Returning to Abu Dhabi for his third stint in the hotel industry here, Francesco Borrello is optimistic that the UAE capital is well positioned to play…
Returning to Abu Dhabi for his third stint in the hotel industry here, Francesco Borrello is optimistic that the UAE capital is well positioned to play a major role in further developing commerce and tourism sectors as the city’s infrastructure continues a rapid pace of development.
Newly appointed as general manager of the Abu Dhabi Grand hotel, recently taken under management contract by Le Meridien, he is overseeing a major expansion and refurbishment project there – following which the property will be relaunched as Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi next year.
And, having first worked in the emirate in 1983, he is confident that 21st century Abu Dhabi is set to establish a name on the world stage as a global city of renown.
The city progresses all the time and there has been unbelievable development since I left the last time in 1999, Borrello said. In terms of architecture, it has become a mini-Manhattan on the Gulf with stunning glass and steel towers contrasting vividly with the blue sea and silver sands of the breakwater.
Even more noteworthy, he said, is the green environment that would be an amazing sight anywhere, but particularly in Arabia: From the airport to the corniche, there are thousands of palm trees and flora, and projects such as the new gardens being developed on the Corniche make Abu Dhabi a model city and an oasis in this region.
Complementing the environment, Borrello noted the expansion of the hotel industry in the emirate, which has been accompanied and propelled by new properties coming in to the market.
The service offering here has totally changed in the past few years, increasing in variety and substance, and both business and leisure travellers can now be certain that their requirements will be met here in terms of hotel and restaurant facilities.
Naturally, Borrello is keen that his hotel should take top ranking in this sector, but is equally enthusiastic about competition from his neighbours in the city: It creates healthy marketplace if you have a number of different hotels offering quality services and facilities to attract guests, he said.
All hotels will promote Abu Dhabi as a destination in one way or another, and this is as important as competition between individual hotels for business in the city.
Faced with the ebullient growth of the neighbouring Dubai emirate, Abu Dhabi has been less flamboyant in its promotion but Borrello recognises the paced but sure approach as one that is entirely suited to the needs of the capital.
It’s no secret that other destinations in the region have gone out and promoted themselves on the international stage before they were really ready to compete on an international scale – here the growth is studied in terms of airport development, road construction and landscaping, and now hotels, conference centres, malls and parks.
On the business front, Borrello has already witnessed the new mood of confidence in the UAE capital, with his hotel running 100 per cent occupancy during the recent ADIPEC exhibition.
As a government and diplomatic centre, there has always been pockets of good business here, but now we are seeing more commercial opportunities being created and a lengthening of the season from September to May, he said. Another thing is the increase in GCC traffic as our neighbours take note of the commercial scope of Abu Dhabi, as well the growth of leisure attractions here.
While emphasising that mass tourism is not an option for Abu Dhabi, Borrello is equally sure about the quality of the product for overseas and regional holidaymakers.
We have an elite city here – one that is top in terms of quality service and facilities and that will appeal to select audiences who appreciate its unique environment.
Among potential sectors, he highlights the ‘silver’ generation in Europe, retirees who have time to travel and the money to go farther afield in search of the new.
The mild winter climate, long clean beaches and green corniches, range of restaurant and entertainment options, the safe environment, plus the cultural offerings of Abu Dhabi are major selling points here, and ones we should all be emphasising in our sales drive overseas, stressed Borrello.
However, while leisure could be an important business segment in future, he acknowledges that executive travel is bread and butter for most hotels in the city, and here his task is to become the best of the best.
The requirements of the business traveller are growing all the time, for bigger rooms with office space, the latest IT, 24 hour service, pool and leisure facilities – and as a result the five-star market in Abu Dhabi is evolving in to a quality product that can meet all expectations.
For me, the new opportunity to transform the Abu Dhabi Grand in to a luxury product with state-of-the-art facilities and immaculate service comes just at the right time – Le Royal Meridien branding will establish us as a landmark hospitality provider in the city, and as the business travellers’ choice.
Already, the hotel has more than doubled average room rate and Borrello has set targets to consistently boost annual occupancy and revenues, justified by the evolution of the hotel’s intrinsic product.
Our location is superb, in the heart of the city but with sea-views on the Corniche facing the breakwater, and combined with large rooms, a varied menu of restaurants and bars, plus the additions to come, which will include new rooms, restaurants, pool, ballroom and lobby – this is the hotel to watch for the future, he said.
With a history of delivering what he promises, Borrello most recently revived the fortunes of Le Royal Meridien Bahrain, where he was responsible for a major overhaul of the hotel’s systems, operations and procedures that resulted in a significant increase in market share.
Italian-born Borrello, who is fluent in English, Italian and French, graduated from university in England before gaining an MBA from Washington International University, and has since worked in the hotel industry in the Far East, Europe and the Middle East.
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