UAE, UAE, ABU DHABI - Tourism
General Manager, Zaya Nurai Island
Adib Moukheiber is the General Manager of Zaya Nurai Island. Before assuming his current position, he was director of sales for the Middle East & GCC for the Hotel President Wilson in Geneva.
The response at Zaya was quick and our number-one priority was safety; therefore, we quickly explained to guests that there would be no elevator or access to common areas. We also talked directly to our partners about chemicals that could destroy the virus and were the first company to bring in machines to fumigate our accomodation. We informed all of our guests that we are safe, as that is what people were afraid of at first since we did not know a lot about the virus. Being away from the city it became a harbor where people felt independent and a place people could escape the city. We had many long-term residents who came to stay for one or two months. We regularly tested our staff and our ad-vantage is that most of our staff live on the island, which minimized the chance for contamination. We had to adapt to work without international travelers or any international partners as all of our contracts were suspended and the airport was shut down. We directly moved to the local market for long-term stays. We targeted the local market via our social media with stories explaining why Nurai is safe and the procedures that we had implemented. For example, before they come the boat is washed and when they leave they can see the captain spraying the boat again. There were many operational changes as all restaurants were closed and replaced with room service. Operationally, we had to bring all the menus from all the restaurants to maintain a diversity of choice to the villas and we have implemented QR codes in the villas, whereby a guest can order directly from their phone. This was done via the cloud through a web-based solution. We made a lot of changes to compensate the revenue as the spa and water-park are closed so we had to implement different options that would still provide a good experience for guests. We had to think quickly because we did not want to lose our business, jobs, or team members. We never stopped paying 100% salaries and have not laid off any staff. We even recruited people who lost their jobs at other hotels. Adaptation was the key and also being proactive with a clear and precise message that our guests were in an independent and safe location.
The government wanted to put out the message, especially for the Emirati and expat residents, that the country was going to be safe. When the airport was shut and the country was closed the best thing to do was testing and the UAE was number one in the world in terms of per-capita testing. The challenge for bigger countries such as the US and Europe was not having the capability to test as much as we were able to here. The government provided facilities such as drive-through testing to keep things moving in the country, as when you are tested you feel safer. Later on, the Department of Tourism provided free testing for our staff. There is now a new program being implemented by the city called Go Safe, which is a comprehensive checklist that we are applying. The authorities are also doing a lot of inspections, and when we get the Go Safe badge this will be good for our international clients, who will come back again in large numbers.
By nature, I am optimistic and I think the world is moving faster since the virus. Therefore, I am optimistic that the global economy can recovery quickly and I believe a vaccine will come faster than expected, which will mean that people will begin to feel safe again. The biggest impact will be on business travel as people will only travel when they need to and we are now able to do meetings virtually. There will always be leisure demand, although people may look for more remote destinations. With that in mind, we are also making sure to disinfect our bicycles so people can enjoy the open spaces. The UAE should also bring more attention to desert adventures and remote vacation concepts such as glamping. People will not want big conferences, but I believe meetings in the future will be highly targeted so we need to keep pushing outdoor activities. Social interaction does need to come back, so we are looking at ways to best accommodate guests who have tested negative. The biggest negative of the virus is that people are afraid of people, and this is the worst thing that can happen for our industry. A vaccine and fast testing will get people back together and the travel industry is the number-one social booster, so it is our job to gain the confidence of others.
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