From its very name, one detects a hint of sumptuous, luxurious hospitality, set in majestic surrounds. The Emirates Palace Hotel does not disappoint, both in the grandeur of the building and the levels of service; playing host to the world’s leading political dignitaries, business travellers and tourists seeking the ultimate in relaxation.
The grandest of buildings was officially opened in 2005, having taken three and a half years to build. The Emirates Palace is owned by the UAE Government, who had wanted to create a landmark not just for Abu Dhabi, but for the whole UAE region.
For the past year, Alexander Schneider has had the pleasure of running operations as Hotel Manager:
“Emirates Palace is more than just a hotel; we have a multiple of tasks to fulfil. We are indeed a landmark for Abu Dhabi and it was Sheikh Zayed’s vision to create Emirates Palace to be the “People’s Palace”.
“We play host to guests from around the world and the building is the official guesthouse of the UAE Government, which means that every Government dignitary from around the world, who comes to Abu Dhabi, stays at Emirates Palace.
“Emirates Palace is also a hotel with 396 rooms and suites and its own 2 kilometre long private beach, offering the most wonderful luxurious holiday get away.
“Our conferencing facilities are also world renowned and we can cater for up to 2,000 people and we also operate an auditorium which can accommodate 1,000 people for movie premiers and awards ceremonies.
“We are therefore attracting wholly different types of clientele,” Schneider describes.
The complex also features 15 restaurants providing the finest of cuisine – and the status of the Palace is such that almost every big society event in Abu Dhabi takes place on its premises, providing dining and cultural interest for the local population too.
“We have so many different pillars to our target groups, but probably our biggest aspect is our staff, who have to be able to switch approach almost instantly, to suit the different types of client and culture,” Schneider states.
Whilst the Government owns Emirates Palace, the hotel complex is in fact managed by the Kempinski Group, hoteliers since 1897 and Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group.
The pedigree of the Group is unquestionable, with its ethos set in delivering high quality experiences for each hotel guest:
“Kempinski understands that luxury comes with limitations and we operate just 80 hotels worldwide, giving us more focus on delivering what the client wants when it comes to luxury and high class service. Kempinski is small enough but dedicated to luxury,” he continues.
The size of the hotel is the source of some debate, but Schneider says that the building itself is 1 kilometre long, while the Marina and private bay add another 2 kilometres in length.
Naturally given its size, Emirates Palace is a large employer, with a workforce reaching 2,000 people in total – 1,500 of whom are employed directly.
To help maintain high standards, Schneider says that recruitment and training focus only on the best:
“Especially for a hotel of this size and reputation, individual talent is second to none. We can train, select and grow talent and that is the key criteria for our managers every single day. With the expansion of hotels in the region, there is a stress on talent and we spend a lot of time and effort to ensure we find the right talent and future talent is based at Emirates Palace (many of us conduct as many as 20-30 interviews per week).
“Kempinski has great training and more than 100 years of experience. At Emirates Palace it takes roughly 2 months for new recruits to finish their orientation before they get knee-deep into their job profile – and there is an abundance of cross-training.
“Kempinski has a great array of regional training courses and methods and has a focus on dedicated training for specific jobs. We focus on providing on the job training and cultural training – the culture of staff is one of the things that can make or break the success of a hotel and the good spirit within the team means that the sky is the limit.
“We have more than 70 nationalities working for us (Schneider himself hails from Hamburg in Germany) at Emirates Palace and we all have a common goal to exceed our best every day.”
With such a diverse range of nationalities, there is a special focus on language training, with each employee assessed on their English language skills.
But Emirates Palace is also committed to recruiting local Emiratis to the hospitality sector, as Schneider outlines:
“We believe that Emiratis are an essential part of our operation; at the end of the day we want to live and learn the culture of the UAE and that is not something that you can just read, you have to experience it. So one of our key functions is to have Emiratis working at the Palace and earlier this year we ran a job fair which was dedicated to local Emiratis interested in joining this industry.”
As diverse as the workforce may be, of course guests at the Emirates Palace come from across the world.
“There is a predominate trend for European visitors and we have a number of feeder markets like China, India and Russia, which are definitely on the rise,” Schneider acknowledges.
“Approximately 70 per cent of our leisure guests come from Pan-European locations, but there are certain periods of time when we welcome lots of GCC visitors, often here to shop.
“The corporate guests traditionally hail from countries like the UK and US, but Abu Dhabi has become a big hub for banking and finance as well as minerals and oil.
“As such, for a luxury brand, whilst there is a need to keep an international flair in your hotel, for us it is important to take the market opportunities as they present themselves, while at the same time we have to take care and keep everything in balance. Our focus is on luxury and diversity and our goal is to exceed customer expectations.”
As we speak, the Muslim world is celebrating the first day of Ramadan, which Schneider says presents challenges and opportunities:
“What is important is that we communicate well and we have developed a very transparent communication about Ramadan, through our agents, website and booking centre: Ramadan is a wonderful time when you can unwind and enjoy learning about the culture and explore the religious aspects of the month.
“We are of course mindful of the laws surrounding food and beverage consumption at this time and we provide opportunities to eat and drink in outlets that have been specially set up to respect Ramadan.
“This year we have also built a Ramadan tent that we call “The Wonders of Ramadan” – and which is worth travelling from across the globe to come and see. It is the ideal setting if you want to come and play backgammon or cards and enjoy a shisha with the locals.”
Like every hotel in the world, there is a constant need for upgrade and maintenance, which Schneider describes as “usually a dreadful topic for any hotel”. However, Emirates Palace employs 75 full-time engineers with niche skills, who can carry out any necessary work daytime or in the evening, meaning the hotel does not have to wait for quiet periods to get work done.
The hotel is also committed to upgrading with the environment in mind, with Schneider indicating that LED lighting provides a substantial energy saving, whilst Emirates Palace is currently investigating ways to recycle waste food – possibly through composting.
Emirates Palace is also becoming an important venue for unique events, as Schneider explains:
“We have started to host major events like “Polo in the Palace” which took place in 2012, in collaboration with City Events of London. This proved hugely popular and attracted between 3,000 and 4,000 visitors – a figure we hope to double this year.
“We are also currently working on a Classic Car showcase for next year,” he adds.
It is a future that excites and focuses the enthusiastic Schneider:
“If you love hospitality it is always a great time to be in the hotelier industry. We have seen an influx of hotels in Abu Dhabi but Emirates Palace has unique target groups and markets, so the competition perhaps provides less stress for us.
“Emirates Palace over the next few years will remain the leading luxury palace hotel in the region, while Kempinski will remain committed to its hard working ethos and clients.”