BTN interview: Goran Stojkovic, hotel manager, Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre
In a tumultuous region, Dubai has long been considered something of a safe haven.
As conflict has rippled across the Middle East in recent years, the commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates has continued its relentless charge to the summit of global hospitality.
So it is fitting that the city state is once again emerging first from the Covid-19 pandemic, reclaiming its place as a leading destination for visitors from all over the world.
According to Goran Stojkovic, hotel manager at the luxurious the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre, the prompt decisions taken by the local authorities at the start of the pandemic are now paying dividends, allowing for a swift reopening.
“We are only in a position to benefit from the reopening of the market because of the work the Dubai authorities have done,” he explains.
“The safety measures put in place will be the crucial factor in the decision-making processes of the companies we work with.
“They will also need to assess the level of business they have in Dubai, and with the emirate reopening ahead of other destinations in the region, that can only increase.”
While hospitality operators around the world closed down in March this year, as Covid-19 travelled from Asia, through the Middle East and into Europe, the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre, took the decision to remain open.
The Art Deco-inspired hotel, home to the biggest ballroom on the Sheikh Zayed Road and an impressive fine art collection, also has a residential section which was maintained throughout the crisis.
“We have stayed open over the last few months as the property has 127 residences, as well as the 341 hotel rooms, all spread over the one building,” Stojkovic tells Breaking Travel News editor, Chris O’Toole.
“This meant we did not close during the Covid-19 lockdown.
“Most of the hotel guests left at the end of April, and demand fell, so any domestic guests who did visit, we accommodated them in the residential part of the hotel, and kept that open throughout.”
Only now, with Dubai reopening its borders to international travellers earlier this month, has demand been sufficient to reopen the hotel part of the property.
“The decision to begin selling hotel rooms was taken alongside the opening of the airport,” Stojkovic continues.
“When we learnt flights would be restarting, we took stock and saw there was demand, not a lot, but there were definitely travellers who wanted to come and stay longer-term as they took care of business in the GCC.
“We currently have guests from Germany, Canada and Sweden, as well as a small number of travellers from the United States.
“There are also guests from the GCC, and then locals from the United Arab Emirates – though it is incorrect to call this a staycation as they are predominately business travellers.”
That is not to say big changes are not being implemented in the wake of the global pandemic, with the property adapting quickly to the new circumstances.
Stojkovic continues: “This is not a leisure hotel, we do not have a beach, but there are guests that like to stay in this part of the city due to the restaurants, malls and the lifestyle.
“Our big business accounts are based in the United States, and we do usually have a lot of travellers from there.
“However, a lot of American business account employees based across the GCC have decided not to return to the United States currently, and can stay with us here.
“Companies that run offices in Riyadh, Doha, Manama, Kuwait and from Dubai, are now basing their staff here in the emirate, and we are in a position to accommodate them.
“Big companies – KPMG, EY, HSBC and the large oil companies – to some extent, over the next two to three months, will be taking decisions on where to base their staff.
“All these companies have projects they need to run across the GCC, and rather than basing staff in Kuwait, Bahrain, they will base staff here and complete the work from Dubai.”
The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Finance Centre, is able to draw on numerous wells of experience when it comes to developing new standards to combat the virus, making it one of the safest places in the city.
With Marriott program ‘Commitment to Clean ‘and ‘cleaning champions’ assigned to drive the program in each property, the hotel is able to offer guests nothing less than a great, safe stay.
“There are two platforms,” says Stojkovic, “the authorities here layout the main guidelines they expect us to follow, and then Marriott, as a global leader in hospitality, adds its brand standards to each property.
“Ecolab is the Marriott partner in this area, they inspect our hotel, examine our processes and tell us what changes we need to make.
“For example, we recently opened the spa, and they helped with standard operation procedures and new the equipment we need, before giving us the green light to proceed.
“Capacity has also been reduced – we can only sell rooms with a 24-hour delay, if you stay today, I cannot sell that room tomorrow.
“With these caveats, it is amazing how the situation is developing – in May things were very negative, but the speed of recovery has been surprising.
“If we can survive on largely local business for other 60-days, then we have no fears moving into the recovery phrase.
“We must come to terms with this, learn how live with it and do our jobs – the most important thing now is attitude and we must move on from what has happened.”
Looking ahead, guests will expect the highest levels of hygiene from a hotel stay, but Stojkovic hopes to rebuild confidence will maintaining the levels of service guests have come to expect from the brand.
“From a safety standpoint, we are currently not allowed to offer a number of items in the room – minibars, room service menus and other high touch things,” he continues.
“We have addressed this, and the system is working.
“However, moving forward, we need to examine what other measures we, as a hotel, or asset management company, have to implement in order to make sure we overcome the pandemic.
“There will be an asset review to examine what we need to do in order to operate for the next 365-days.”
As always, the team on the ground will be a vital component of a successful return to normality.
“We must not forget though, this is a global pandemic and people will expect the highest level of hygiene from a hotel,” the hotel manager adds.
“We begin with our own employees and the rules they must follow - if their accommodation and employee dining room are safe, they are practicing social distancing and the way they work is safe, it sends a tremendous message.
“Our team must wear a mask and gloves at all times, and any third-party contractor must use a separate dining room.
“Here in the United Arab Emirates, gloves and masks have been commonplace since day one, there has not been that controversy.
“By now, guests can see the smile through the masks.”
Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre was on something of a role – having been honoured with the title of World’s Leading City Hotel by the World Travel Awards.
As the dust begins to settle on the outbreak, Stojkovic concludes that there is more success around the corner: “The World Travel Awards platform is one we respect; it is another star on our shoulder.
“The trophy is a great help and is recognised by everybody that works in hospitality, and at the end of the day, when we sign partnerships we can add in that we have been recognised as the best in the world - so it certainly adds a lot of value.
“Hopefully, there will be a chance for us to be able to win more later this year.”
Within the United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city, the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre embodies modern luxury.
Guests can discover a world of superlatives within this Art Deco-inspired hotel, from the biggest ballroom on Sheikh Zayed Road, to an impressive fine art collection.
Take a tour of the award-winning the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre with Breaking Travel News’ partner Virtual World here, or find out more on the official website.