The 5-star Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay has welcomed a new General Manager to lead the luxury property in business and leisure hospitality. With 18 years under his belt, FACT meets Richard Raab, a Four Seasons veteran who hopes to bring fresh ideas and new excitement to the mesmerising hotel.
Welcome to Bahrain! What have been your first impressions and what prompted you to make the move from Dubai to here?
We arrived in the first week of January, I’m here with my wife and two young daughters and my predecessor Greg told me ‘you will fall in love from day one’ and I think that’s what happened. I think the only thing that surprised us and took us off guard was the rain – we didn’t expect that. But, rain means good luck in this part of the world [he smiles] so, hopefully that’s a good thing. I think the hotel itself is so iconic – it’s absolutely second to none and I’m extremely proud to be in charge of it. Then it’s the Bahraini people to be honest; I’ve met a lot of people from Bahrain, a lot of people who have lived and worked in Bahrain, and they all talk very positively about it. It’s very welcoming and very friendly and from day one since we’ve been here, we’ve felt the very same thing. So, we’re very happy about the move. I’ve gone out and explored a little bit. I love the Farmer’s Market and will surely return there; it has a great atmosphere and on top of that, you’ll come home with some of the freshest vegetables you can get!
The Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay has now been open for two years and is doing really well. What’s your vision for the hotel during your management?
I really want to continue building on the success of the hotel that is already there. The hotel has already won several awards and we need to continue that. In this business, you can never sit back and relax; the customer comes in every single day with extremely high expectations, particularly with the name Four Seasons above the door, and you need to earn that reputation and brand image every single day. You can never take a day off; you have to be spot on all the time, in and out. Then as we do in any hotel around the world, no matter how old it is; we always look for improvements. It’s an absolutely stunning property and we want to look for new ways to improve on that, always.
You’ve been with the Four Seasons now for 18 years. What has kept you so loyal and dedicated to the brand?
I started out very young. I left home as a young man who wanted to travel the world and Four Seasons made that possible. Through hard work, they give you the ball and then it’s up to you to dribble with it. The Four Seasons has a company culture, something called The Golden Rule and it’s very simple – treat others the way you like to be treated, and I believed in that even before I joined the company. It’s something that my grandparents and my mother would say and talk about when I was growing up, and it just stuck with me. I believe in that message very firmly and see myself being a part of the brand for many more years to come.
The responsibilities of General Manager could get overwhelming at times. How do you manage your time, expectations and the need for attention to detail?
A big part of it comes down to experience; to be able to decide where and when you should be and getting to the right spot at the right time. A lot of communication, ensuring that you’re surrounding yourself with the best team in the world, and there’s no doubt in Bahrain that we have got one of the best teams in the world. And also intuition, to keep your finger on the pulse and have a sense of what’s going on so you can follow that information and take the necessary action.
In a hotel of this high calibre where not mCCUTuch really needs changing, how do you keep yourself challenged and continuously ahead in the hospitality game?
First, when I did my research on the property and everything about it, I was extremely humbled, no doubt, yet very excited as well. This is a hotel that you could lift up and put it on Park Lane in London or Fifth Avenue in New York, on the Champs-Élysée in Paris, and it would really stand out. Not only here, it would standout anywhere in the world. The strive for perfection is something that we aim for anywhere in the world and as I said before, it doesn’t matter even if you work at the Four Seasons George V in Paris, or Four Seasons New York, and in our case Bahrain, you still need to improve because the competition will always come to visit and walk around and will want to see what we’re doing, and, of course, we do that with them as well, it’s how business works. It’s that constant look for improvement and even the guests change – the luxury traveller 20 years ago is different from the luxury traveller now, especially with technology, so you must always keep on top of changes and move with the times.
Tell us some your goals with the Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay – things you want to make a mark with over the next year…
There’s a few; the one thing that we’re launching very soon is our new approach to CUT Bar and Lounge. We’re creating a new concept there, where it’s a dining destination on its own and not just a bar that you got to if you’re having dinner at CUT. We want it to be a place that people will come to just for CUT Bar and Lounge and enjoy it. We’re spicing up the entertainment a little bit and we’ve got a new menu coming out – it’s called American Classics. We’ve done some tastings already and the Reuben Sandwich is absolutely phenomenal – like what you would get in New York. The Fillet Cheese Steak Sandwich is another fantastic one – so we’re very excited about the upcoming months and what’s to come there.
When it comes to quieter days in Bahrain when occupancy is low and not many visitors are coming into the country – how do you cope with that and still keep the hotel relevant?
Wherever you are in the world, you have to adapt your schedule to the business rhythm of the location you’re in. So, in Bahrain, on days that we are maybe a little bit slower, we would plan and try to anticipate when they are, and we’d have staff training or extra days off if we need to. We would utilise the time then to work on promotions and new ideas, new menu items, new developments and overall new improvements in the hotel. And then the days we know are going to be busy, we make sure that our office work is done so we can be out on the floor, engaging with our guests as they come in.
What’s your approach to everyday motivation for your staff – how do you make sure that everyone’s on the same page, everyday?
I think that’s something that needs to continue all the time in the hotel and it flows down from the top and all the way through the managers and to the staff. We have a meeting every day with all the managers to make sure what’s going on, and making sure everything is ok. It’s also management by walking around and interacting with as many people as possible. We have a solid programme of human resources with different staff events throughout the year, we have employee engagement surveys where we ask our staff what their opinions are and then also the training. If the staff feel like they’re learning and growing and working towards a purpose that they can achieve,then they normally will be very engaged and motivated to do well.
Are you the type of GM who does things from his office, or is your working style more interactive where you walk around the hotel often? I like to go to reception first thing in the morning, to see how the night was and then I usually go to the food and beverage, the room service and the breakfast restaurant, just to make sure that they’re up and running. I couldn’t just go and sit down in my office not knowing that breakfast is running well, it just wouldn’t feel right. That’s with everything; maybe there’s a big event that day, so I would want to go by the ballroom, for example, just to make sure that ‘ok, everything’s fine, there’s no fire to be put out!’ and then I’ll check my emails.
Who would you say is the 2017 clientele of Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay – describe the person who walks in through the hotel doors…
They’re so varied. I couldn’t say that it’s a specific age group or a specific nationality because they come from all over the world. They know the Four Seasons brand, they know what we can deliver anywhere in the world, and they’re attracted to that. It’s almost a part of a lifestyle and the Four Seasons offers them a chance to experience that lifestyle.
Sell the Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay in one sentence…
Come, and we’ll wow the socks off you!
GO: Visit www.fourseasons.com/bahrain or call 1711 5000 for reservations and more information.