Guests come first at Al Bustan Palace

The Al Bustan Palace Hotel, Muscat, ranks among the world's top 10 hotels and boasts one of the best Chinese restaurants in the Middle East. Issa M Al Hajry, the general manager of the hotel and the regional vice-president operations for the InterContinental Hotels Group in Oman reveals what makes the property so unique
An aerial view of the Al Bustan Palace Hotel.

Q. Al Bustan Palace is a unique resort in the Gulf and the Middle East. How would you describe the property?

A. Yes, the Al Bustan Palace is definitely one-of-its kind resort in the Middle East. The property is unique because of its architecture, location and specially history which adds to its glamour. Moreover, it is diverse as well as appealing in its facilities. The property can be classified as a combination of a palace and so many things put together. It's a very special feeling when people walk in where they can easily and happily lose themselves. And we have worked very hard to create that feeling.

Q. What are the highlights of the property?

A. The architecture and the location are definitely the highlights of the property. The other important thing is the warmth of the staff, which makes each guest feel important. We are not managing a hotel here but guest's experience, which results in making their stay memorable.

Q. Which type of hotel would you list as your toughest competitor?

A. There is definitely nothing in the Gulf, which can compare to our property. Commercially speaking, there may be a few properties but by way of experience, this property stands out as a special place. The fact that many of our guests come here as they have heard of and are well aware of the Al Bustan Palace but are not aware of the country speaks for itself. And this knowing comes as a result of the people who have already stayed in our property and experienced our hospitality.

Q. From which countries do your guests normally come from? How long do they stay on an average?

A. Majority of our guests are from the German speaking countries of Europe. However, the UK market too is picking up. Of course, we do have guests from the region which comprise around 20 per cent. While businessmen stay for an average of two to three days, leisure guests stay around 10 days. So an average stay normally is for seven days.

Q. Do you anticipate residents of Muscat to use your facilities?

A. Yes. Our main philosophy is to encourage the local community to enjoy our facilities as they are the barometers to judge the quality of our services. They are in fact our critiques, which in turn enables us to keep on improving. Moreover, foreign guests love to see locals in the hotel as they are the ones who actually give life to the property.

Q. What type of special staff do you employ which you would possibly not find at another five-star property? How do you recruit and train them and ensure they maintain the standards?

A. Our staff is very special to us as they are the heart of the property. The true image of the hotel is projected only by its staff and through the services rendered by them. The most important thing we pay attention to while recruiting staff is to make them feel important and needed which they in turn role-play in delivering guest satisfaction.

Our staff's philosophy, which extends right from the general manager's level to the lowest level, is guest satisfaction and that they should enjoy doing what they are doing. The key to success of our staff is caring for them as a result of which they excel in caring for the guests.

Q. Do you see any new markets not yet covered by the Al Bustan Palace as targets? If so, which ones?

A. Currently we have a very European clientele and the major markets we are looking in to are the Asian, Russian, Far Eastern, Scandinavian and Northern European markets. Of course, all this has to be done in conjunction with the tourism authority. The process is already underway but we need to aggressively promote the destination simultaneously.

In the end, we cannot forget the Middle East market, which is so important to sustain the growth in the long run.

Q. Do you think Oman needs more top-end hotels?

A. Of course. The country desperately needs more resorts that target specific leisure business as it is the resort properties which actually result in an influx of tourists.

Q. Hotels in the GCC have been facing one of the worst periods of operations as a result of the Iraq war. How is Al Bustan Palace coping with this situation?

A. It has been a painful crisis and like others in the region, even we faced a hard time. The way we coped with it was by streamlining operations and managing our quality operations without compromising on the quality of our services. Moreover, we worked very hard to promote regional business with value packages in conjunction with Oman Air, which were very well received in the market. Hopefully, we are over with the crisis and are looking forward to a very positive year.

Q. How do you see the future of the Al Bustan Palace?

A. Excellent. I feel very good with the property. My current aim to get the hotel back to business starting this September. This is the critical task on hand. But I am confident that it wouldn't be a problem, as things are looking brighter with the situation easing.

Q. What are the future plans with regard to the hotel?

A. The hotel has an amazing future and we have very exciting plans in store. The hotel underwent a complete renovation just two years back. Summer 2004 will see the opening of a new spa which is currently under construction. We are also under discussions for a golf course and if everything goes as planned, we will be the first hotel in the Middle East to have a proper 9-hole golf course. Our nightclub too is undergoing renovations and is scheduled to open this month.