Perfect 10

JW Marriott Dubai’s general manager Ibrahim Barghout shares the secret of the hotel’s success with Shafquat Ali as it celebrates its tenth anniversary

WHEN it comes to big hotels, often it’s the small gestures that make all the difference.

That’s what sets one glitzy hotel apart from another in a city like Dubai where towering glass-and-steel five-star properties are busy trying to outdo each other.
At JW Marriott Hotel Dubai, they know that golden rule only too well. And that’s what the hotel prides itself on as it celebrates its tenth anniversary.

General manager Ibrahim Barghout goes that extra mile to see that his juniormost staff is as at ease taking spot decisions that help make a guest’s stay more memorable as the seniormost manager in the hotel. Like dashing off to the airport to return a folder the guest has forgotten or simply replacing a drink with which the guest is not happy.

“One of the important things my job has taught me is humility,” says Barghout. “That’s because most of the time other people have much better ideas than your own. And if you are the type of person who doesn’t accept that, you’ll have a hard time in this industry because it’s not driven by one person. It’s driven by the team.” Quite right.

Over the years, Barghout has realised that it’s not department heads sitting comfortably in their executive offices who help build a loyal clientele. It’s the doorman, the concierge or even the waiter, who are in constant contact with the guests, who play the most significant role in making the hotel what it is.

For his part, Barghout is quick to reward a good deed or a courteous gesture. “I constantly look for opportunities to allow the people in your hotel to learn and grow,” he says. “Actually, when I look back at the amount of associates in our hotel who started in very junior positions and who are now department heads it makes me very proud. And that’s what Marriott is all about.”

He goes on to add: “As the company grows, we need to cultivate that talent and promote the people who can carry the Marriott flag forward. It’s not complicated. It’s the simple things that make us successful.”

However, he insists, it’s important that the ‘people factor’ is backed up with business practices and procedures, technology, marketing, etc. But, at the cost of repeating himself, Barghout adds that in the long run the success of the hotel depends almost entirely on the people who run it.

Of course, it helps matters that the hotel is conveniently located in the well-established business district of Deira, has a timeless elegance about it with the largest skylight in the Middle East and houses some of the best restaurants in the city. Barghout points out that food and beverage has also played a significant role in promoting the hotel over time. And given his F&B background, the general manager has brought a lot of innovativeness in this department.

“Our focus is on event management and event planning and we have created a structure in the hotel which, I believe, is second to none in the area in terms of how we manage events,” he says. “We take great efforts in trying to understand how the customer likes to be serviced during the event. So, we have event concierges who actually walk the customer through that whole process and literally holds his hands throughout that experience - not only from the structural perspective but also from the point of innovation. What’s more, we’ve created a completely new banquet coffee break set up and our style of delivery is very innovative and fresh.”

He goes on to elaborate: “One of the styles of banquet service is the big buffet where everything is in a chaffing dish and, when you look at the buffet, you see nothing but silver. As such, your eye is not dancing around the different colours and different textures the food offers. So we’ve eliminated the chaffing dishes and cumbersome tabletops and skirting and created very clean marble tabletop where the chef actually presents the food in smaller dishes in different types of serviceware. This way, it not only remains appealing to the eyes but the food is also replaced much more frequently.”

As far as the culinary journey at the hotel is concerned, you can enjoy the wide international fare served up at the 10 restaurants and two coffee shops. While JW’s Steakhouse serves the finest steaks and seafood in Dubai, Cucina specialises in trattoria-style Italian cooking featuring pasta dishes and wood-fired pizzas. Hofbrauhaus, its German restaurant and bar serving authentic Bavarian cuisine and beverages, prides itself on being one of its kind in the Middle East. On the other hand, Bamboo Lagoon is noted for its exotic fusion cuisine while The Market Place, evoking the ambience of a Continental village square, offers a taste of France in a relaxed atmosphere. For guests who want a taste of local cuisine there’s Mays El Reem, the hotel’s authentic Lebanese restaurant with live entertainment and belly dancer, and Awafi, the seasonal poolside restaurant.

But that’s not all. You also have the Piano Lounge, where a resident pianist serenades those who come to enjoy pre-dinner cocktails and after-dinner drinks, Vienna Cafe, where sacher torte and assorted coffees are just some of the temptations, Atrium Café, the 24-hour lobby restaurant, Champions, the original American sports bar and Waves Pool Bar.

The 344-room luxury hotel also boasts two Executive Floors which are complete with check-in facilities, a luxurious guest lounge and a fully-equipped Business Centre with Internet access. For the health conscious Griffins Health Club, on the fifth floor, provides two international standard squash courts, a fully-equipped gym and Planet Cardio (the first cardiovascular workout room in Dubai). Catering to another sector of the travelling public, the hotel is also designed to welcome physically challenged guests. The lifts include numbers in braille; every area is accessible by ramps; and bathrooms, including shower cubicles, in several guestrooms have been modified.

In addition, JW Marriott also offers over 31,000 sq ft of meeting and conference space, including two column-free ballrooms, each divisible into two and seven salons respectively. Eleven other flexible function rooms are also available along with state-of-the-art audiovisual.

With so much going for it, it’s hardly surprising that the hotel has bagged a number of awards over the years - Best Hotel Suites and Best Restaurant Innovation in 2001 and Best Conference Hotel in the Middle East in 2001 and 2002, being the most recent ones. But Barghout and his team are not willing to rest on their laurels. “In the face of upcoming competition, our target over the next five years is to make sure that our hotel is looking as brand new as it does today,” he says. “There’s a timeless, ageless elegance about the hotel and that’s something we need to maintain. At the same time, we need to take the journey of empowerment and guest recognition to the next level.”

According to Jeff Strachan, director of marketing, the most important innovation that the hotel plans to undertake over the next couple of years is to upgrade the room product as a whole in line with the latest competition. “The existing room product is already famous,” he says. “We just need to find a way to make it more fabulous.”

Given the dedication of Barghout and his team that’s not going to be a difficult task.