By: Stephan Vanden Auweele, GM, Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers, Area Manager, Dubai
As part of the Sheraton Dubai Creek 40th Anniversary celebrations, AMEinfo spoke with Stephan the oldest five-star hotel in Dubai – Stephan Vanden Auweele.
Born into a family of hoteliers in Belgium, it was only natural for Stephan to build a successful career in hospitality. After completing his hotel management studies, Stephan trained and held different operational roles; from front of house to accounting in major hotels and resorts in his home country.
Stephan is now the Area Manager for eight of the Starwood hotels in Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman.
AMEinfo: What is the original idea behind and plans for the Sheraton Dubai Creek, 40 years ago, when Dubai as a city was still a project in the making
Stephan: The Sheraton Dubai Creek was surely well ahead of its time when it opened as a flagship hotel for Dubai and Sheraton back in 1978.
It was only the second Sheraton in the Middle East and surely in the first league of international branded hotels in the world. The hotel was unique in design, interior and offering and was really trend setting on how hospitality was being conducted in this part of the world.
AMEinfo: How have things changed in terms of design, service, technology, pricing, needs/expectations of business and leisure hotel occupants?
Stephan: Surely travel has become more important globally than it used to be in the 70s. The development of Dubai, the airlines and especially Emirates, and international travelling surely have changed the landscape and expectations of customers when they are away from home. Today’s customers are surely more spoiled with choice then they used to be back when we opened. Also there is more diversity as to the offering, tailoring hotels to the needs of different preferences, designs and surely location within Dubai. Whereas Dubai was mainly located around the creek until the middle of 2000, today customers have a choice of being on the beach, the palm, downtown or the old Dubai like the Creek, in Bur Dubai or Deira.
The choice of different brands, colors, and prices has also expanded. Customer are surely more outspoken through social media on how they perceive hotels which is surely putting pressure on hotels to make sure all customers are satisfied.
AMEinfo: What are Starwood hotels’ strategies in terms of:
1- Price/service quality
3 – Technology
4 – Expansion
Stephan: Being the largest hotel operator in the world we are offering more than 30 brands for investors or customers to choose from. Each brand is tailoring to a target public and needs to deliver what their customers want. For example, an aloft customer has different expectation/preferences then a St Regis/Ritz Carlton customer or a W customer.
Our brands are able to co-operate in the same destination targeting a very different customer base but sharing organizational resources and loyalty programs.
The same customer might have different brand preferences depending on the nature of his visit i.e. a business meeting or a one night stay to connect flights have different objectives than a romantic weekend with your partner or a family holiday.
Being able to offer all options in terms of brand, location and price point within one destination is surely a major benefit our company can offer.
Technology is surely a common expectation across all brands but especially with the brands focusing on the modern traveller. As we are offering a wide choice of brands to both consumers and investors, we surely have one of the largest pipelines in the world for expansion. Our loyalty program has now over 100 million members which is a major asset to drive business to our hotels. We are looking to the future with a lot of optimism.