Spa News Dubai

Putting on the Ritz, Dubai style

The luxury beachfront Ritz-Carlton hotel in Dubai is about to undergo a long-awaited expansion and over-seeing the ambitious project is new General Manager Andrew Nasskau. Nasskau, who comes with 15 years experience in the hospitality trade, arrived in the Emirates recently and is relishing the challenge of his first post in the Middle East.

After an exciting global career which has taken him across the world, the father of two was ready for a change.

"I have been watching how things have been developing in the Middle East, particularly for the Ritz-Carlton," he says.

"This hotel in Dubai has been a catalyst for expansion both in the UAE and the region. In the middle of next year the second Ritz-Carlton in Dubai International Financial Center will open, while the first in Abu Dhabi is following under our reserve brand in 2010-11.

"And from January 1 we will take over the Nile Hilton, which will undergo a redevelopment, as our second hotel in Egypt, joining the one in Sharm Al Sheikh. Talks are also on going about a second hotel in Bahrain, as well as properties in Muscat and Saudi Arabia. We now have two under our management in Doha as well."

Nasskau comes to Dubai from Ireland where he opened the 200-room Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt, outside Dublin two years ago which includes a Gordon Ramsey restaurant.

The chance to move to the Middle East arose when three Ritz-Carlton GMs swapped hotels. The previous Dubai incumbent Peter Mainguy went to Singapore and the Singapore GM moved to Ireland replacing Nasskau. Being the General Manager of a hotel like the Ritz-Carlton Dubai is clearly very demanding.

Occupancy levels are extremely high but guests still expect the very highest standards of service as they pay among the most expensive rates in the city. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore to learn that this 48-year-old is something of a workaholic.

He actually lives with his wife and young family in one of the skyscrapers of the new Jumeirah Beach Residence behind the hotel, albeit not in a tower directly overlooking it. "I could not quite handle that," he laughs. "But being minutes away from the property is very useful and I never get stuck in traffic. We will not let anything compromise our hotel service standards.

"I think the Dubai Ritz-Carlton has a certain magic: Something like the Savoy or Ritz in London. It is a place that people know and the location is unmatchable. With the JBR behind us we even have 400 shops on our doorstep, and the road access has greatly improved," explains the Briton.

The 6,500-apartment JBR is now half-full with wealthy residents and an obvious source of new business for the hotel. But does the global financial crisis and its possible impact on the travel business give the Ritz-Carlton's new Dubai GM cause for concern?

"It might affect some of our traditional geographic segments like the United Kingdom and even the Russians.

"But I always say you should first look for guests in your own backyard," says Nasskau, who has worked in Seoul, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Ireland before heading to the UAE.

He adds: "We will be targeting expatriates living in places like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait who want to get away for a weekend break. Then there are the GCC nationals of course who are a part of our core customer focus."

But the biggest challenge for Nasskau is going to be the extension of the Ritz-Carlton with a new wing that has been an integral part of the master plan since the hotel first opened. It comprises an additional 158 rooms and a huge new spa complex.

It is ironic that having coped with the construction of the JBR over the past few years, it will now be the hotel that has to manage a construction project without inconveniencing guests. "This is clearly my major challenge for the next few years," says Nasskau.

"We are in the final stages of discussions and the extension really seems to be happening this time. I am not really sure why it has taken so long to implement the project but the demand is very obvious with our high levels of occupancy. But the whole project will be sympathetic to the original hotel and just add to the facilities that we offer to guests rather than change the character of the property."

Nasskau brings a level of commitment and intensity to his job that is typical of the kind of expatriate that Dubai attracts these days. This is no longer a place for those who wish to park their careers in a comfortable backwater and have an easy life. Indeed as far as the hospitality sector is concerned Dubai is the city where it is all happening.

With a vast number of luxury hotels such as the Palazzo Versace, the Armani Hotel at Burj Dubai and Atlantis The Palm being completed, competition is going to be tough. Yet this does not seem to faze the hardworking businessman who admits: "We are well aware of the competition that is coming. This is probably the fastest growing market for luxury hotels. But then the Ritz-Carlton is very much a part of this expansion with our DIFC hotel opening in mid-2009 and the expansion plans for our beach property.

He adds: "I think where we are going to score over the rivals is on service standards. In this hotel we have staff who have been here since it opened and remember the guests who come back each year. You can not match that in a brand new hotel.

"The service philosophy is what makes the Ritz-Carlton different. It is not just a matter of having the most expensively built hotel with the most lavish design. Our employees feel that they belong and make a contribution, and that spirit is something special."

And while it is true that the old scripted approach to service is gone with the "Have a Nice Day" greetings, Nasskau believes there is now a new emphasis on empowering the staff. He says: "It is a question of telling them what we want to achieve in our service standards, and letting them get on with it. Other hotel chains are trying to do the same thing but this level of service is hard to implement."

Another reason why they retain their staff says Nasskau is because the Ritz-Carlton offers a "great career path around the world with the prospect of moving to new hotels as they open". Indeed, you only have to look at Nasskau's career to sense the possibilities. But equally not everybody would be up to the dedication and commitment required to make a success of such a demanding field.

Staying on top seems to come at some cost to his personal life, albeit Nasskau still finds time for his family. "I am a scuba diver and skier and hope to find time for both when I am fully settled," he admits.

But for the time being such sporty hobbies have to take a back seat and that appears to be the price of success in a city as dynamic and competitive as modern Dubai.

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