MEM­O­RIES RE­BOOTED

The Sher­a­ton has been ren­o­vated to its 80s grandeur.

Qatar Today - - INSIDE THE ISSUE - By Sindhu Nair

The Sher­a­ton has been ren­o­vated to its 80s grandeur.

When it was an­nounced that Sher­a­ton Doha was be­ing closed for ren­o­va­tion, pic­tures of a new build­ing ris­ing in the place of the im­pres­sive pyra­mid struc­ture was the con­jec­ture; bear­ing in mind Doha's pro­cliv­ity for new and shin­ing tow­ers. But the build­ing was in full view through­out, and the de­trac­tors were in for a sur­prise when the man­age­ment re­opened the ho­tel in a short span of eight months, and in­vited the me­dia to have a pre­view of the re­designed premises.

Re­flect­ing old tra­di­tions and keep­ing mem­o­ries in­tact, the ho­tel has been re­stored back to its ear­lier re­gal grandeur. In a coun­try where new, in­ter­na­tional and glass are popular tags, Qatar's first in­ter­na­tion­ally branded ho­tel, owned by the gov­ern­ment en­tity Katara Hos­pi­tal­ity that played host to many mem­o­rable royal oc­ca­sions and once-in-a-life­time gath­er­ings, made a come­back in a way that is truly spe­cial.

De­signed by Wil­liam Hill, the build­ing, when it was com­pleted in 1982, was a struc­tural marvel of sorts with an atrium that pen­e­trates the cen­tral struc­ture, pro­vid­ing its public ar­eas with nat­u­ral light dur­ing the day, while its unique lo­ca­tion pro­vides shade for its out­door spa­ces. The atrium is still the eye-catch­ing el­e­ment of the premises, with the rich red up­hol­stery on the seats spat­tered with gold frills, and is one of the favourite spots for Qataris.

J. Thomas C. van Op­stal, Com­plex Gen­eral Manager at Sher­a­ton Doha Re­sort & Con­ven­tion Ho­tel, has been in Doha for two years but had been to the ho­tel as a vis­i­tor in its glory years in the 80s and has re­spected it from a far. “Like every­body, I too loved the shape of the struc­ture and the wow fac­tor of the atrium, which has al­ways been an in­te­gral part of the suc­cess of the ho­tel and is also spe­cial to me,” he says. “The re­ac­tion of guests when they en­ter the atrium is still a plea­sure to watch and that hasn't changed

since the early 80s, when it had just opened to the public.”

Ac­cord­ing to van Op­stal, Sher­a­ton is about “con­nect­ing peo­ple. Be­ing part of the Star­wood group of ho­tels, this is a virtue that is in­her­ent to the brand.”

How­ever, Sher­a­ton as a lo­cal ho­tel brand was more about events with high-pro­file per­son­al­i­ties and it has been per­ceived as an ex­clu­sive prop­erty. But af­ter the re­open­ing, the of­fi­cials want to change that and make it a more in­clu­sive brand which val­ues all its cus­tomers while giv­ing spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion to its Qatari guests.

“Sher­a­ton has been part of the com­mu­nity since the coun­try was in its in­fancy. The coun­try has grown, and the ho­tel is still here. Qataris view this as a part of their her­itage; their mem­o­ries are con­nected to this prop­erty since it was the only hos­pi­tal­ity brand avail­able at that time. Since then many his­toric events have been part of Qatar's growth and Sher­a­ton has been a wit­ness to many of them,” he says.

Tak­ing us through the his­toric events, van Op­stal men­tions a few: GCC meet­ings, UN meet­ings, Arab sum­mits, NATO pre­sen­ta­tions and con­fer­ences and host to many dig­ni­taries, prime min­is­ters, head of states and fam­ily vis­its from celebri­ties, many who have stayed at the ho­tel and con­tinue to do so, but those names can­not be re­vealed as it is strictly against ho­tel pol­icy.

He men­tions that the pre­vi­ous Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Ger­hard Schröder is a Sher­a­ton fan who has called it an “amaz­ing prop­erty”.

A ho­tel be­comes part of the com­mu­nity when there is a di­rect con­nec­tion through the ser­vices it of­fers and the per­sonal touches. Sher­a­ton has a Qatari kahwa server who is part of the her­itage of the ho­tel; he has been on the premises for ages and greets you at the door with a smile and a kahwa in the true Qatari tra­di­tion.

Be­yond the ser­vice is the cen­tral atrium that has been the venue of many tra­di­tional ma­jlis gath­er­ings, cour­tesy of the view that over­looks the beach, which gives the vis­i­tor time to re­flect on the fast-paced devel­op­ment of the coun­try. The chan­de­lier that hangs in the atrium space is a record-break­ing cre­ation by the glass­mak­ers Mu­rano, and has more than 20,000 pieces which took al­most three months to be pieced to­gether. Weigh­ing a to­tal of 18,000 kgs when in­stalled, it con­tin­ues to shine down on the vis­i­tors to the ho­tel to this day.

But the true trea­sure of this mu­seum-style prop­erty is the art that adorns its walls. Most of the paint­ings are the works of Qatari artists and take you on a trip through the his­tory of the coun­try, through its souqs, horse rid­ing, and fal­con hunt­ing tra­di­tions. One par­tic­u­lar work is spe­cial: a cal­li­graphic piece of ta­pes­try that hangs in the con­ven­tion cen­tre.

A re­fur­bish­ment was car­ried out in all 371 rooms and suites in ad­di­tion to the 35,000 sq ft con­ven­tion cen­tre and other meet­ing spa­ces. All public ar­eas and recre­ation fa­cil­i­ties have also been en­hanced. All the rooms are in­spired by the Qatari form of de­sign.

But van Op­stal main­tains that, though there has been a ren­o­va­tion, the con­struc­tion of the ho­tel had no flaws that had to be re­viewed or re­con­structed. “The build­ing is amazingly strong. Noth­ing needed to be touched on the struc­ture. The ho­tel was like an old ma­jes­tic lady whose makeup needed to be reap­plied,” he says.

Van Op­stal has lived and worked in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, from Pak­istan to China and Australia, and has loved each of the dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties. While Pak­istan was spe­cial be­cause of the won­der­ful peo­ple he worked with, he fell in love with Mel­bourne for its nat­u­ral and scenic beauty.

“You can have the most beau­ti­ful build­ing with mar­vel­lous in­te­ri­ors but if the ser­vice is bad all the frills make no im­pact. On the other hand, if you are served by some­one who re­mem­bers you by your name, the con­tact is per­sonal and spe­cial. The peo­ple in the in­dus­try make the brand and hence are very im­por­tant el­e­ments.”

“Each hos­pi­tal­ity brand comes with its own com­mit­ment but the bot­tom line for the in­dus­try is the ser­vice,” he says. “We all love to be looked af­ter, the more, the bet­ter.”

The record-break­ing 18,000kg chan­de­lier that hangs in the atrium space to this day is from 1980s

J THOMAS C VAN OP­STAL Com­plex Gen­eral Manager at Sher­a­ton Doha Re­sort & Con­ven­tion Ho­tel

Frame­work of the Atrium Lounge in 1981

View of the re­fur­bished ho­tel in­te­rior

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