City InsiderInterviewAbu Dhabi

City Insider: Matthew Mullan, General Manager, Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island

We catch up with the General Manager of Abu Dhabi’s latest five-star opening to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry and what guests can expect from a stay at Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island.

What can guests expect from a stay at the new Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island?

Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island offers guests breathtaking views of the Yas Bay Waterfront, a vibrant destination on the southern end of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island. It provides immediate access to the waterfront’s retail and food and beverage outlets, along with world-class entertainment and nightlife experiences. The hotel features 545 guest rooms and offers a wide range of facilities, including signature dining and cafes, a fully equipped Kid’s Club, a Beach Club, a stunning temperature controlled outdoor pool, a spa and fitness centre, and a multi-purpose conference centre. 

Please tell us about the style of your hotel and what inspired it?

Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island boasts a unique contemporary resort style, inspired by the ocean and the alluring marina. A soothing, tranquil palette of neutral colours and natural textured materials, alongside stunning views of the marina, pool, and sea vistas, welcomes guests from the moment of arrival. The calming neutral hues are extended to our guestrooms, creating a relaxed yet contemporary environment. Each room presents a spectacular view and remains versatile, seeking to maximise the spatial experience.

Based on a Play & Stay concept, the hotel features dynamic ‘inside and outside’ spaces, and we encourage our guests to experience the multi-functional and transformative spaces the property offers. Essentially, we aim for the hotel to be an extension of our guests’ own home and living space. 

Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island

The hotel features 545 rooms, a beach club, spa and numerous restaurants. What sets the hotel apart from its competitors in the city?

Aside from the various F&B outlets, extensive conference and event facilities cater for everything from small meetings to banquets, weddings and international conferences, with a separate entrance for guests arriving at the ballrooms or meeting rooms. The facilities include two ballrooms and 12 multi-functional spaces. Moreover, the property is conveniently positioned 9km from Abu Dhabi Airport, 32km from Downtown Abu Dhabi, and one hour from Dubai. Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island is also the first of three new Hilton properties, developed by Miral, to open on Yas Island.

Our location is in close proximity to all that Yas Island has to offer and we can provide Family Rooms and Suites with over 250 connecting rooms and 14 two-bedroom suites, ideal for family stays.

Can you please talk us through the various F&B concepts that the hotel offers and what diners can expect from them?

The resort offers a host of restaurant concepts that cater to all guests, whether it may be a daytime brunch, poolside snack or a relaxed evening dinner. At the casual dining concept Graphos Social Kitchen, guests can expect homely classic dishes while seated near one of the many open kitchens, with views of the shimmering pool. Capila – Pool Bar & Grill allows guests to unwind and relax poolside with chilled drinks and light bites, and for a stylish café style lounge with a view, guests can try OSMO – Lounge & Bar, serving fresh morning delights, delectable afternoon teas, and experimental cocktails that make it perfect for sundowners. 

What sustainability measures does the hotel have in place to support Hilton’s 2030 Travel and Purpose goals?

In line with Hilton’s commitment to halving its environmental footprint globally and focus on sustainable design, several key initiatives were implemented as part of Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island’s sustainable design philosophy. To reduce energy consumption, an automated light control system for all public areas automatically adjusts lighting according to time of day, controlling brightness, with different light mode scenes coupled with the installation of LED bulbs for all lighting fixtures, reducing energy consumption. 

Water use will be reduced by implementing taps with fitted aerators and special shower heads which limit water flow without affecting water pressure. Smart systems have also been employed to control hotel waste management while solar panels are used to power a domestic hot water system. The hotel also has 12 designated electric charging stations for all types of electric cars, which are available in the undercover parking.

Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island

Please tell us about your day-to-day role and what keeps it challenging and exciting?

I work closely with the hotel functional leads across operations, finance, human resources and commercial. I manage not only the day to day running of the operation but define the forward-facing key strategies for the hotel in response to market influences, which is of course challenging, but exciting!

As a general manager, how do you encourage trust and loyalty in your guests?

By providing a consistent and excellent service and taking the time to understand what our guests love about us, whilst of course working hard to deliver on this. I have a hand-picked team with diverse experience, who are not only experts in their individual fields but understand the value of delighting our guests. The team are empowered to make decisions in terms of problem resolution; the ideal is to ensure every guest leaves feeling as if they have had a personalised stay.

The hotel sits within the new Yas Bay development, an exciting area for Abu Dhabi. What can you tell us about the area, which is also home to the new Etihad Arena?

The Yas Bay Waterfront is home to both the new Etihad Arena and our 5-star hotel. The vibrant destination is located on the Southern end of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, giving guests immediate access to the waterfronts retail and F&B outlets, as well as world-class entertainment and nightlife experiences.

Yas Bay Waterfront

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the hospitality scene in the UAE. Do you think the industry is beginning to bounce back?

The UAE has done a stellar job in managing this situation and we are very fortunate to be here in this safe and well-managed country. We have some of the highest testing rates per capita in the world, outstanding healthcare facilities and the UAE is leading globally in terms of the COVID-19 vaccination drive.

Therefore, the international travel industry will take time to recover in 2021. However, people will still plan to make up for lost travel time when they can. There will be an emphasis on destinations that are easily accessible, without the risk of border closures and are deemed safe. Consequently, we are confident that domestic and international travel will continue to increase this year and begin to really bounce back. 

What do you believe hotels have to do to stay relevant and ensure success during these unprecedented times for the industry?

To stay ahead of the game, hotels must address the ever-changing demands of consumers. It is crucial that the hospitality industry provide experiences that are unique to the hotel’s destination, attracting travellers from various segments, whilst properly and effectively communicating those offers to guests. 

At Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island, we offer each registered guest room one park general admission ticket, valid for Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Yas Waterworld or Warner Bros. World™ Abu Dhabi. We have utilised our ideal location to ensure travellers can remember those extra special, unique moments, experiencing the hotel and everything Yas Island has to offer. It really is an adventure playground for everyone!

Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island

Aside from social distancing measured and the necessary health and safety precautions, have people’s attitudes to hotel stays changed following the pandemic?

We have found that more travellers are choosing to stay at hotels they know and trust therefore the pandemic has unquestionably led the Hospitality and Travel industry into a new era of customer loyalty. 

Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island is a part of Hilton CleanStay, Hilton’s industry-leading programme of cleanliness and disinfection that allows guests to enjoy an even cleaner and safer stay, providing peace-of-mind from check-in to check-out. Our guests have been incredibly pleased with our approach to safety and sanitisation measures across all properties, and we have enjoyed a lot of great reviews and word of mouth recommendations already.

The hospitality industry in Abu Dhabi has had to pivot to cater to residents and staycations. What are you doing at Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island to try and capture this market? 

The hotel is designed to be a family friendly destination, offering a fantastic kids club which includes an outdoor play area, splash pad and a games and media room, all led by a dedicated recreation team. 

Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island also boasts the first eforea spa in the UAE, alongside a breathtaking temperature-controlled pool. Not to mention the signature dining restaurants and lounges offered throughout, which appeals to residents looking to indulge in a relaxing weekend away, or foodies wanting a culinary weekend away. 

Every registered room guest will have access to Yas Theme Parks, one park general admission ticket (valid for Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Yas Waterworld or Warner Bros. World™ Abu Dhabi) per person per night of the stay. This unique offering has been a hit with our guests, both young and old. The combination of this and all our incredible facilities, makes it the perfect place for a fun-filled staycation for either families, couples, or solo travellers.

Ferrari World Abu Dhabi

Working in the industry, where do you like to stay when you have a day off? What are your favourite hotel properties in the region?

I have not had much opportunity to explore properties in the region and look forward to doing so. Our sister hotel, the Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers, is 30 minutes away and fantastic for a city break. I do enjoy a round of golf every so often, so I tend to gravitate towards hotels which have a golf course or are near one. Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah is perfect for this. 

Hilton will also be opening a DoubleTree property and the world’s first Warner Bros branded hotel on Yas Island this year. Can you please share with us some details about these two forthcoming openings?

Adjacent to the award-winning Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi and Yas Waterworld theme parks, is The WB™ Abu Dhabi, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, the world’s very first Warner Bros. property. The hotel has more than 250 rooms over eight levels and has been designed to celebrate Warner Bros.’ rich heritage in film, television, comic and so much more, providing an unforgettable and unique experience for guests.

DoubleTree by Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island Residences will offer an exclusive range of service accommodation on Yas Island. Created to meet the growing demand for flexible hospitality options, the property will comprise of 156 units in a mixture of studio, one, two, and three-bedroom apartments. The accommodation will provide kitchens, a gym, and various recreational facilities. 

The WB™ Abu Dhabi

Please tell us three things about your role at Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island that make going to work challenging and exciting. 

Every day is different. The ever-changing hospitality landscape is both a challenging and exciting space to be operating in, now. Traditional markets and ways of doing our business is currently not on the table. In the current market, businesses need to be agile and adapt to the demand and opportunity, this is key. 

Hilton has a range of pioneering initiatives in terms of Hilton EventReady with CleanStay and Hilton EventReady Hybrid Solutions, which really set the hotel up to be able to be active in this new and exciting forum.

The opportunity to introduce our property and all it has to offer to new guests daily, tailoring their experience to exceed their expectations. The fantastic Yas Theme Parks, inclusion for every registered guest, is a great benefit for us to share.

 What is your vision for the future of the hotel in the coming months?

We expect to see an uplift in both domestic and international travel, supported by the active vaccine roll out by many key source markets over the coming months. EXPO 2020, in Q4, will certainly have a positive impact on the UAE, and we look forward to showcasing the hotel. 

Cross border travel within the GCC, coupled with emerging markets, such as Israel, provides key opportunities, along with new and exciting prospects for establishing ourselves as hospitality leaders. 

With the easing of restrictions, we look forward to working with our partners on Yas Island to host national and international citywide events, weddings, and conferences.

What are some of your favourite cultural hotspots in Abu Dhabi and why?

The diversity of hot spots on offer makes us spoilt for choice. Between the grandeur and beauty of the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, the natural mangroves for an expansive outdoor experience, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi, it is difficult to choose a favourite.

 Could you please share with us some of your professional goals for the rest of the year? 

Setting our hotels up for success in a challenging and evolving marketplace. Off the back of the opening of Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island, we have the opening of The WB™ Abu Dhabi, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton and DoubleTree by Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island Residences, scheduled for later in the year.

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David Tapley - Editor
Dubai-based editor for one of the region’s most fiercely local lifestyle publications across Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai and Qatar. Specialised in food, hospitality, arts, culture, and travel-related content.

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