Times are tough in the hospitality sector, not least in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Middle East region as a whole. According to Hotelier Middle East, lower oil prices, instability in European markets, regional rest and currency fluctuations up to 2017 means that the demand for greater value in the domestic market – still the main customer base for the industry in the region.
The industry has also seen considerable growth, which means that businesses are starting to be more creative in their offerings. And leading the charge for ‘value for money’ and innovation is Naim Maadad, Founder and Chief Executive of Gates Hospitality. Gate’s figures show that 80% of their business throughout the year is generated by the domestic UAE market. And those customers want better value, says Maadad,
“Dubai residents and those from across the UAE do still want to go out two or three times a week, but a major factor in that is cost. Times are tougher, but what we deliver in all of our venues is a great time out of the house with fantastic food and drink at a price that represents value.
“Of course there are special occasions when people want to spend more than normal, and we have options to cater to that – but now and in the future, we must deliver what the local market wants.”
Gates Hospitality was launched in 2010 with a single restaurant – Ultra Brasserie in Emaar Square, Downtown Dubai. It has quickly become a multi brand group of culinary brands with a portfolio of eight venues in Dubai, and a ninth – Red Farm restaurant – opening in London at the end of 2017.
Gates’ most successful launch to date has been Reform Social & Grill – the hugely popular family venue in The Lakes, Emirates Living, closely followed by Ultra Brasserie and two health-orientated deli-style cafes, The Black Lion, folly by Nick and Scott, Publique, Bistro Des Arts and Via Veneto. Gates also owns Six Senses, at Zighy Bay.
Gates attributes its success to the breadth of its business, because it not only franchises a set of distinct, contextually grounded venues, it is also involved in concept generation and strategic development. Their objective, in their own words, is to ‘strategically expand reach by conceptualising, developing and operating unique, innovative and authentic restaurant concepts that fit local market needs and/or acquiring other significant brands that fit within their criteria.’
So what is Gate’s unique formula? Founder and CEO Maadad, says that the company doesn’t believe in ‘cookie cut solutions’ or a ‘one size fits all’ brand. They look at the context of each venue they develop, the customer base and demographics of an area and have a strong sustainability approach.
Says Maadad, “We tread a path which is organic, sustainable, trend-setting and futuristic. Our venues are set with a clear vision to deliver a unique culinary experience, and because we deliver, we have been able to perform at the desired levels of expectations.”
The company’s success must in large part be attributed to Maadad himself, who has applied research and vision to drive the business forward.
Maadad was Managing Director of Global for Spas and the Middle East for Resorts at Minor International Resorts & Spas from October 2008 until May 2010, representing their Anantara / Mandara & Aqualis brands.
Maadad argues that the industry needs to adopt new methods if it wants to thrive as conditions change.
- Stakeholders need to be more closely involved in their assets.
- There should be a new emphasis on aesthetic design, and not just in the boutique sector.
- Lifestyle experience of guests is trumping facilities.
- Customers need to be rewarded for their continued loyalty.
- Hospitality needs to go back to its roots and people-focused.
- There should be a new emphasis on relationships to the community, including using local produce.
- Personalisation and authenticity are more important than luxury.
- Smart technology is becoming more central to the customer experience.
- Brand identity & integrity matters.
Maadad notes that in the past five years, many businesses have sought to tell a defined story of their brand, with the people behind the brand centered as part of that story. That, he says, is what people want, along with consistency & good service.
- Companies need to use data to build their brands and businesses.
And it is perhaps this forward looking approach, which keeps an eye on key trends as well as implementing them, which accounts for Gates Hospitality’s meteoric rise. Maadad acknowledges that competition has become intense in Dunai, but “if your company can combine excellent service, creative thoughts and ideas and well-honed leadership then it will succeed.”
One example of how Gates has harnessed new trends is Folly by Nick and Scott, which opened in 2017. Located in Madinat Jumeirah and overlooking the myriad of Madinat waterways, the Burj Al Arab and Arabian Gulf beyond, it has an indoor dining area and an open, interactive kitchen, as well as outdoor bars and terraces.
Folly offers an informal take on modern fine dining, in a relaxed yet sophisticated atmosphere. It also offers themed nights, which tell an engaging story, such as the ‘Weekend Wind Down.’
Gate’s is planning to expand its global operations, starting with London and the launch of Red Farm. “Watch this space,” says Maadad.