.
I was promoted to deputy general manager after 18 months and later served as the general manager for two years. I also significantly contributed to the Vineyard Hotel Group before taking to the skies. In Thailand, I was the resident manager at the Muse MGallery Hotel, Bangkok. After two years in Thailand, I had my eyes set on Vietnam, where I worked with The Pullman Hotel in Saigon. China soon followed, with my role as the hotel manager for the Sofitel Wanda Hotel in Beijing.
After having gathered a wealth of experience, coupled with my ability to speak in French and English, the Middle East called. My first role in the region was as the general manager of the Pullman Hotel in Jumeirah Lakes Towers.
My career has spanned over 24 years, and has taken me to France, England, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam, China and the UAE. This immersion in 5-star luxury hotel culture has given me a deep understanding of the industry’s DNA, and how to take it to greater heights.
There aren’t that many female general managers in the industry; what would you advise those who would love to follow the same path? Please tell us a bit more about Accor’s commitment to fighting stereotypes with RiiSE?
As one of the only female general managers in the region, my first piece of advice to fellow aspiring general managers is to harness their passion. Whatever role you’re currently in, try to extract as much knowledge as you can from it, while asking challenging questions along the way. The insights you gain from asking these will give you a competitive edge, and mould you for a more advanced role.
I believe there is an urgent need for all cultures and genders to be equally represented in the industry. We’re working towards our current goals, while also building a much better world. This industry requires you to know yourself and your mission.
This is a great opportunity to discuss RiiSE as a proud female general manager at Sofitel and the Accor Group. The lowercase “ii” in RiiSE symbolises men and women working together to bring equality to the industry. RiiSE isn’t just committed to gender equality, though, it’s also dedicated to the equal representation of global cultures and ages.
Diversity lies at the heart of RiiSE to enrich our corporate culture, while also further refining our guests’ experience. Using a mix of internal campaigns, conferences and awareness-raising workshops, it has been combating stereotypes, everyday sexism, and sexual harassment, with men representing more than 40 per cent of the Accor network’s members.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that your management style involves looking after your team, what does that notion entail to you?
Yes, I care deeply about my team and want to see them scale. My leadership style involves keeping them motivated and energised, but also making time to address any issues, giving them the attention and compassion they need.
Working in a cosmopolitan environment is exciting and inspirational, and as general manager, I try to boost my team’s creativity and proactive approach. Leading by example, being confident, approachable and passionate, and paying attention to details – these are the main keys to success.
Sofitel Dubai Downtown is home to many F&B concepts, including L’ Apero, what would you say differentiates your venues from others in Dubai?
French hospitality courses through Sofitel Dubai Downtown’s veins. There are French touches sprinkled across most of our restaurants, without being exaggerated or clichéd. We take guests to France from the moment they step inside.
L’Apero, our new lounge bar, is inspired by French countryside aesthetics, while serving terroir-style food and drinks. Guests who want to buy their bread the traditional way can also choose from a selection of fresh bakes.
La Pâtisserie Lounge focuses on moreish French pastries, something that the country is globally renowned for, with traditional and contemporary dishes on offer.
Les Cuisines is where French and Arabic flavours meet, while also sending guests on a journey through other cuisines. We also have the Mosaics Pool Bar on the fifth floor and Mafia Dubai, our latest entertainment addition, a nightclub.
Bringing some fresh international flavours into the mix, we have Wakame, offering adventurous, modern Asian fine dining on the third floor, and INKA, a contemporary concept restaurant inspired by traditional Peruvian cuisine, on the 31st floor.
Your ‘Le Petit Prince Kids & Family Room’ comes cleverly equipped with family-friendly features, how does that steer your hotel towards a more kid-friendly direction and what are some of the other features that appeal to youngsters?
We see families visiting from the UAE, the region, and other countries, but quite often the only offering is an extra bed. We want children to enjoy their stay at our hotel as much as their parents; they are making precious childhood memories after all.
The Le Petit Prince Kids and Family Room comes with foldable bunk beds for a summer camp aesthetic and a smart TV in a kids’ alcove. The bathrooms have luxurious mini versions of the classics – plush kids’ bathrobes, cosy slippers, and two sets of Lanvin toiletries. We have ten rooms of this kind across various floors. Families staying with us also get vouchers to Dubai Parks and Resorts, and La Perle.
We also have the Le Petit Prince kids’ club on the fifth floor. Packed with storybooks, toys, games, and an imaginative ambiance, kids are promised hours of fun, while their parents can relax at our restaurants or lounge by the pool.
This festive season, children up to six years old enjoy our Christmas Day brunch for free and those aged between nine and 12 enjoy it for AED 99. We’re also linked to The Dubai Mall, which features an exciting range of kid-friendly entertainment options. This makes a family’s stay at the Sofitel Dubai Downtown even more enjoyable. Our location in Downtown Dubai, which is a short drive away from the beach and tourist attractions, makes it even more family-friendly.
Another unique offering, the signature Sofitel candle ritual – when can guests expect to witness it at Sofitel Dubai Downtown?
Inspired by the enchanting lights of Paris and the country’s tradition of lighting gas lamps before electricity became mainstream, Sofitel Dubai Downtown strives to whisk its guests away to another world in time with our Candle Ritual.
Every evening at sunset (6.30pm), over the festive season, our lobby comes alive with a candle lighting ceremony with members of staff adorned in locally inspired outfits.
Sharing the art of candle-making with our geographic neighbour, England, it was a leading craft in 13th century France. Whether a guest is staying with us for business or pleasure, we aim to surprise and delight them with elegant touches like this.
As we approach the festive season, what do you have planned for this period?
We have a host of magical festive offers and activations in store for our guests. L’Art de Noël is our hotel’s theme and it’s centred around joie de vivre (the joy of living).
For guests staying with us, we have a Christmas Eve staycation and dining package for AED 1,250. This includes breakfast, a Christmas Eve dinner on December 24, and a Christmas poolside brunch on December 25 – all for two.
For something a little more luxurious, guests can opt for the Presidential Suite package for AED 3,000 or the Royal Suite, starting from AED 5,000 per day.
Guests can indulge in a breathtaking view of Downtown Dubai’s cityscape, seasonal décor and exquisite in-suite amenities. Weaving Sofitel Dubai Downtown’s world-renowned hospitality into every minute detail, they will also enjoy a butler on call to collect their shopping bags from Dubai Mall. This package also includes breakfast for two, and a New Year’s Eve gala dinner for two at Les Cuisines on December 31. Giving them a memorable experience from start to finish, they can also arrive and depart in style with a personalised limousine service to and from their home.
Our New Year staycation package starts from AED 1,999 and features a room with an unrivalled view of the fireworks and Downtown Dubai. This package includes a New Year’s Eve dinner at Les Cuisines and breakfast for two.
For guests who are visiting us, we have a traditional turkey to-go that’s perfect for up to ten people for AED 449. This includes classic sides, stuffing and jus. To get them into the festive spirit, guests can also try our Festive Afternoon Tea until December 31 for AED 199 per person.
Guests who want to put on a sweet spread at home can order our gourmet selection, featuring snow-themed winter chocolate drinks, ginger cookies, a Santa Hat cake or a festive treats hamper.
Our restaurant, Les Cuisines, has had a magical makeover for the festive season. Immersing guests in a festive atmosphere with giant iridescent baubles, Christmas décor, and a show-stopping gingerbread house, guests of all ages are in for a memorable experience. Le Petit Prince will also be visiting junior guests with charming touches at breakfast, brunch, a kids’ dinner and more.
Our new rustic-themed lounge bar, L’Apero, is hosting a traditional Christmas Eve dinner with classic fare, a festive quiz and Christmas crackers for AED 225 with soft beverages and AED 325 with alcohol.
We’re also hosting a family-friendly Christmas poolside market on December 25. Guests can have some fun in the sun, while exploring live food and drinks stations and sipping on festive cocktails in the pool. It’s AED 199 for the soft package and AED 299 for the alcohol package. Kids enjoy a complimentary brunch and pool access (up to six years old) and it’s AED 99 for kids aged seven to 12.
For New Year’s Eve, guests can indulge in a gala dinner at Les Cuisines starting from AED 389 for soft drinks and AED 499 for house drinks, dinner at the Grass Pool’s Snow Land starting from AED 599 (with alcohol), or a Snow Masquerade dinner at L’Apero for AED 389 with soft beverages and AED 499 with house drinks.
What’s the future looking like for the property, and how do you plan on moving forward following times of pandemic as Dubai opens its doors to the world?
It’s indeed an exciting opportunity to be the general manager at Sofitel Dubai Downtown. I am honoured to carry this trust and responsibility and extend my gratitude to our owner, who is always supportive and keen to explore various new opportunities to expand our amenities and services.
Our vision is to develop new features and highlights to keep adapting to existing guests’ demands and new market needs. Now that Dubai has expanded into new market opportunities, we look forward to new horizons in 2021, with Expo 2020 in the front view.
With several plans in progress, we’re committed to innovation – implementing our contactless experience, reinforcing digitalisation, and working on diversifying our products and offerings. We also have plans of launching apartments as part of our mission to keep our guests safe and comfortable, now and in the future.