QUALITY DRIVEN

Abu Dhabi 2019 | CULTURE & TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Olivier Thomas, General Manager of Four Seasons Hotel, on setting up in Abu Dhabi, the company's strategy to attract tourists, and the MICE sector.

Olivier Thomas
BIOGRAPHY
Olivier Thomas joined the team at Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi at Al Maryah Island as General Manager in 2017. A hospitality veteran of more than 20 years, Thomas was previously at Four Seasons Hotel Casablanca in the same position from 2014 to 2017. Prior to that, he served at the company’s properties in Amman and Prague.

Why did the Four Seasons Group choose Al Maryah Island as its first Abu Dhabi location?

Even prior to choosing Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi was clearly an important market we wanted to enter. We opted to open a hotel with Mubadala, which owns the property and the entire island, following our usual business model in which we act as operator. It is important for us to partner with the right players, and both financially and strategically Mubadala is a great partner for us in Abu Dhabi. It fully embraces our values of believing in people, quality, and brand, and shares the vision of hotels being excellent investments in the long term. Al Maryah is an exclusive, central area within Abu Dhabi slightly away from the competition, with strong potential for future development given its modern and contemporary location. Being surrounded by many important businesses that contribute in different ways, whether in hospitality, food and beverage, or catering, this property represents a great opportunity. There is more to come, and we look forward to the opening of Al Maryah Central Mall in 2019.

What is the Four Seasons' strategy in Abu Dhabi regarding tourists from Asia?

The opening of the Louvre is a huge opportunity for us and the city and a great way to differentiate Abu Dhabi from its regional neighbors. We should continue to build upon our image as an artistic and cultural hub in the region. We feel particularly privileged to be physically close to the Louvre and are working toward offering a boat shuttle service to the museum, which will add to the other channels of cooperation we have established so far. This relationship brings opportunities not only to tap into the corporate sector or group segment that populates the hotels during the weekdays, but also to increase and diversify our clientele, especially on weekends. With regard to the growth of tourism coming from Asia, particularly from China, many of them come to this part of the world, whether to the UAE as a final destination or as a stopover. Our group is present in China with many hotels, and we have world sales offices in various Chinese cities. One of our goals for this year is to hire employees who speak fluent Mandarin and understand the culture of our guests. I personally did this in my previous hotel in Casablanca, and it worked extremely well. The Tourism Board and all the tourism authorities should realize the importance of building all sorts of connections with China, including opening more direct airline routes or having more Chinese staff in the tourism sector. There is an erroneous assumption that the Chinese market is a mass one that does not spend large sums of money, but it is a mix, just like any other. Abu Dhabi should always be quality driven and not simply attract the masses.

How do you see this developing within the MICE sub-sector?

From a political and even business standpoint, Abu Dhabi should not feel shy in front of anyone. It is a dynamic city where many companies have chosen to be located. In Al Maryah, there are many business deals, commercial exchanges, and professional networks being made at the highest levels, which need to continue. When it comes to tourism, we need to be able to tap into all these segments without losing our identity. Abu Dhabi is the right place for a slightly more elite traveler, whether for business or entertainment. We are also the right location for families in general. There is always the temptation to do everything, which one must resist. Abu Dhabi has an exotic element, with beautiful beaches, though we should not turn this into a product for the masses where it ends up losing its charm. Luxury is defined by space and time, both of which people need.