The Sheraton has been renovated to its 80s grandeur.
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