Breaking Travel News here talks to Elie Farhat, general manager, Telal Resort Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, about his resort’s inspirational approach to the challenges set by Covid-19, and his upbeat prognosis for the future.
Breaking Travel News: What operational changes have you implemented at Telal Resort Al Ain in order to continue operating through the pandemic?
Elie Farhat: We have implemented various things to ensure the safety of our guests and colleagues.
During the early stages of Covid-19 last year, we took the decision to close the resort for 15 days in order to perform a thorough cleaning, sanitisation and disinfection of the entire resort and its surroundings.
We also took this time to train our team members on how to handle and care for our guests while protecting themselves.
We always ensure to follow the government standards and protocol on Covid-19, including the installation of sanitisation tunnels in both our colleague entrance and guests’ entrance, checking temperatures, using of disposable masks and gloves, and maintaining social distance of at least two metres.
Last October, we became Go Safe certified – this is a programme endorsed by the Abu Dhabi Government, which testifies to the implementation of cleanliness and hygiene standards designed to minimize the spread of Covid-19 in tourist premises.
Up until now, we are providing free sanitisation kits to all guest rooms, minimizing any paper collateral inside the room.
We are also allowing guests to park their cars on their own or even close to their villas, to make them more comfortable and feel safer.
For the restaurants, we still do not serve buffets and the tables are arrange with two metres distance – we keep up to date with the government rules and regulations and ensure to adhere to it.
I am also pleased to say that majority of our team members have been vaccinated and for those not, they are taking a PCR test every two weeks to guarantee and maintain a Covid-free environment.
Breaking Travel News: What has been your approach to tackling the global travel restrictions, in particular the constantly shifting travel corridors?
ER: The current global travel restrictions, especially the constant changes have been challenging, up until now.
However, we are one of the fortunate resorts that somehow benefited from the local market.
Given our remote yet accessible destination, being close to nature, and accommodations which are socially distance by default, combined with the winter in UAE – our local business compensate for the loss of international travellers.
Breaking Travel News: Why is collaboration across the global travel industry essential to navigating the post-pandemic landscape?
ER: It is essential to show our support to each other and build camaraderie.
Moreover, it is also important so when the right time comes, when global travelling becomes a norm again, the consumer will be aware of the property, the destination and what it can offer, and these things can happen through our continuous collaborations across the industry globally.
BTN: Describe the lockdown experience at the resort.
EF: The lockdown experience was really tough, no one was prepared for that.
The resort was almost empty for a month or two due to the lockdown, but we started picking up slowly.
We started seeing bookings on weekends, mainly coming from Abu Dhabi since there is a border restriction between Abu Dhabi and other Emirates.
By July last year we were seeing strong pick up, and from August until December we were in full swing.
Our strategy was to focus on ADR, and it plays well.
There’s limited volume, however people who cannot travel abroad are willing to pay extra to get a private pool and for a change of scenery.
We decided to focus on quality business rather than quantity and our ADR in 2020 was stronger than 2019, which is very interesting.
On the other note, the food and beverage, and events is still not back to its normal business, mainly due to the event restrictions that are still in place.
BTN: What trends in travel and tourism do you see emerging in the aftermath of the crisis?
EF: I think in this new normal, travellers will be more conscious in choosing their travel destinations and hotels they stay in.
They will be willing to pay more for safety and exclusivity, this is what I am seeing in Telal Resort for the past six months.
Our occupancy is less but our ADR is actually higher compared to pre-Covid times.
I also see the trend towards remote places, accommodation with private pools, wellness, nature, cultural experience, and adventure tourism.
As for dining experience, I feel that private arrangements and al fresco dining will continue, and people will also be more health conscious in term of their food choices.
BTN: Have you had any positive changes in your own outlook in reaction to the crisis?
EF: While this crisis brought so many challenges and uncertainty within our industry, I personally think that this experience helps me to be more resilient.
As the general manager of Telal Resort, I am responsible for the safety and wellbeing of my team and our guests, it was a tough time but with the support of our external and internal stakeholders, each of every team members, and guests who trusted us, we were able to make the best of the situation.
While 2020 has been tough for most of us, we are fortunate that our business has bounced back earlier than expected, and that is all because of the passion and hard work of each and every team members of Telal Resort Al Ain.
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