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Interview: Palazzo Versace Dubai MD Monther Darwish on fostering a loyal clientele

Focusing on the local market has been the wisest initiative, says Darwish

After growing a portfolio of businesses – from interior design to real estate – moving into hospitality seemed a natural step for Monther Darwish, managing director of Palazzo Versace Dubai and founder of Palazzo Hospitality. Having steered the property through the challenges of the past 18 months, Darwish is as focused and passionate as ever about design and service, and under his leadership, the brand has grown.

Connecting Travel: What makes you a good hotelier?
Monther Darwish: I’ve always been a Jack of all trades and I believe this helped me a lot. Knowing a bit of everything – finance, housekeeping, purchasing – definitely played a part in me understanding more of this business. It takes a lot of other things to really be good in this industry, however, it’s important to be a “people person”. Having strong social intelligence is mandatory as well, as this sector is so dependent on managing people.

The hotel's opulent lobbyThe hotel’s opulent lobby

CT: What are the USPs of your property?
MD:
Besides the fact that Palazzo Versace Dubai is a fashion-branded hotel, I strongly believe that its main USP is the team – from the service they provide to our guests to the way they understand how important they are in the chain of business. Individual empowerment is strongly encouraged at Palazzo Versace Dubai, where each team member acts as an ambassador of the brand.

CT: How do you attract and maintain good staff?
MD: We promote an employee-focused culture and this is reflected in their overall performance. Continuous on-the-job training and career opportunities are part of the recruitment packages. There are challenges as well, but if the work environment is trustworthy and stable, people will never go; they’ll always grow.

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CT: What strategies have you implemented in order to increase occupancy and revenue?
MD: One segment that we kept focusing on the last two years were the staycation packages, tailored to demographics. Focusing on the local market has been the wisest initiative and we worked on different campaigns, new F&B offerings and wellness packages to increase occupancy.

We also expanded our e-distribution footprint to bring onboard various marketplaces and affiliates

Palazzo Versace Dubai was also the first hotel in the region to partner with a BNPL [Buy Now Pay Later] service to offer stays in four interest-free instalments. For the international markets, we introduced an exciting partnership with LUX* Hotels and Resorts in the Maldives, capitalising on destinations that were open to tourists, and allowing travellers to enjoy the world’s most iconic branded resorts within one booking.

Palazzo Versace guest roomPalazzo Versace guest room

CT: What are your key source markets?
MD:
 The UAE remains the biggest source market, along with the other GCC countries. In 2021, so far, 60% of our guests come from the GCC. But we have also witnessed good pick-up from the UK, India, Russia and the US.

CT: How do you attract and cater to guests from the GCC?
MD:
 Previously, Palazzo Versace Dubai introduced a “Stay with us, Travel on Us” package, giving GCC guests resort credit on dining and spa worth the value of their return flight tickets when they booked a minimum of seven nights. It worked exceptionally well for Qatar and Kuwait, and we’re now looking forward to welcoming travellers from Oman and Saudi Arabia back to the property.

CT: What steps should hoteliers take to drive Covid-19 recovery?
MD:
The most important step is to be able to adapt to any situation in real-time. Being creative and innovative and bringing together a team of experts can turn things around pretty quickly. The biggest asset of a company is its people, hence I rely a lot on my team’s ideas and the opportunities they bring up to increase the revenue.

The property's pool areaThe property’s pool area

CT: How is the hospitality sector currently performing?
MD:
Giving the actual restrictions on travelling and on other revenue pillars for the hospitality businesses – F&B, corporate events, weddings – the figures are not bad. Everything we did at Palazzo Versace Dubai during the lockdown and during those months of uncertainty – from enhancing the sanitation protocols to purchasing high-end technology for disinfection – built the travellers’ trust in our brand and an amazing community of returning guests. Times could have been better, however, we’re happy where we are at Palazzo Versace Dubai, with a very promising end of the year lined up and a rocking beginning to 2022.

For more information, visit www.palazzoversace.ae

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