By Roma Arora

Jing Ma, Cluster Hotel Manager at Novotel, Ibis World Trade Centre, and Ibis One Central, discusses her journey, challenges of running a business hotel, the factors influencing the hospitality sector, and how technology and sustainability are both improving the guest experience.

Tell us about your journey – how did it all start?
My journey in the hospitality industry began in 2007 when I joined The Palace Hotel Downtown Dubai as a receptionist. From the very beginning, I was fascinated by the dynamic and vibrant nature of this industry. As I gained more experience and exposure to the various roles and responsibilities within the hotel, I realised that hospitality was more than just a job for me – it was a passion.

I’ve had the opportunity to work in a variety of jobs across several departments over the years, and each post gave me with new challenges and learning opportunities, allowing me to develop a diversified skill set and a thorough grasp of the industry.

How important are leadership skills in your role, and how do you motivate your employees on a regular basis?
Leadership skills are crucial in my role, as they enable me to inspire and motivate my team to perform their best. As a leader, I prioritise identifying and developing the strengths of each team member, fostering a collaborative and supportive work environment. Regular communication and feedback are also essential, as it allows me to stay connected with my team, set common goals, and track progress. I motivate my employees by celebrating their achievements and providing opportunities for growth and development.  Overall, strong leadership abilities are critical to the success of both my team and the firm.

Can you tell us what are the distinct features of Ibis Dubai World Trade Centre?
Ibis Dubai World Trade Centre boasts a unique set of features that make it stand out in the hospitality industry. As a 20-year-old property, it has established itself in the economic segment and has been the go-to exhibition hotel for over 100 days each year due to its prime location at the Dubai World Trade Centre. The hotel recently had a comprehensive restoration of its 210 rooms, with ongoing upgrades of the public areas planned to be finished by February 2023. By Q4 2023, guests can anticipate to see a completely new Ibis with cutting-edge design concepts and a wide range of dining options, making it a perfect location for visitors from all over the world.

In the business hospitality segment, there are many new hotels openings – what distinguishes your brand from the competition?
The Ibis brand is renowned for its straightforwardness and effectiveness, which draws in a dedicated following who value its unique identity and commitment to quality assurance. This approach sets us apart from other hotels in the business hospitality segment, as we prioritise delivering a consistently excellent experience to our guests.

What are some of the trends you see impacting the hospitality industry?
One of the emerging trends in the hospitality industry is the increasing popularity of lifestyle hotel concepts, where guests are seeking unique experiences that align with their personal preferences and interests. In addition, there is a growing focus on delivering exceptional guest experiences, as customers are placing a greater emphasis on the overall value proposition of their purchases. As a result, hotels are adopting innovative approaches to enhance guest satisfaction, such as incorporating technology to streamline processes and personalising services to cater to individual needs.

What is the unique value proposition that you offer customers?
Our distinct value proposition stems from our commitment to offering our customers with simple and uncomplicated experiences. We focus providing our visitors with all they need to have a comfortable stay.

Tell us more about the hotel’s restaurants and bars, and how they provide a unique experience. What are some dishes and drinks that you recommend everyone should try?
With ongoing renovations at the hotel, we are excited to introduce brand-new food and beverage destinations that will offer unique culinary experiences to our guests. Our concept centres around providing a variety of food offerings, including an Indian Bistro Bar, Mediterranean fusion restaurant, vegan café, and more. We are committed to using the freshest ingredients and creating new dishes that cater to a range of dietary preferences. We look forward to welcoming guests to experience our new and exciting dining options, which will be available by Q4 2023.

Great hospitality is now made possible by technology. Can you tell us about some of the technologies that go into creating your guest experience?
As part of our ongoing renovation work, we are implementing several technologies to enhance the guest experience. These include a digital check-in solution and digital room keys, which allow guests to complete their registration online or through an iPad, and to access their rooms using their mobile devices. Our lobby will feature a smart sound and light system that can be controlled digitally, providing a comfortable and personalised environment for guests. These technologies are designed to streamline processes and provide greater convenience and flexibility to our guests, helping to create a seamless and enjoyable experience.

What difficulties come with maintaining a business hotel?
Maintaining a business hotel can be challenging due to two main factors. Firstly, during peak seasons, there is the risk of market rejection due to high-rate setups. Secondly, during the summer season, there is increased competition for market share, which can lead to rate competition. Balancing these challenges requires careful planning and analysis to ensure that the hotel remains profitable while maintaining a high level of service and guest satisfaction.

Is sustainability important for the hotel? If so, how do you work it into your designs?
Sustainability is an integral part of our design philosophy. We have eliminated the use of single-use plastics, built water filtration plants to supply in-house bottled water, and replaced plastic items with sustainable options. Our guest rooms are equipped with energy-saving technologies, and we have implemented water-saving measures in our shower heads and taps. In 2023, we plan to introduce a carbon calculation project in our Meeting and Events area to further reduce our carbon footprint.

What opportunities and challenges lie ahead for hoteliers in the coming years?
In the coming years, hoteliers will have the opportunity to capitalise on the faster growth patterns in the industry as the market evolves. However, they will also face the challenge of positions being replaced by technology such as AI. It is essential for hoteliers to embrace innovation and invest in technologies to enhance guest experiences and increase efficiency while maintaining the human touch.

Tourism has had a massive comeback in the region – how do you see this translating to bigger growth in the hospitality sector in 2023 and beyond?
The tourism industry in the region has recovered significantly and is expected to translate into bigger growth in the hospitality sector in 2023 and beyond. At our hotel, we have factored this growth in our financial projections, and we stay tuned to market trends. With many global activities planned in Dubai in Q4 2023 and the Chinese market expected to improve in the coming months, we are optimistic about a great season ahead and for the year 2024.