12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
Stephan Vanden Auweele is Complex General Manager for aloft and Elements hotels in Abu Dhabi. Aloft will open on the October 25, in time for the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 contest on November 1, the last race of the season
Will you open in time for the F1 race?
We will. The first customers are coming in on the October 25 and we will have all the rooms we need for the F1. The basic part of the hotel will be ready: the pool, the restaurant, the lobby, but we don't need all 408 rooms so we will have time after the F1 to do the last bits. The roof top bar might be a few weeks after the opening, but it doesn't affect the core of what makes the hotel and aloft.
At over 400 rooms, this must be the largest aloft hotel?
It is the largest aloft by some way. The largest previously was Chicago O'Hare which was around 200 rooms. Aloft is not a boutique hotel, it's a lifestyle hotel. You offer to the target customer which is the younger generation, the services they want and you don't offer the services they don't want. They don't want French Fries at three in the morning, but they want 24 hour fitness facilities and WiFi. There is clearly a shift from what these younger guests want from the more traditional model which now fits the age profile of 55 to 60 and we aim to satisfy them.
You have two restaurants, yet other alofts don't have one at all.
We do, but you have to look at the local environment and local habits. We are by no means a food and beverage-driven operation, but in the Middle East, and also in Asia, restaurants take on more importance. People have a tendency to eat more in hotel restaurants because if you want a western-style restaurant it would be hard to find one of a certain standard outside a hotel, and in the West profitability is always an issue but it's less so in Asia. In addition, a lot of alofts are opening in environments where there are restaurants nearby, but in this part of the city where we are, there aren't many restaurants and we have to make ensure that the customer has access to food.
You are based at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Conference Centre (ADNEC)?
Yes, we are on top of the exhibition centre so the centre is running into the lobby of the hotel. There are seven hotels planned. Aloft is the first, and then some others will open at the end of next year, though I can't comment on that because they are not Starwood brands, and then Elements, our extended stay product which will open early 2011. Elements is targeted at longer stay customers, offering hotel service with an extended stay , and it is also a green brand, the first brand to be rolled out globally which has LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certification. The two new hotels are both lifestyle brands but they are complementary. In no way are they competing. Aloft is trendy, funky brand while Elements is more Zennish, balanced and for long staying customers.
Do you think the awareness of aloft is there in the Middle East?
It is a very trendy brand appealing to a young customer so we focus a lot on web-based advertising, and in our marketing we team up with the other alofts on social media, Facebook, Twitter, so we spend a major chunk of our marketing budget on these channels. That allows us to roll the brand out globally rather than doing just local press. There will be 30 alofts by the end of the year and another 10 next year, so we are gaining momentum.
Where do you expect your guests to come from?
I think it will be the same as the other hotels in Abu Dhabi, so Europeans will represent 30 or 40%, the GCC 20 or 30%, and the rest from around the globe and the Far East. There are a lot of new hotels coming onto the market so rather than having 5% of the whole market we want 90% of a niche market that is looking for something different. So when they walk in rather than hearing Richard Clayderman in the lobby they will hear U2.
How do you decide your pricing?
We look at our own brands which are already here. We are positioning ourselves in price below our own brands, we don't want to compete with the Westins, Sheratons and Le Meridiens . So we look at 20 or 30% below, but being at the exhibition centre for big events the last room might get into the same price range as the Sheraton. In the end, it will be up to the customer and how he perceives the brand which will decide how much your customer is willing to pay for your room.
How many events take place at ADNEC?
Last year around 1.6 million people came through, and there were around 60 events and I think this year will be higher. There are also a lot of other activities taking place around the exhibitions. There are parties, staff to set up and break down around the exhibitions and people want the privilege of being on site. You want to talk down five minutes before it starts, get a coffee and get to your stand.
So if there wasn't an event on, why would someone stay there?
Because it's a hotel that's very different. In most of the hotel lobbies in town you have a lot of marble and a traditional ambience. We are trying to be different and we target the kind of customers that like something different. We do a lot of market intelligence, how they react, how they feel and I'm pretty confident that the working businessman will prefer this kind of hotel to a five star hotel and we are a lot less expensive than them. A lot of travelling managers are in their early thirties. They want internet, a hip trendy bar, good fitness and they want to have fun. They don't want slippers. We don't have traditional 24-hour room service, which would take 15 or 20 people.
What will be your peak months?
Well exhibitions, obviously, and they run outside July and August, and that period will be quiet next year because of Ramadan. Having said that, Abu Dhabi Tourism organises a summer festival, which is very helpful to our business. But as well as the ADNEC business, strategically we are well located. When Shangri-La opened nearby to us many thought it was strangely located, away from the main city area, but in the last 18 months there is a lot more economic activity going outside the city centre, and the whole development of Abu Dhabi is about creating an economic entity. Abu Dhabi wants to put its footprint in the exhibition market, but it also wants to have more business going around here - people staying or eating around here and if you look at the development of where the new residential areas are, it is expanding beyond the Corniche.