Friday 21 June 2024

The entrance of the resort (top), Marco Den Ouden (centre), and
Majlis Al Fajiri lobby

Bahrain must focus on experiential tourism, says resort GM

, March 30, 2023

By Sree Bhat
The new Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa, which opened just three months back on Bahrain’s west coast, is already making waves in the regional and international markets.
The resort, resting on pristine beaches, delivers a secluded oasis away from the hustle of the city. No wonder it has become a destination of choice for celebrities and opulent celebrations including high-end weddings.
The resort has received a positive response from the market, says Marco Den Ouden, General Manager of Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa, in an interview with TradeArabia’s Sree Bhat.
“I think it's based on the fact that we have a unique configuration and we are one of the few destination resorts in Bahrain. There is an untapped demand in the market,” he says.
Ouden, who is a seasoned hotelier, hails from the Netherlands and had worked for the Capella Hotel Group prior to coming to Bahrain eight months before the launch of the resort. He is not the typical hotel executive and surprises you with his informality, bringing in a breath of fresh air to Bahrain’s hospitality industry.
Ouden advocates that Bahrain must create more diverse offerings and tap into more experiential components to reach the next level in tourism. The kingdom needs to focus on its heritage/cultural aspects, treat tourists to some of the ancient crafts for which Bahrain is well known and also showcase the hidden assets of the country, he says. 
The stunning resort offers 196 modern and spacious rooms and suites and an exclusive 11-bedroom Gulf Summer House, located directly at the beach.
Flowing waters and ripples of the Arabian Gulf form the design inspiration for the resort. Rich blue tones and iridescent mother of pearl colours add authenticity to the hotel, reflecting the island’s heritage.
“During Covid, the staycations and short vacations market became activated and that demand continues. With the property offering seven pools, a kids club, a massive spa, and eight restaurants and F&B outlets, we have an opportunity to keep people entertained,” says Ouden. 
Excerpts from the interview:
How are the rooms filling up? 
We are definitely busy during weekends and demand is growing during weekdays too. Obviously, demand depends on the season. The Ramadan period will be a bit slow but soon after we will get busy again.
We want to attract more international travel to Bahrain. There's a lot of stories and culture here that is not known to the outside world. I think there's an opportunity for us to showcase that more.
Why do you think guests should stay in this hotel? 
I think many people have a very strong sense of business and when they walk into hotel lobbies they give an impression that they are there to do business. However, at our resort, because of our location and the configuration of the property, that sense of business immediately disappears when they enter the lobby.  We offer that unique sense of leisure. 
Even in business, sometimes people want to have a quieter environment or more natural setting to meet up clients, for ideation or important meetings. That's what we have as a point of difference here.
Our public areas give guests ample opportunities to tap into their different interests and activities. Basically our aim is to tell stories, provide the right space to share content and create new memories. The beautifully-designed Majlis Al Fijri lobby pays homage to local fishermen’s songs, telling the story of Bahrain. 
We have different concepts for every restaurant where identities are created not just through interiors but also in the talent of the chefs. 
For people who want to spend time during the day we have a beautiful spa.  A lot of people come here to enjoy the views too. We have uninterrupted ocean views, a very good beach, a safe swimming lagoon and clear water. 
We are also an ideal destination for weddings too. We have already hosted many lavish Indian destination weddings and many are to follow.
What are the main source markets you are targeting?
I don't want to focus on nationality, but we are focused on family travel. We have a kids club and a lot of activities for the family on the property. The rooms can be interconnected if needed. Privacy is another aspect of our offering for guests. In our spa, for example, we have an area for women only. We have separate facilities in the restaurant, catering to individualised needs. Personalisation and privacy are important for our guests.
How would you define the culture of your hotel?
I always want to offer intuitive services; I don't want my team to be overwhelming the guests with 10 questions if they can solve a problem with just one. Less is more, sometimes. I think understanding of the guests’ needs is key. Guests sometimes come here to celebrate and want to be left alone. So, we need to be basically helping create a conducive atmosphere and be empathic.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing the industry? 
I wouldn't call them challenges. I think in any business, there is always a next level and to achieve that next level in Bahrain, it's important that we create more diverse tourism offerings. We need to tap into more experiential components, share some cultural aspects, some craftsmanship and also showcase the deeper hidden assets of the country. 
On the other side, we need to elevate the sense of pride for people to work in this industry. We, at Jumeirah, have a strong focus on Bahraini workforce.  But in the industry as a whole, the local workforce still sits between 8% and 12%. 
We need to ask ourselves what can we do to attract top talent to this industry? How can we actually make people feel proud and excited to be part of this sector? That is something we're working on not only internally, but also in collaboration with educational institutions and with ministries.
Post pandemic, the hospital industry is facing a skills shortage. How are you coping with this?
I think we need to cast the net wider, within and outside the industry. Sometimes it means we need to re-educate or embrace people with different backgrounds and understand how we can help them get familiar with our industry. 
At the same time, when we look at true hospitality, there's only one simple criterion --  is it in your genes? Do you really feel hospitality in and out? However, sometimes when we take an industry perspective, we make it very complicated. I think we should stop doing that and learn from other industries; pull people in from other sectors and embrace the different dimensions they bring to our realm or scope of work.
Why do you think hospitality is a good career choice for Bahraini jobseekers? 
There are many new hospitality projects in the pipeline in Bahrain and tourism is an anchor point for the economy, for the future. There's a lot of opportunity for people to grow in this industry with the increasing footprint and the strong strategic endorsement. 
Also, I tell my team that it's not only about the country where you work, hospitality has international dynamics. People can begin in one country and move to other countries. If you do well in Bahrain, you'll have a good opportunity to move to a more international environment. At Jumeirah, we provide cross exposure across other group properties.
What are the most important trends post-pandemic in hospitality? 
One is personalisation of diets and the understanding of nutrition and the impact of diet on your health. This trend is not going to go away. 
Another is remote working. We've become more confident to have a dynamic work environment. That also brings people to resorts like ours and still makes them feel confident that they can do their zoom calls or their meetings with people anywhere in the world. It makes the work environment versus leisure environment more blurry. 
Also, people are ready to spend more based on a real understanding of their needs and what they enjoy. People want to spend more on travel and dining out. 
How will this resort hotel help shape Bahrain's tourism? 
There are many properties catering to business travel in Bahrain. We are one of the first few resorts and destinations. We aim to attract tourists and showcase Bahrain from a different perspective, tapping into its cultural richness. We have horse riding here, pottery classes, pearl diving shows and traditional arts and crafts classes. We will continue evolving our offerings, using the enormous creative talent in the country. We want to be aggregators of what people don't find in mainstream shopping malls or places that are more internationalised. -TradeArabia News Service


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