1on1 with Ammar Hilal: General Manager of Fairmont Dubai

It goes without saying that travelling is the best way to relax, explore and escape the monotony but also to venture out to new places, meet new people, explore the unexplored and much more. However, the places we stay during our travel play a huge part in making or breaking our vacation. Whether you are staying at a luxury urban hotel, or a cute B&B, your accommodation adds a lot of character to your holiday experience.

Oman Magazine’s Christine Karan recently visited Dubai, not just to explore the eternal city but to get a taste of the city’s ever growing hotel industry. From ultra-luxury to unassuming properties, you are spoilt for choice. Staying at one of the leading hotel brands (and one of the finest) The Fairmont Dubai, Christine says it’s a destination of it’s own.

She sits down with the Fairmont’s General Manager Mr. Ammar Hilal to know more about the hotel and ‘the hotelier’s life’.

Fairmont is a brand that is world renowned. How and what do you do to ensure brand standards?

Our award-winning service excellence starts from the rigid recruitment process, where all applicants have to go through an online assessment prior to being invited for a personal interview. Once a new colleague is hired, they will undergo a three-day induction which familiarises the new joiners with all the departments and introduces the Fairmont brand history. That is followed by an on-job training in their designated work area and in all functional aspects of the department. Ultimately, it’s all about the importance of embracing the Fairmont culture.

Tell us about yourself? Were you always passionate about hotel life?

I am of Egyptian origin, born, raised and educated in Germany and from very early on, developed a passion for good food, an eye for detail and a love for music. Being a naturally outgoing person, I felt that I have the charisma, determination and possess the right mindset to have a prosperous career in the hospitality industry. Having learned hospitality in a very traditional way in Germany, it taught me to be very structured and systematic. My first international hotel experience lead me to move to Bangkok and work for the legendary General Manager Kurt Wachtveitl, which had a deep impact on my future career. The exposure in Thailand and other parts of Asia taught me the definition of gracious service and innovation. The next stop of my career brought me to the roots, the land of the pharaohs, where I pursued my passion for food and beverage. The environment taught me to be patient, flexible and the importance of relationship building. I then continued my passion for travel and landed a job at one of the most iconic hotels in New York City. This is where I learned about the importance of colleague engagement and humility, the ability to work in harmony and build genuine trust amongst colleagues in a unionised environment. My career progressed in Hawaii, London, Hong Kong, Mauritius, Turkey and the place, which

I now call home, Dubai. Working for one of the most reputed hotels in the world, Burj Al Arab, I spent a number of years as the Hotel Manager. In 2015, I joined AccorHotels as General Manager of the Sofitel Dubai Downtown, the Sofitel flagship property in the Middle East and two years later transferred to Fairmont Dubai, which is the first Fairmont-built hotel outside the USA and Canada. Hospitality business is the greatest platform to realize my childhood ambitions wanting to work in a dynamic fast pace environment where the core essence at heart, remains to extend a flawless service delivery with charm, besides providing an opportunity to travel the world to explore the vast diversity of cultures and cuisines.

There are numerous hotels and boutique hotels popping up in Dubai, how do you keep up with the competition?

Although we are witnessing a boom in hotel supply, which is set to outpace demand and put pressure on occupancy levels and room rates, the overall performance of the tourism sector will remain healthy. DTCM and Emirates Airlines have been very active with multiple initiatives to position Dubai as the ‘first choice’ for the international leisure and business travellers. And with all the plans Dubai has in the pipeline; the number of repeat visits can only continue to grow and further attract additional visitors. Therefore, the increased competition among hotels is necessary and healthy competition and the upcoming lifestyle and boutique hotels will only add more value to the city and eventually everyone will benefit of it. We put a large emphasis on providing our guests with meaningful experiences to ensure they have an emotional connection with and makes them return. This has also resulted in the hotel scooping multiple prestigious awards in 2017 & 2018, recognizing the dedication and the passion of our colleagues

What is the concept behind regular check in and the ‘Gold’ lounge check-in?

The regular check in takes place in the front desk located on the hotel’s ground floor, whilst the Fairmont Gold experience begins the moment you arrive at the front door. You’ll be escorted for a private check-in to the Fairmont Gold lounge on the 33rd floor, dedicated exclusively for the Fairmont Gold guests. A private butler will then offer you a welcome drink and after a swift check-in process lead the way to your Fairmont Gold room, offering unpacking services and introducing the bespoke Fairmont Gold amenities.

We need to ask you about the Noire restaurant. It is truly different. Tell us about it…

Noire is our ground-breaking dining in the dark concept, which removes the sense of sight in order to heighten taste, smell and touch during the 90-minute dining experience. It was first opened in 2013 and is till date the first and only restaurant that offers such dining experience. Noire has been extremely popular over the years because it removes visual cues which overstimulates the other senses that contribute to taste. The philosophy is if you are in the dark you have a much higher sense of taste, texture, smell and reduces your stress level.

Which is your favorite part of the hotel and why?

My favorite part of the hotel is The Library lounge in the heart of our lobby with select furnishings representing both comfort and utility with clean design lines and plush accessories. It has recently received a face lift making it a cosy and a very enjoyable location to sit back, have a cup of tea and watch the world go by. The Library is the spot to observe the scenery changing throughout the day – from the busy check-in time in the morning, seeing leisure guests waiting for the shuttle taking them to the beach facilities at La Mer, to business travelers coming for lunch. After the dawn it captivates the eye how our guests have dressed up to enjoy our vast dining and entertainment offerings, ranging from the Middle East’s first and only dining in the dark concept called ‘Noire’ to world-renowned nightclubs, Cirque Le Soir and Cavalli.In the near future we are also set to introduce our new afternoon tea at The Library lounge, which will even further enhance the atmosphere at our lobby.

What does the rest of 2018 and 2019 look like for you?

Being an anchor on Sheikh Zayed Road for the past 16 years, we have consequently witnessed a very consistent and stable year, despite the increase in new hotel inventory. The occupancy levels have gone up throughout the whole city, led by the GCC, India, UK and German markets, as they are still delivering more than 40% of Dubai’s inbound traffic. However, the pace has slowed down due to guests making bookings on a much shorter notice than in the past. We have a number of refurbishment projects in the pipeline with currently refurbishing the “Trophy Room”, our sports bar, right on time for the World Cup, followed by some enhancements at the sunrise and sunset pool, besides the refurbishment of our all-day dining Restaurant Cascades, which is scheduled to be completed in 2019. We are optimistic that business will get much better and with the sustained level of energy, passion and the amazing family feel we have at Fairmont Dubai, I am confident that we will have another great year.