HotelNews Middle East - - Contents -

There is a beloved tele­vi­sion pro­gramme in the UK about prop­erty called Lo­ca­tion, Lo­ca­tion, Lo­ca­tion.

While the show has ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try here in the Mid­dle East, the sen­ti­ment of the ti­tle has very much been adopted by James He­wit­son, gen­eral man­ager, Al Baleel Re­sort Salalah by Anan­tara.

He­wit­son is de­ter­mined to make the most of the pic­turesque sur­round­ings the north of Oman to help con­tinue his ho­tel’s suc­cess story.

“We want to spread the word about both our re­sort and the won­der­ful des­ti­na­tion of Salalah, which is still a rel­a­tively undis­cov­ered des­ti­na­tion,” says He­wit­son.

“It re­ally is an undis­cov­ered gem and that’s why we are work­ing closely with the tourist board here and me­dia across the world to drive aware­ness that you are in an amaz­ing part of Ara­bia down here.”

It is no se­cret that these are chal­leng­ing times for the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor all over the world, not just in the Mid­dle East, but He­wit­son pas­sion­ately be­lieves that the com­bi­na­tion of the lux­ury prop­erty and the sur­round­ing area is a recipe for suc­cess.

“Oman, with its cul­ture, unique to­pog­ra­phy and 3,500km of coast­line, sets it­self slightly apart from its re­gional com­peti­tors,” he says.

“The gov­ern­ment’s strat­egy to de­velop ad­ven­ture and ex­pe­ri­ence tourism while pre­serv­ing Oman’s cul­ture and her­itage is pay­ing off, re­sult­ing in it be­com­ing a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for trav­el­ers look­ing to get a taste of Ara­bia.”

One area that He­wit­son has im­me­di­ately iden­ti­fied as pre­sent­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for the prop­erty is the F&B sec­tor in Salalah.

“We’re keen to put the re­sort on the map as a culi­nary des­ti­na­tion in Salalah, as well as pro­vid­ing unique ex­pe­ri­ences for guests so they can ex­plore this stun­ning re­gion,” he says.

“The din­ing scene in Salalah is nonex­is­tent, with most Oma­nis pre­fer­ring to en­ter­tain at home how­ever we’ve been suc­cess­ful in es­tab­lish­ing our three res­tau­rants in the mar­ket.”

He­wit­son and his team are ob­vi­ously on to some­thing as they have flown out of the blocks, in terms of per­for­mance, in 2018.

The gov­ern­ment's strat­egy to de­velop ad­ven­ture and ex­pe­ri­ence tourism while pre­serv­ing Oman's cul­ture and her­itage is pay­ing off, re­sult­ing in it be­com­ing a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for trav­el­ers look­ing to get a taste of Ara­bia ”

“2018 has been a great start to the year with 100% growth over Jan­uary 2017 and we ex­pect to show strong growth year on year in the com­ing months ahead with a good solid base of leisure book­ings al­ready on the books,” he says.

“We are into our sec­ond full year of op­er­a­tion and we have been very pleased with the progress we are mak­ing, we are de­vel­op­ing all ar­eas of the busi­ness but our res­tau­rants and spas have been per­form­ing well above ex­pec­ta­tions and we will con­tinue to in­no­vate and drive at im­prov­ing the qual­ity of these two key com­po­nents of our busi­ness.”

It’s not sim­ply about profit at Al Baleel Re­sort Salalah by Anan­tara, He­wit-

son is ea­ger to make a dif­fer­ence to the lives of the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

“I’m pas­sion­ate about re­cruit­ing and train­ing young Oma­nis from the lo­cal com­mu­nity,” he says.

“As a brand, in­dige­nous ex­pe­ri­ences are part of Anan­tara’s core ethos and by em­ploy­ing from the lo­cal tal­ent pool, we are build­ing a team that has a deep un­der­stand­ing of the cul­ture and re­gion as well as a de­sire to aid the coun­try’s fu­ture growth and de­vel­op­ment.”

An in­di­ca­tion of the ho­tel’s com­mit­ment to the lo­cal com­mu­nity is fur­ther il­lus­trated by an of­fi­cial part­ner­ship with the Na­tional Hos­pi­tal­ity In­sti­tute to re­cruit and train lo­cal Omani stu­dents.

The aim of the part­ner­ship, He­wit­son ex­plains, is to pro­vide the stu­dents with the op­por­tu­nity to spend time work­ing in dif­fer­ent de­part­ments at the re­sort be­fore be­ing hired full-time.

“We’ve also in­tro­duced an over­seas train­ing pro­gramme, pro­vid­ing key Omani mem­bers of the team with the op­por­tu­nity to gain valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence at other Anan­tara prop­er­ties around the world,” he says.

“We hope it has in­stilled a strong sense of pride in their work so they can be­gin to progress up the ca­reer lad­der and pur­sue a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in hos­pi­tal­ity. Through re­cruit­ment and train­ing pro­grammes, we have been able to build a team that is more than 25% Omani from se­nior lead­er­ship to rankand-file po­si­tions.”

While there is a vi­brant Omani pres­ence in the ho­tel there is also a cos­mopoli­tan feel to the prop­erty, as He­wit­son re­veals.

“We spend a lot of time on re­cruit­ment and have over 40 dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties work­ing with us with a va­ri­ety of lev­els of ex­pe­ri­ence and this has helped to drive com­pe­ti­tion amongst the team to out­per­form each other ev­ery day,” he says.

Staff morale is some­thing that He­wit­son be­lieves that you can’t put a premium on.

“It’s par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to create a pos­i­tive work­ing en­vi­ron­ment in a rel­a­tively re­mote lo­ca­tion such as Salalah so I put ex­tra care into en­sur­ing the ac­com­mo­da­tion was 10 min­utes from the ho­tel to avoid long tran­sits to work and that the team has ac­cess to fa­cil­i­ties such as in­ter­net, satel­lite TV, shop­ping malls and the won­der­ful beaches in Salalah so ev­ery­one stays happy,” he says.

“I be­lieve that very happy col­leagues lead to very happy guests and I take full re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure the team is well looked af­ter and mo­ti­vated so they can re­ally feel pas­sion­ate about look­ing af­ter our guests.”

These are key pil­lars of man­age­ment that He­wit­son has picked up since he pro­gressed in the restau­rant busi­ness in his na­tive UK, be­fore tak­ing up his first over­seas post in 1999.

His jour­neys took him to such lo­ca­tions as Kuwait, Bahrain, Malta, Thai­land be­fore he took up a role with the Mi­nor Ho­tel Group in 2011.

It is that ex­pe­ri­ence that helps He­wit­son re­main fo­cused on the fu­ture growth of the prop­erty.

“The GCC mar­ket is key for us, as well as Euro­pean leisure mar­kets such as Ger­many, Italy and the UK,” he says.

“The mar­ket in Salalah pre­vi­ously has been based on char­ter busi­ness driv­ing large vol­ume and low rates and we were very con­scious that we would not be fol­low­ing this strat­egy. We have po­si­tioned our prod­uct and rates to be able to com­pete with the lux­ury ho­tels in Mus­cat and our main fo­cus now is to keep de­vel­op­ing the aware­ness so we can drive bet­ter oc­cu­pancy mov­ing for­ward in line with our fore­casts from our orig­i­nal fea­si­bil­ity study.”

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