Hi Kyra, thank you for taking the time to speak to me. Like we discussed, this Interview is going to be about discussing how we can all collaborate and to make sure that we understand how every organization is moving forward within this pandemic crisis and what kind of procedure they put in place. Could you introduce yourself?
Thank you! Thank you for having me. I’m Kyra Bommelje and I work for JA Resorts & Hotels in Dubai. I am the Cluster Director for Food and Beverage for three hotels within JA Resorts, located in Jebel Ali in Dubai. We have three hotels and 25 restaurants and bars overall in the resorts.
Great, thank you for introducing yourself.
Can you explain to us how JA Resorts has been managing the crisis and what kind of an impact it had on your organization?
I think it came a little bit of a shock in the beginning and everybody thought that it was going to be alright but then everybody started to realize that the situation was getting more serious.
The first thing what we have done is to really encourage as many team members as possible to go on a (paid) holiday. It was like: “Listen, before anyone would decide to have a lockdown, make sure you get home to your family”. Obviously, we rather have them to be comfortable in this situation.
Not long after that, we unfortunately had to make the decision to close a few of our hotels on a temporary basis, because there was no demand anymore. That was intense, because our properties are very much leisure based and our market is mainly overseas. We host a lot of Europeans, specially a lot of British & Germans and of course a little bit of the G.C.C. market.
But now there is no international travel whatsoever. So yes, we have been highly affected by COVID-19. What we are trying to do is to stay positive and try to manage whatever is possible. We still have a couple of guests here, people who could not go home or people who didn’t want to go home, so we try to make their stay as pleasant as possible. As for now we are lucky to be busy because we have a lot of guests with pending holidays so they are all enjoying their vacation right now, which possible might get extended a little bit longer depending how long the airports will be closed, but we will try to make each guest stay as comfortable as possible.
That’s great to hear that your team is still busy taking care of clients. What are you doing right now to prepare yourself when the airports are opening again to let tourists into the country?
Well I mean, we are brainstorming a lot obviously to be ready, as I said we are very optimistic that there will be a time that things get better. That’s one of the reasons why we decided to keep at least one hotel open. As soon as the government says that tourism is allowed back again and you can receive a little bit more people, than we will be ready!
We have been maintaining all the areas to make sure for that when the guests come back, everything will be perfect. Our pools are clean, we have done maintenance (painting, electricity, etc.)
As soon as that announcement is on, we are ready to welcome people. And for the rest we are thinking ahead ‘How to do things differently in the future’. How to make sure the safety of your guests and your associates are always guaranteed. But also investigate maybe new ways of doing things, become more efficient, more productive. Because Dubai is always been a very luxurious place, where there were different people for every single job, and we do need to look at doing things practical in the future.
That makes sense, and great to hear that you already prepared yourself the hotel for when guests can come back. Did you already come up with a plan how you will handle the new 6-foot distance regulations
We are lucky to have a lot of space overall in the resort. What we are doing in the restaurants is that from all the covers we have, we will take one table out in each section to create space between the tables. This is how we can really keep social distancing between the guests. Some of the outlets have removed some furniture already and something that we are really considering is rather than having a bar were everybody is standing close to each other we just place a certain number of chairs at the bar for people to sit on. In that way you can maintain the distance as well.
Other than that, the team is being trained to keep their distance when they take the order. They will have to speak a little bit louder to make sure that everybody understands each other, and the same goes for room service.
Room service is really encouraged. For example, previously a breakfast was only meant to be eaten in the restaurant, but obviously a breakfast restaurant can be very crowded. So, we now allow people to order room service for breakfast as well. In that way we can spread the volumes better.
What is your golden reopening tip for anybody out there? Do you have a golden rule that others should follow for the next couple months when everything opens again?
I think the main thing is that now is the time to change your mindset. We are all together in this, no idea is of the table. You really must look at this with an open mind like you started a completely new business.
Every single thing that you might have thought of in the beginning or like a year ago and where you thought “no that is a crazy idea”, could now actually work in this new situation. All the ideas should be revised, opening times, different systems for restaurant communications & reservations, communication tools for the rest of the hotel, it could be different frequency of services. There are so many things we can do differently, but we are always stuck on a certain point. We always have done things in a particular way, because that was how it worked, but now everything has changed, and no idea is of the table at this moment. We are having brainstorm sessions every week to see how we can combine positions or what kind of different promotions we can do.
I think now is the time maybe to consider restaurant revenue management as we obviously always played around with pricing on the rooms but never with food & beverage.
Is there any concept in the market that inspires you? Something you have seen anywhere in the world of which you think ‘”that’s something what I really want to have in the future that actually benefits my clients, the staff or anything else”?
I like specific concepts out there, for example yesterday I was speaking to one of my friends who ordered a ‘Cook Like a Chef” parcel. Cook like a Chef delivers menus from famous restaurants, which you can cook easily by yourself. In this case it was a menu from Jonny Boer, The Librije a Michelin restaurant in the Netherlands.
I would also love to explore ways to combine specific services. For example, for in room dining, I don’t want to use a separate kitchen for every restaurant I have, but to combine some of them.
Great to hear, that you are already thinking outside of the box. That is exactly why we are conducting these interviews, to make sure that we can share our ideas and thoughts to other hospitality professionals, because it is about sharing and coming together as a community. Do you have anybody in the hospitality world that you would recommend for the same type of interview?
Yes, I like to nominate Marvin Colo, he is the General manager/Restaurant Manager for the Ritz Carlton. He has fantastic ideas about different kind things.
Great. Thank you so much for your time.