ONE of the Gulf Hotel Convention & Spa’s hospitality hotshots has returned to take over the hot seat as general manager and help orchestrate the property’s 50th anniversary celebrations that will take place next year.
Fares Yactine is determined to ensure the legendary five-star property is up to the task and ready for the challenge from big-name newcomers recently opened in a highly-competitive hospitality sector.
Like other well-established properties, the parent company, Gulf Hotels Group, is investing heavily in upgrading facilities but few others can play the nostalgia card or possess the heart-pulling feel good factor to the same degree.
Father-of-two Fares, 44, understands that better than most. “It’s an exciting moment for me. Gulf Hotel was always like home for me and although I’ve been away for seven years I was always a regular and always close to everybody here.”
He admits that he took a ‘bit of time’ to decide whether to return to the fold after a successful spell with French hospitality giant Sofitel in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia but the challenge proved irresistible.
“The market dynamics have totally changed now,” he said, “in terms of business, in terms of rates, in terms of supply of rooms. There are so many more hotels - and flagship hotels at that - from the time I was first here.
“So ahead of me is a very challenging job but that’s why I came. I like a challenge, I don’t like to be in my comfort zone.
“That’s why I’m here and I have the full confidence in the team and in the product and I think we can take our fair share of the market, if I can put it in such a way.
“We have a good product, a legendary hotel with fabulous facilities and places to meet and dine. We just have to ensure the level of service is up to people’s expectations because guests are very well educated about hotels and restaurants.
“In our case, we are not just a hotel supplying rooms, we also have a big stretch of restaurants. Our competition in not just other hotels, it’s all the restaurants, those opened and opening in Adliya and across the island, that are offering customers great choices.
“Today, if we are not up to standard and don’t go the extra mile building on our legend, we will be out of the game, which is why we have so many things happening.”
That includes the renovation of the popular Sherlock Holmes and Al Waha outlets. As reported in GulfWeekly, the La Pergola Italian restaurant will be graced with the talents of multi-Michelin starred Italian chef, Giancarlo Perbellini, after a BD200,000-plus transformation and a similar sum will be invested in rooftop restaurant Fusions set to reopen with an outdoor terrace under the guidance of the hotel's young, talented Bahraini chef, Tala Bashmi.
Sherlock Holmes closed on Sunday for the start of its facelift which Fares said will create a more trendy and stylish outlet but still keep its ‘very British style’ that makes it so distinctive. Towards the end of the year Fusions will be fully remodelled too.
And it’s the combination of new and old which the GM is convinced sets the Gulf Hotel apart from its rivals.
He’s not the only one that feels like he’s ‘coming back home’ whenever he steps through the hotel entrance; large numbers of customers do too.
“Many remember coming along with their parents as children and they now regularly return with their own kids,” Fares explained. “They keep coming back because the Gulf Hotel is distinctive for its personalised service, our long-serving team know many by name, knowing who their father is, who their brother is.
“Today, many hotels offer a good service, have a nice set up of restaurants but what makes a difference with Gulf Hotel is its people.”
That’s why the 50th anniversary next year will be so special. Activities are planned to take place throughout 2019 and more details will be released shortly.
“We will be taking people on a journey through those 50 years,” revealed Fares. “There will be a lot of amazing pictures on display for sure, as people love nostalgia. It’s not just the history of the hotel, this is part of the history of Bahrain. There will be a lot of storytelling and sharing.
“The changes in the country over the period are remarkable. Once upon a time the Gulf Hotel was surrounded by water and today you have Juffair just a short distance away.
“We have also hosted numerous celebrities over the years, from the world of politics, music and art – so people will enjoy looking back and others may even remember the moment.”
Attempts are being made to invite some of those big names still with us back to join in the celebrations, although the number still living is limited as well as some of the very first guests who stayed at the hotel.
Fares previously served the hotel as executive assistant manager, in charge of the food & beverage department, as well as health & recreation. In 2011 Fares, left to join the Sofitel Thalasssa Sea & Spa Bahrain, as hotel manager and since 2013 held the post of GM at the Sofitel Al Khobar the Corniche.
He didn’t leave Bahrain, commuting daily from his home in Saar where he lives with his wife, Rana, an IT regional sales manager, and their two children, Rhea, 14, and Karl, five.
Although Bahrain has been home for 12 years, the Canadian national’s home town is actually Montreal although he was born in Lebanon’s Beirut. His family comes from the Beqaa Valley’s Zahle area, coincidently sharing the name of Gulf Hotel’s Lebanese restaurant.
Fares Yactine is a graduate of Les Roches International School of Hotel Management in Bluche – Switzerland and he has also worked with renowned hotel chains such as Metropolitan Hotel Beirut, Habtoor Grand Hotel Beirut and with IHG in Spain.
“When you choose hospitality as a career it’s not only a job, it’s a lifestyle. It becomes part of you,” he explained. “So today, if you want to forge a career in this industry you have to be very accommodating, you need an out-going personality , you need to love people and give it all of your heart all of the time.
“It’s something that I really enjoy – I like to be surrounded by people, listen to people and serve people.”
Father, Souhel, 78, a university academic, mother, Rima, an agricultural engineer, and younger brother, Tarek, 40, a head of compliance, are supportive and proud of his achievements.
His management style is very much hands-on. An Internet search shows how he personally replied to a guest who commented on a holiday stay on an online travel review website and he was first up the ladder with a paint brush to leave his mark on one of his hotel’s staff canteens.
Gulf Hotels Group are delighted to get their man. CEO Garfield Jones said: “We considered a number of candidates for the position but Fares was always our first choice and we are delighted to welcome him back to the Gulf Hotel family.”
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