General Manager Interview: Kosta Kourotsidis, Fairmont Ajman
Fairmont Ajman General Manager Kosta Kourotsidis takes us on a journey to discover one of the emirate’s most luxurious beachfront properties.
What are the unique points of the hotel?
Fairmont Ajman is a 252-key luxury beachfront property with all rooms overlooking the Arabian Gulf and the first Fairmont property in the UAE, which is located in the Northern Emirates. One of the unique aspects of our resort is certainly the extensive portfolio of suites, which we’re very proud of, and which covers 30% of our entire room inventory (out of 252 rooms, there are 84 suites). All these suites are strategically located, featuring private balconies overlooking the Gulf and aimed at catering to larger families.
Since the opening in 2015, we were very fortunate to have quickly become one of the most sought-after venues for destination and local weddings alike. Our Topaz ballroom is the only pillar-less ballroom in Ajman, with an overall seating capacity of 1,200 people, overlooking the Gulf from its floor-to-ceiling windows. In addition to the ballroom, our extensive seafront Pearl Garden is another stunning wedding venue, which during winter months is often fully booked for large-scale destination weddings months in advance. Weekends with back-to-back nuptials are a no unfamiliar feat for our award-winning events and catering teams.
What are the main challenges you face in hotel management?
Ajman is often perceived as the ‘secondary’ emirate – consequently being the smallest of the seven emirates, people tend to often think that Ajman is located very far away from Dubai, which in reality is not the case. Fairmont Ajman is only a short 25-minute drive away from the Dubai International Airport, which in fact is the same distance as Palm Jumeirah, and unknown to a lot of people – Ajman has one of the most beautiful white-sandy beaches in the entire UAE. Therefore, the main challenge is to be able to change people’s perception about Ajman as a destination, and to constantly remain on top of mind – for those who haven’t yet visited us.
People from nearby Emirates who have already experienced a staycation in Ajman and keep returning, often fondly refer to us as – a hidden gem of a destination.
Since the opening, we have been also fortunate to establish ourselves across our key feeder markets such as Germany and the CIS countries, attracting a number of repeat guests year over year. Owing to the countless efforts of my team at the property, combined with the support of Accor and the Ajman Tourism Development Department, Ajman as a destination is continuing to grow, and we’re seeing great strides taking the destination to the next level.
What’s the importance of online hotel reviews and social media feedback, and how much of it do you take on board?
Our guests’ feedback is of imperial importance to us and I, along with my leadership team, take it very seriously – be it in a form of an online review posted on one of our many social media channels or received via email, via post-stay TrustYou survey, or verbally from guests.
When attending to online reviews, timing is essential – living in a social age means that guests are more connected via social media and review platforms more than ever before and responding to guest feedback in a timely manner is not only crucial, but expected by default from a five-star luxury property.
The only way we can ensure that we’re on the right track, is by receiving feedback. While feedback can be challenging, it helps us determine priority areas for improvement, in order to ensure the highest possible service standards and customer experience are delivered at all times. And as the impact of online bookings and digital feedback continues to rise, the importance of reputation management rises with it.
How do you evaluate employee performance, and keep your team motivated?
Across all Accor properties worldwide, we’re using a tool which is called Talent Connect – an online platform, enabling our Heartists and their leaders successfully monitor and evaluate employee performance, based on set goals. At the beginning of every year, all employees will set themselves smart goals in collaboration with their respective leaders, which will be then frequently assessed during one-on-one performance reviews.
It’s crucial that our leaders give frequent feedback to their team members, in order to avoid any surprises during annual performance appraisals. At the end of the year, all previously set goals will be revisited and, based on that, employee performance marked either ‘exceeds expectations’, ‘meets expectations’, or ‘is underperforming’.
Our mother company Accor has also introduced 14 competencies, which vary based on the employee level and job function. For example, one of the competencies for a housekeeping attendant would be ‘guest passion’, for which the employee then during the year-end appraisal will have to provide real-life examples, on how did they exactly perform this competency during real-life situations when on duty.
A back-of-house employee in charge of a sales team would have a competency of ‘leading a team’, for which they will then have to bring examples of their leadership skills.
All of that gets recorded on an online platform, which is accessible for human resources leaders across all Accor properties – should the employee wish to transfer within the company in the future – the management team can easily see how the employee performed in their previous role.
What systems do you have in place for resolving guest complaints?
Upon opening the hotel, Fairmont Ajman was one of the first worldwide Fairmont Hotels & Resorts property to introduce the RSM system, which was consequently the pilot project for Accor in the region.
Managers in operational departments carry devices, which enable telephone operators to send guest requests and communicate maintenance issues directly to the leaders ‘on the floor’.
This solution helps tackle guest requests immediately and gives managers an overview of pending and completed requests. There are also daily reports sent out to the entire leadership team, which are showcasing the number of resolved requests.
For example, when a guest calls from the room informing our Royal Service team (telephone operators) that the TV is not working, our team can immediately record the guest complaint via RSM online platform, and simultaneously send the RSM ticket to the relevant member of the technology team’s device, who is presently at the property and within the next few minutes able to resolve the issue.
What would you like to tell visitors about the hotels’ F&B offerings?Owing to its seven distinct food and beverage venues, Fairmont Ajman is widely regarded as one of the most diverse culinary destinations in the Northern Emirates. Two of my personal favourites are Gioia, the classic Italian restaurant with a subtle modern twist, featuring a traditional pizza oven and an interactive open kitchen experience, and Kiyi. The latter is our signature restaurant which offers an interactive family-style dining experience in a traditional Turkish setting, with a backdrop of live oud music.
For cooler evenings between October and April, I would also highly recommend our open-air Badr Lounge which offers panoramic views and breath-taking sunsets across the Gulf. Having an extensive F&B background myself, our Executive Chef Rober Salloum and I are working closely together and constantly striving towards innovating and offering new concepts for our guests.
We’re firm believers that the most important thing for any dish is how it tastes, but with the rapidly evolving social media, Instagrammable aesthetics are almost equally important: especially nowadays, when people are eating with their eyes first and often even before opening the menu, would show our waiter an image of a dish from their phone, which they would like to order. Technology has always had a strong, positive impact on the restaurant industry, and now even more than ever before.
What makes a good GM?
The phrase might sound overused, but one needs to have the passion for the job because you can’t do a 14-hour day, and still keep smiling at the guest. At the end of the day, people will realise that the smile isn’t genuine. If you don’t have passion, you simply won’t succeed. Especially in our field, where passion for what you do is everything.
As times are changing, you have to keep yourself up-to-date with the latest news and trends every day, and one of the most important ones of them is social media. It’s crucial that we’re present on these platforms which are relevant for our guests, in order to remain on top of mind and be able to directly communicate with our target audience.
What are your three favourite aspects about the property?
Firstly, our Heartists, as it’s ultimately the team who is selling the hotel, and very often also the reason why guests from overseas keep returning to the property – because of how special our colleagues have made them feel during their stay. It’s ultimately the unwavering passion and Fairmont service culture what sets us apart from the competition.
Our 200-metre natural pristine beach is very unique, I haven’t seen any other beach like that in the UAE.
Our Italian restaurant Gioia: from its open-plan kitchen with live-cooking stations to multiple flavors of homemade pasta and an extensive menu with organic ingredients – Gioia is an absolute gem in our vast selection of F&B outlets.