Michael Koth, General Manager, Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental Abu Dhabi & Area Vice President Operations at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, discusses the opulence of this palace, the importance of sustainability in planning, and his vision for the hospitality industry in the coming years.

What is the best way to describe this opulent and luxurious property?

Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental, Abu Dhabi blends sophistication and family-friendly charm. Exclusive rooms and suites offer picturesque views, personalised services cater to adults seeking tranquillity, and supervised adventures keep kids of all ages entertained. Water sports, extensive wellness programs, and curated culinary delights make every moment unforgettable against the backdrop of the sun-kissed beach.

Is there a storytelling element to the design creation of Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental, Abu    Dhabi? Has Arabian architecture been combined with other national styles?

This eminent landmark was built upon an area of one million square metres, combining regional style with Andalusian architectural influences to display the values of Arabian hospitality at its finest. The hotel’s interior follows the local architecture and heritage of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Varied architectural elements, such as deep openings, high arches, decorative shapes, long hallways, terraces, and high ceilings decorated with inlays of gold, were chosen to link the ancient Arab past with the modernity that embodies the future of the Emirate.

The mother-of-pearl and crystals that adorn its corners and interior decor lend an oriental atmosphere to the Emirates Palace’s 390 rooms, suites, and Royal Suites, as well as to its ballrooms and its renowned function spaces, which are dedicated to hosting local and international conferences and events.

The resort features 114 luminous domes with surahs taken from the Quran. Its colour scheme is a blend of golden hues that is in perfect harmony with the sands of the Arabian Desert. The exterior also features sparkling silver fountains and magnificent green gardens which reflect the oriental character of the hotel.

How does a hotel remain a part of the local community while also attracting guests from further afield?

Emirates Palace means ‘palace of the people’. While the Palace has always welcomed and appealed to the local community, with the rebranding as part of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, our focus is also to attract affluent travellers from all parts of the world and walks of life. We incorporate local culture in everything we do, from Emirati inspired menus to the design elements. The Grand Dome, in particular, is true to traditional Islamic architecture.

We celebrate all the important days of the calendar such as Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, UAE flag day and National day. During these events, the Palace illuminates according to the colour themes of each celebration along with activations that pay homage to the region’s rich culture.

At Episodes, you’ll notice dates being served every day and on UAE National Day, a spread of over 50 different dates is offered to guests. In addition to that, we host Al Ayala Dances and Oud players annually to commemorate Union Day and showcase the local culture to tourists and the expat community here.

How important are leadership skills in your role, and how do you motivate your employees regularly?

I believe it’s important to view Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental, Abu Dhabi with a fresh eye every once in a while, as it’s easy to take the grandeur and scale for granted when you’re in and out of this place everyday for work. Seeing it through the lens of a family member or friend refreshes your perspective and helps you appreciate this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I encourage our colleagues to invite and host their family and friends here whenever they can so they can share, learn, and be reminded as to why they’ve chosen to work here. In addition to that, we also offer many colleague activities before and after working hours such as boot camp, yoga, football, volleyball and more to keep everyone fit and active.

We offer cross-functional training so employees can gain exposure outside of their roles and departments to learn a new skill or gain knowledge in a new field. This allows them to step out of their comfort zones and identify their strengths better, all while beating the mundane. We also conduct simulations before the opening of a new outlet to give our colleagues a chance to have a guest experience and encourage feedback on how we can improve our products and services.

The EP Club

What are some of the trends you see impacting the hospitality industry?

With the increase in sustainable practices globally, and across all industries, Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental, Abu Dhabi is continuously finding new ways to implement the best practices to be part of this change.

Veganism is omnipresent in our daily lives and continues to drive societal changes. Supermarkets are well-stocked with plant-based products, international airlines offer vegan meal options, and even luxury car brands are debuting leather-free interiors. So why not offer a vegan luxury hotel experience?

Therefore, we introduced the region’s first vegan rooms – where all welcome and turndown amenities are vegan-friendly, woollen carpet has been replaced with natural wooden flooring, towels and robes are created from eco-conscious bamboo materials, along with a fully stocked vegan minibar and in-room dining menu.

In addition, observing the implementation of AI and demand for all things digital, the Palace has made conscious efforts to go paperless and replace most of our promotional materials and collaterals with QR codes instead. As the higher demand in travel has resulted in a surge in hotels and Airbnb, competition in price and experience poses a long-term challenge and the key is to maintain quality and standard without compromising on the guest experience.

What further developments can we expect from the brand?

As we continue to diversify our culinary offering, we are looking forward to launching more food and beverage outlets in the foreseeable future. In 2023, alone, we opened several innovative eateries including Lebanese Terrace, ALMA, Broadway, and Sand & Koal.

As a family friendly resort, it’s important for us to also expand on our offerings for kids. As such, we’ll be introducing the Kids Palace, which is currently under construction, next year. We’ll also be enhancing the Palace Suites which has stayed true to the Palace’s identity since its inception to elevate our guest experience.

Tell us about the palace’s restaurants and bars, and how they provide a unique experience.

Whether it is a light business lunch, sophisticated dinner, or large event, we offer the flexibility to experience food without limitations, without compromising on quality, service, and luxury. All of this makes us the ultimate culinary destination in Abu Dhabi.

Guests can take their pick from the wide array of outlets we offer including Vendôme, Café Fountain, Episodes, Martabaan by Hemant Oberoi, Hakkasan, Talea by Antonio Guida, Lebanese Terrace, Broadway, ALMA, and Sand & Koal.

Talea by Antonio Guida

How, according to you, is the hospitality industry evolving? What is your vision for the hospitality segment in the Middle East?

The hospitality industry has changed organically over the years: with the ease and convenience of travel, the connectivity and accessibility through the world wide web, and lastly the vastness of social media platforms.

The world of travel is at our fingertips. It’s instantaneously available with the swipe of a credit card, allowing us to fly across continents and fulfil our desires, pre-conditioned by Instagram feeds and travel documentaries. All playing to our natural desire to broaden our horizons and immerse ourselves in new experiences. Whether it is the dream holiday in the Maldives, an anniversary dinner at a three-starred Michelin restaurant, or an expedition through the Himalayan mountains.

The Middle East has more to after than meets the eye and appeals to a larger audience than before. Factors like increasing tourist arrivals, mega-events like the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and easing visa regulations lead to the industry’s growth. And with regional governments actively supporting the development of business, leisure, and entertainment centres through significant investments, the MENA region is quickly becoming a hub of activity with a long list of events in the pipeline including cultural, immersive, culinary experiences.