A NEW BRAND IN DOHA

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By Lindsey Knepshield

With the arrival of General Manager Marcus Sutton is challenging traditional hotelier practices and looking forward to the future of tourism in Qatar.

Marcus Sutton, General Manager, Holiday Inn and Crown Plaza

General Manager Marcus Sutton often has to cover up his high-end suits with a neon construction vest these days, ducking under wooden beams and weaving his way through half-painted hallways as he oversees the creation of Qatar’s first Holiday Inn branch. An Australian native, Sutton has lived in the Middle East for the past nine years, working within the hotel industry in Jordan, the UAE and now Qatar. Though he is relatively new to the country, having moved here last April, his experiences have led to perceptive insights on both Qatar’s tourism industry and the industry within the greater Middle Eastern region. Other GCC countries might have suffered due to reduced oil prices and a spending-conscious population, but Sutton believes that the government’s focus on hospitality along with Qatar Airways growing international recognition has elevated Qatar’s tourism industry.

“There’s been a natural alignment of the market,” said Sutton. “And with the government opening up travel visas, it’s having a positive impact on the number of leisure travellers coming into the region.” The InterContential Hotels Group (IHG) saw an opportunity to cater to this wider array of travellers in Qatar’s underdeveloped four-star hotel market and in 2014 they broke ground on The Holiday Inn – Business Park.

A mix of the fresh and the familiar

The Holiday Inn is more playful than its Crowne Plaza neighbour just a few steps away. Bright orange accent walls and bold geometric designs, including an eye-catching spiral staircase in the lobby and several uniquely beautiful lighting features, create warm, energetic public spaces. Combatting the cliché of bland hotel art, The Holiday Inn features prints and reproductions of work done by local artists as well as bespoke Doha-inspired modern contemporary art. Within the guest rooms, the colours cool to soft blues and greys with stylish hints of hexagons on the carpet. There are six floors with 307 guest rooms and suites, which on average are more compact than those offered at Crowne Plaza. Six ofthose rooms are handicapped-accessible, with shorter beds and furniture, wider spacesfor wheelchair use, and a walk-in shower. There is an outdoor pool and lounge along with a 24-hour fitness centre. Sutton and the rest of his colleagues at the Business Center are hoping that the fresh atmosphere might tempt those looking for a more economical, less business-oriented stay in Doha.

Not to say that the Holiday Inn is unable to cater to business-minded visitors-far from it. There are seven meeting rooms within the hotel, equipped with all the latest technology. The Hub on the ground floor is a multi-function business centre where guests can catch up on emails and stay connected to their company. The Holiday Inn will also have the largest ballroom in Business Park, able to accommodate up to 850 guests with a direct entrance for cars and a connecting green room, which is fully private and could be the perfect place for a bride on her wedding day. Most of these rooms can be partitioned to form several smaller spaces if that better suits a guest’s needs. An added benefit: the facilities in Crowne Plaza are available for Holiday Inn guests as well.

Two brands; One Business Park

Sutton emphasised the interconnectivity of the two hotels in Business Park, stating that the intention is for them to function as distinct brands under the same management since they are both IHG companies and are located so close together. This has led to an untraditional managerial structure-Sutton will be General Manager for both hotels, and there will be only one Food and Beverage Manager. Housekeeping will stay based in Crowne Plaza. IHG’s desire to streamline and increase efficiency makes a communication breakdown betweenhotels less likely, and means that that staff is expected to be more dynamic. For instance, a receptionist at the Holiday Inn might come out from behind the desk to help a guest with luggage.

For larger events, say a wedding in the ballroom, management will be able to pull staff from one hotel and delegate them new responsibilities. This lessens the need for outside help, making larger events more cost-efficient for IHG and ensuring the brand’s high standards of customer service remain intact. Personnel will be expected to “switch hats” when moving between the more conservative, formal ambiance preferred in the Crowne Plaza to the easy-going conversational one of the Holiday Inn, ensuring that theatmospheres of the two hotels remain distinct from each other. A tunnel underneath the property makes the connection literal as well as figurative, enabling staff to move quickly between the two hotels.

The symbiotic relationship between the hotels will certainly benefit guests as well. The exemplary dining options in Crowne Plaza will be complemented by less formal options in Holiday Inn, such as the new sports bar featuring food by U.K. staple Stock Burger Company and Italian cuisine at Sirocco serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If a guest chooses a restaurant in the opposite hotel from his own, he will still be able to charge it to his room. Now guests can sample a wide array of food without leaving the property. By approaching the dining experience with the mindset of an independent restaurateur rather than an hotelier, Sutton believes the cuisine will be more than just “good hotel food” and will make Business Park a dining destination in its own right.This will be made even easier once the Crowne Plaza stop of the Qatar Rail is complete.

A hotel to parallel a nation

Ultimately, Sutton believes that visitors to Qatar are looking for a more authentic Middle Eastern experience than larger, fast-paced cities like Dubai might be able to provide. “Qatar is pitched as more cultural,” Sutton said, adding that the government’s investment in developing Qatar as both a leisure and sports destination could quite possibly solidify its place as a global vacation hotspot. Qatar is not unfamiliar with the international stage by any means, but 2030 vision looks ahead to a world where the country’s status is elevated. This combination of culture and ambition made Qatar an ideal fit for the Holiday Inn brand, which models itself as a hotel for rising stars.

The Holiday Inn – Business Park will be accepting reservations as of this August, and construction is expected to be complete for a soft opening in May and a grand opening in early autumn.