INTERVIEW: GM, Rocco Forte Assila Hotel, Jeddah, Harry Fernandes

Rocco Forte Assila Hotel

A new addition to Jeddah’s burgeoning hospitality market, Rocco Forte Assila Hotel has expertly combined European finesse with Arabic traditions. Speaking to Aleksandra Wood about this and much more during the Arabian Travel Market 2017 was the hotel’s general manager, Harry Fernandes.

TTG: This is your brand’s first opening outside of Europe. How does this venture into Saudi Arabia impact your brand?
We have hotels in key cities in Europe, such as London, Rome and Berlin, all boasting key central locations. But we get a lot of business from this part of the world, especially during the holiday months. For instance, there are four month long holidays in Saudi. This is a gateway not only for us to increase our presence in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but the Middle East as a whole market. Normally, a brand would open its first hotel in Dubai, but as you know Dubai has many hotels. Saudi Arabia, which has the largest population in the Middle East, posed a great opportunity for us.

TTG: What are you promoting during ATM?
We are here to promote brand awareness. Even though Rocco Forte is known in Europe, in this part of the world we are not known as well. We are here to showcase the brand’s 11 hotels, all individually named. For us to be here it is important to introduce what we are bringing to the market.

IMEX Frankfurt 2020

TTG: What values does the Rocco Forte brand bring to Jeddah?
The initial feedback from customers is that this is an unusual hotel in Jeddah with a fresh approach – a very European hotel in an Arabic city. The design is a mixture of European-inspired architecture with hints of Arabia. Visitors will see that it’s a stunning building with stunning features, nothing that Jeddah already has. It is very unique, and some of the comments have been that the hotel was lifted from another destination and put in the middle of Jeddah. The hotel has about 2,000 pieces of art that have been locally sourced and are a great part of the design.

TTG: Take me through some of the facilities at your new property.
We have 310 keys in the two towers. We have the residences tower, which is for long-term stays, and the hotel tower, comprising 210 rooms and suites. The rooms are very generous in size. Since we are located in Saudi Arabia we have separate facilities for men and women.
On the 20th floor we have a swimming pool with a Lebanese restaurant. We also have an Argentinian restaurant called Pampas with an Argentinian chef, which is bringing something new to the city.
We have a spa for both men and women, with separate entrances, as well as a fitness centre. We also have a meetings floor and a grand ballroom.

TTG: What does your hotel contribute to Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Vision?
Saudi Arabia is going through a key change where it is moving away from its dependence on oil. More than 40 per cent of our staff are locals, as well as our 40 chefs in the team. Many hotels bring in expats to start up the business, but we decided to hire locals and trained them to be up-to-date with hospitality in Saudi Arabia.
We have more than 150 Saudi staff in our hotel, which itself contributes to the 2030 Vision. There are changes in the law which stipulate that within the next two years, more positions will have to be filled by locals. We are moving towards that goal and are continuously maintaining Saudisation within our company.

TTG: Are there any new markets that your company is targeting right now?
In Jeddah, 75 per cent of business comes from the GCC. All the other business is guests coming in as consultants. We have done a lot of business with the Italian consulate and also with the American Embassy.
We are also only 40km from Makkah, therefore we are anticipating a lot of Hajj and Umrah travellers to visit our hotel. It’s a mixture of business and religious travel that we are targeting.

TTG: What has performance been like since the opening?
We are still gaining momentum in the market, we are yet to be well known. I would say the performance has been encouraging – from any other part of the world I would say it was slow, but it is encouraging.
Exhibitions like the Arabian Travel Market give us a lot of opportunities to showcase our hotel. We are bringing a very unique brand of hospitality to the region that has yet to be seen.