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10 innovations spearheaded by the regional hospitality industry

Devina Divecha, March 24th, 2019

The hospitality industry needs to innovate constantly in the pursuit of keeping its guests, colleagues and owners happy - while also hitting revenue targets.


So in this feature, we take a look at a number of different initiatives in the regional hospitality and food & beverage industry that shows the resilience and innovation championed by hoteliers and restaurateurs – ranging from HR initiatives through to community engagement, and from engineering systems to investment decisions.

The list is by no means exhaustive or in any particular order – so if your hotel or restaurant is doing something innovative, reach out to Hotelier Middle East via our social media channels or email us at hotelier[at]itp[.]com.

Zabeel House by Jumeirah, The Greens Communikey

Zabeel House by Jumeirah, The Greens was keen to engage with the local community even before it opened, and a range of focus groups with residents were hosted to understand their needs. Since then the ‘Communikey’ was born.

Luke James, the hotel’s general manager, says: “The Communikey initiative was born from an idea to bring The Greens into Zabeel House. In launching the hotel, it was important to make sure that the community was on board and that it was a space that reflected what they wanted from a ‘local’ social hub. From more than 40 focus groups with neighbours, we were able to implement their ideas, from a dog-friendly café and communal lobby area to weekend markets and outdoor cinemas.

“Off the back of this, we now have more than 1,000 Communikey holders – a special key available for those living in the area offers discounts on F&B, special events, Native Club memberships and much more. It’s a way to give back to the community and say thanks for making us their go-to spot for after-work drinks, Saturday pool days and everything in between.”

Pickl champions staff empowerment and ownership

Pickl is a new burger concept in Dubai that will be open to the public at the One Tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers on April 1, 2019, with a novel approach to empowering its team members.

Its founder Stephen Flawith says that the end game for Pickl is to give back. With many franchises in the region, Flawith says it’s important to show that home-grown concepts can be funky and high-quality, while pushing the edges of creativity and innovation.

He adds: “Part of this comes down to our product, but another part comes down to our crew. We take a percentage of our profit and split it evenly among our staff, effectively making each and every one of them shareholders. Whether it be the manager or the pot washer (I started out as a pot washer myself!) they will, at the end of the year, take home a shareholder profit percentage. We wanted to put this in play so that we could give each and every one of our crew a sense of ownership behind the brand, to ensure that we could work and grow with them all over the coming years, and most importantly, reward them for the hard work and dedication they show the company each day.”

Pickl is, in essence, a burger concept with a twist for the region, says Flawith. The meats are sourced fresh to the highest standard, and pickles are made on-site. Flawith adds: “After a lot of R&D, we will make all our sauces ourselves on site. Our interiors were developed to be raw and yet have the comfort to use as a co working space, our coffee is roasted locally, and our price point means we offer a high end quality product at an affordable price.”

Capital Club Bahrain's Celebrity Chef series with a training twist

The Capital Club Bahrain took a different approach towards upping the F&B game in Bahrain while also providing Bahraini students to train alongside some of the best chefs in the world. Two years ago, the club, under the leadership of its general manager Sumeet Jhingan, started hosting renowned chefs from World’s Best Restaurants list for a few days, who would work with local students in the kitchen.

Jhingan says: “We started this initiative with three goals in mind: to create awareness and shake up the F&B market; to give back to the community by taking on young Bahraini students and training and inspiring them to be next generation leaders; and to place Bahrain on the world culinary map. The journey saw us collaborating with more than 15 chefs in the past 22 months and there is no sign of slowing down.”

The Club also works with local farmers and fisherman and was the first in Bahrain to use bio-degradable cutlery, edible straws and implement vertical farming. It is now sending students overseas for short internship programmes in association with Tamkeen.

Radisson Blu Hotel Abu Dhabi Yas Island's solar energy project

Radisson Blu Hotel Abu Dhabi Yas Island is the first hotel in the  GCC to have its water 100% heated by solar energy, reducing heating costs by AED 220,000 (US$60,000) year-to-date. 

Costs of running the entire hotel’s hot water supply have been slashed by 85%, from a compact solar installation capable of heating 45,000 litres of water a day. 

General manager Guido Bayley led the way for the Radisson Blu Hotel Abu Dhabi Yas Island to get to this stage, at a time when technology and design, as well as safety and sustainability contribute heavily towards guest satisfaction and sway decision-makers when it comes to corporate bookings.

Mohiy Sowilam, cluster director of engineering, Radisson Blu and Park Inn by Radisson hotels Yas Island Abu Dhabi, was highly commended for his work on the project at the 2018 Hotelier Middle East Awards.

Taqado's social media strategy

One of the laudable examples of great social engagement in the region can be seen through Taqado. The brand’s social media handles responds to its consumers in personal ways, going beyond corporate-speak.

Taqado COO Christian Jansson says: “Social media is an essential part of how we run our business. It enables us to speak directly to our customers every day and collate both positive and negative feedback for overall improvement of the business.” He says each network is treated as an extension of the restaurants.

Such is the power of the brand’s following, Jansson says the team frequently runs social media only promotions to highlight new initiatives, and entice customers to visit the newest locations.

Summing up, Jansson adds: “We don’t take ourselves too seriously at Taqado, we like to have fun, and we feel like our social media team hit the nail on the head when it comes to this.”

Emaar's e25 initiative

With a large number of young adults ready to enter the workspace, Emaar Properties set up e25 to “establish and manage multiple ventures that shape the future of Emaar” by engaging with and encouraging young adults under 25 to be a part of the future the company is building. A number of e25’s ideas were implemented in the hospitality division, including the Pearl Pledge and Hiya.

The Pearl Pledge aims to promote the awareness of protecting and conserving the oceans, and to strengthen the adoption of sustainable water, energy and resource management practices across all the hotels, serviced residences, restaurants and leisure attractions of Emaar Hospitality Group. Hiya is Emaar Hospitality Group’s new leadership development strategy for women which aims to help achieve gender parity at the workplace.

Another e25 project is Letswork, which jumps in the world of co-working spaces. It was the first start-up rolled out by e25, and in one year has welcomed over 3,000 entrepreneurs, freelancers and professionals to the 20 ‘pop-up’ co-working spaces in its portfolio in Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman, with many more on the way.

The first Tokyo-style Neopolitan pizza

It’s hard to say a restaurant has done a ‘first’, so when Akiba Dori, a restaurant in Dubai Design District, revealed it had the city’s first Tokyo-style Neopolitan pizzas through the ‘Tokyopolitan’ brand – people took notice. More so because its pizzaiolo, Luigi Mercogliano, was sent to Tokyo to train with Tsubasa Tamaki, who had trained with the inventor of Tokyo Neapolitan pizza, Susumu Kakinuma.

Aegis Hospitality founder Samer Hamadeh says: “I put Tokyopolitan in the Akiba Dori food hall space and  gave it its own identity (and even social media channels) because I believe that it can grow as a stand-alone concept. People who love pizza will appreciate the quality, attention and effort that goes into making our Tokyo-style Neapolitan pizzas. Besides being dramatically lighter that typical Italian pizzas, our product has no yeast, making it easy to have one on your own and not feel bad afterwards.”

He adds: “The F&B space is an exciting and dynamic one; and while you can’t own an idea, you can always execute it better than the next person. So if you get the opportunity and the market conditions are right, don’t be scared to innovate.”

Sustainability at the forefront with Fairmont Dubai

Fairmont Dubai’s engineering team, headed by its director of engineering, Satish Patil, has been spearheading a number of changes to ensure a better bottom-line for the property. Patil, who was named Hotel Engineer of the Year at the Hotelier Middle East Awards in 2017, has been part of the hotel’s team since pre-opening and has identified many opportunities to innovate.

He implemented a strategy for water collection, recycling and usage for irrigation by reconstructing the AC system in 394 guest rooms. The project saved AED 44,000 ($12,000) per month and 3,088 litres of water during the past 12 months, which was used for watering the garden and all plants in the hotel premises. Energy costs have been reduced by AED 450,000 ($122,500) in the past 12 months, compared with the  same period previous year, as the engineering team introduced an AC fine-tuning technology across all the hotel’s air-handling units, including 19 meeting rooms.

As there is a laundry unit for 400 colleagues in the colleague accommodation, all the water from dry cleaning and washing is re-directed and recycled by a filtration system, and then used for a 1,855 sq m organic vegetable garden irrigation. Water savings reflect in 1.4m litres, which equals to savings in AED 91,000 ($25,000) total per year. All hotel lights were to LED and water saver taps implemented with automatic sensors across all public area and back-of-house washrooms.

 “All these projects have contributed to reduce the carbon footprint and to bring down the energy consumption and across the hotel’s 394 guestrooms, 95 apartment units and 93 offices, resulting in annual savings of AED 5 million ($1.36m) – and all that without compromising on guest experience,” says Patil.

Blockchain wallet for Caesars Bluewaters Dubai's team members

Caesars Bluewaters Dubai is getting in on the blockchain action by rolling out a blockchain-based payment solution which will allow its staff to pay for their allowances using a digital wallet.

Lucid Pay, from Liquid-D, is the supplier that has equipped staff with a digital payment solution that allows them to use their allowances at the hotel's F&B and entertainment outlets.

The smart platform is integrated to streamline the staff allowances and discounts within the resort in an efficient, secure and effortless manner. The platform uses smart wallets and smart contracts which allows the hotel to pre-define terms and conditions to each employee's wallet, enabling frictionless transactions at outlets. Lucid Pay infrastructure integrates seamlessly into hotels' POS and PMS systems including Oracle Simphony, and Opera. Lucid Pay Wallet supports iOS and Android.

While it’s not the first hotel in Dubai to use blockchain – Atlantis the Palm uses the tech for guest payments, it seems to be the first to use the tech for its colleagues.

Trader's House ups its online ordering at Dubai World Trade Centre

Trader’s House at Dubai World Trade Centre launched its online ordering platform in response to a number of factors that were placing a stress on the business – and now is using technology to drive loyalty and more customers.

DWTC director – retail brand development, venue operations department Andrew Cullen says: “Dubai World Trade Centre hosts the biggest events and exhibitions in the region and so, on certain days, demand in our cafés increases exponentially. The decision to implement the ordering platform helps as there is an easy alternative to queuing up to pay. It is easy to access, either a QR code or using the URL. As we have a high number of one time international visitors it was important it wasn’t a downloaded app taking valuable storage space on the phone.  We have also launched with a delivery option for our local offices.

“Usage has been growing steadily since we launched in November 2018 as people become used to the idea of ordering online. We are now evaluating the potential to use the same platform, wi-q, in a smart zone during the annual Ramadan Majlis held at DWTC.”