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Interview with Mr. Waleed Silan – General Manager at Jabal Omar Marriott Hotel, Makkah

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Jabal Omar Marriott Hotel, Makkah is one of the most luxurious five-star hotels in Jabal Omar complex. It is an architectural masterpiece in the heart of the holy city, offering splendid facilities, a great view over Al Haram, and a pleasant stay for a memorable journey. 

Jabal Omar Hotel View

The hotel consists of two towers; the first has 11 floors and the second has 20 floors. The hotel has a total of 426 rooms and suites, owned by Jabal Omar Development Company, and managed by Marriott International Hotels and Resorts.

It is a 3 minutes walk to Al Masjid Al Haram. The hotel features two fancy restaurants and one welcoming cafe. It also has a prayer room overlooking Al Haram, and wired to an up to date sound system that completes the experience. 

Jabal Omar Hotel Executive Room

Following our series of interviewing the industry thought leaders and getting to know them, and the entities they represent while getting some market’s insights and latest updates, we were honored to have a phone interview with Mr. Waleed Awad Silan, General Manager at Jabal Omar Marriott Hotel, in which he took us on an insightful tour of the hotel, the industry and the expected scenarios for the coming season. 

We, at Umrahme, are very much interested in the development of the establishments operating in the umrah sector, and the challenges they face and overcome. 

Let’s begin with the partnership that was made between Jabal Omar Real Estate Development Group and the Marriott International Hotel Group, How did it start?

Let me start by thanking you guys for having me. Firstly, Jabal Omar Marriott Makkah was the first hotel to be opened in Jabal Omar project, which is really a huge project with huge investments and big investors. Jabal Omar is really close to Al-Haram with a strategic location. All the hotels located on Jabal Omar are five-star hotels with international standards, only to offer the best for Allah’s guests. We have a strategic agreement with Jabal Omar Real Estate Development Group and we are planning to add more international hotels while Jabal Omar project is completed, as you know Marriott has more than 30 hotel trademarks worldwide.

What is the mechanism or system of work inside the hotel? How are tasks distributed between the two parties?

Frankly speaking, Jabal Omar Real Estate Development Group, is the owner or the shareholding company. However, Marriott is the managing party with full authority over the operations and the systems and everything in the hotel is under the supervision of Marriott International.

Do you recommend international partnerships in the hotel and accommodation business in general?

I present Marriott, in this context. However, I can see the path taken by the Kingdom in these past few years. How all the hotels especially the ones in Makkah are following the international standards and abiding by their systems. Therefore, I can confidently say yes international partnerships are a must for offering impeccable services to the pilgrims. 

As one of the largest hotels in Makkah, can you tell us the increase in the number of hotel guests to date?

We launched in Ramadan 2015, and we were a big hit in Saudi and worldwide. The nature of our hotel is more appealing to group travelers than individual ones which fit the foreigners more than Saudis. However, we had a huge marketing plan and activities prior to the launch and we were a huge success till the year of the pandemic. Due to our exceptional services we were always in the lead.

How do you measure guest satisfaction, can you share the criteria followed for measurement? Also, How do you handle complaints?

We follow Marriott standards of measurements and we use their systems. The system we use is called “The Guest Voice” in which we are keen to know how likely will our guest recommend us to others? Then we dive into other details of their stay. We send a survey through email and as soon as we receive a reply back, we negative feedback about any of the services we handle immediately to reach the guest’s satisfaction.

Can we know the occupancy rate in the hotel nowadays?

Before Covid-19, our occupancy rate was from 75%-80% year to date. We have 426 rooms, with 54 suites overlooking the Holy Mosque, with two restaurants that can hold up to 1500 guests, a large prayer room for 450 persons, and meeting rooms of different sizes. We also have 11 elevator guests and 137 parking lots. Nowadays, our occupancy rate reached 20% because of the situation we are in. 

A few days separate us from the blessed month of Ramadan, are there any special preparations in light of the low numbers of visitors due to the continued precautionary measures? Are there any positive initial indications regarding an increase in the occupancy rate during the holy month?

Indeed, we have been working for more than a month now on Ramadan preparations. Going on to special Ramadan meetings on weekly basis to discuss the rooms preparations, the front desks, welcoming guests, the drinks that we will offer, the restaurants, Ramadan themes, …etc. We are well-prepared. Although we don’t have any confirmed information when will things go back to normal. We are hoping for half the accomplishments that were attained in Ramadan 2019. Then we can say that we did well.

From your experience in the Umrah sector and hotels in the Kingdom, Do you think there is an importance of a direct connection between the hotel and external agents?

Yes, Of course. As we are used to dealing with the external agent as he is so keen to satisfy his client. Even when the booking is done through a Saudi agent, an agent from the external agency must be present to facilitate the process in terms of language, needs, understandings…etc. 

Let’s talk numbers, Which nationality favors Jabal Omar Hotel? Who are your top guests in terms of numbers?

We are favored by a lot of nationalities. We have pilgrims from the Far East, Europe, America, North Africa, Jordan. We are really close to the Holy Mosque with really big room spaces and top-notch food and beverages services. Hence we are very popular. 

On Umrahme blog we have a dedicated section for Tourism in the Kingdom. And we can see great efforts done by the Kingdom towards domestic tourism, especially after the Corona pandemic. Do you have any plans to participate in supporting domestic tourism and providing new services to hotel visitors?

From day one we as operators and investors are supporting and working with the Kingdom’s 2030 vision. We are eager to implement the Kingdom’s instructions and regulations to the letter.

Additionally, we have been targeting the Saudi Market long before the vision.  We have been studying the Saudi market and we knew what the Saudi guest prefers, what are his needs and how can we make him happy. We also send them great deals and offers all year long. 

In recent years, many companies have turned to e-marketing as an alternative to traditional marketing activities. What is the ideal direction for you in 2021?

We have our own marketing department, that is working around the clock to communicate with our target clients. We are constantly offering discounts, doing competitions, celebrating the big days like international women’s day with huge competitions and offers, so we can attract more guests. We have signed with most of the OTA’s as we have been adopting the e-marketing activities since the launch. 

What is your assessment of the technological change that the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has adopted in recent years?

I am a member of The Hotels Committee in the Trading Chamber. We are in constant meetings with the ministries like the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah…etc. The technological approach is absolutely amazing. However, I have a comment. Things need to be controlled more. Like controlling the prices and rates mentioned on the different platforms to avoid any confusion and attain the objective of building an online platform for reservations which was ending the illegal agents’ manipulation and false promises to pilgrims. 

With online travel platforms such as the Umrahme platform entering the Umrah services market, is it possible to share your opinion on this experience with our readers? What is your evaluation of the services provided by Umrahme? 

I am one of your fans. You guys are doing a great job. Umrahme has become the first choice in both internal and external markets, Umrahme is trusted. Also, the fact that you are so close with a really attentive support team is a huge plus. Umrahme is always there whenever an issue surfaces, your support team will work on it until it is resolved in a satisfactory manner to the client. And this is not only my personal opinion. This is the feedback I get from everyone who uses Umrahme. 

We didn’t get any complaints from Umrahme, as it is user-friendly, and have little to zero downtime. We actually use to direct people to book through Umrahme as we will find support whenever needed.

As one of the largest hotels in Makkah, how do you see the future of Umrah during the coming season?

I am optimistic. People are saying that the Hajj will be held this season, and if this happened, we will definitely come back. People are really missing Umrah and Hajj and we are all hoping for this pandemic to end and for things to go back to normal. Also, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah are doing a great job and the expansions around Al-Haram are really great, so I am optimistic.  

Finally, what are the tips that you want to share with people working in the field of tourism and hotels in order to provide distinguished services to the pilgrims? 

Firstly, they need to be a role model with a higher purpose as we are chosen by Allah to serve guests of Allah. So materialistic gains need to be put aside when dealing with this higher purpose. 

In the end, we thanked Mr. Waleed Awad Silan, General Manager of Jabal Omar Marriott Hotel Makkah for these valuable information and an enjoyable conversation.

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