In Conversation with…Marco Den Ouden

We got the lowdown from the GM of the newly opened Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort & Spa.

Please tell us about the resort, what guests can expect and what makes it special.
We have 207 keys, which are made up of rooms and suites, and currently one villa, the second will be available around Q2 of this year. The villas are for VIP guests and have 11 rooms, a private pool and private beach access.
There are eight restaurants – Obab Al Bahar, which is all-day dining; Due Mari, serving Sicilian cuisine; Maison Fayruz, which offers Levantine dishes; Mari Mas – our Peruvian offering; and Ou Soul on the beach – where we have Bedouin-style cooking in and above ground on an open fire. There’s also the Ice Cream Hut by Florencia; Osama hookah lounge; 25-50, which is our geographical location and also a bar and, of course, the poolside bar.
We have one of the largest spas in Bahrain with both women-only and unisex facilities, including gyms; a kids’ club; banqueting facilities that can accommodate up to 220 people for a seated dinner as well as smaller options; seven pools; two squash courts as well as tennis and multipurpose courts; and one of the best beaches in Bahrain.
The property covers approximately 2.7 hectares and we have lots of private dining options and can organise events across the large, landscaped area.

What prompted you to make the move to Bahrain when you have previously worked at some other seriously impressive properties?
This development is quite unique. We’re on Royal territory and for the country to engage travel to this region, it’s a super property to build differentiation in tourism. This is a very clear resort, not a business venue, a clear opportunity to build, alongside the government and other hotels and facilities such as Al Areen, Al Dana Amphitheatre, the Bahrain International Circuit and the new exhibition centre. There are opportunities to bring a different style of tourism to Bahrain and I wanted to be part of that.
Also, I’m quite experienced in the resort space and lifestyle and there’s a big synergy taking place with people in the design space looking for places to showcase their creations. For example, we have a retail concept store – a space where style supports related leisure and quality items. For me it’s not about retail, it’s giving access to the more limited editions. This also makes this exciting.

You became a general manager very early in your career, to what do you attribute your swift and ongoing success?
I moved out of the house when I was 16 to build independence and I also showed natural leadership. At 23 I was in my job [as assistant GM] for two months and my GM had resigned prior to me joining, though I didn’t know that. I was asked if I would hold the fort and there was a natural dialogue with the owner, who gave me additional support. I have been a GM ever since. I also owned my own restaurant for three years, which was in the top three in Rotterdam. I love food and beverage. I like to inspire and coach and create concepts, create points of difference – that’s key for us when we are travelling. I feel that the destination can be international standard but we need to be local. For example, we have redesigned the lobby using completely locally manufactured stuff. All of the furniture that you see is designed and manufactured in Bahrain – the vases were made by a local artist, the artwork is by famous Bahraini painters. The lobby is designed like a majlis inspired by the fijiri, the unique storytelling concept. It’s an area for people to come with their friends and be together – like fishermen sharing stories on their journeys.

What initially attracted you to the hospitality field and how do you manage work-life balance – a big challenge for those in your position?
From an early age, I have been in the industry. Pot washing, waiting tables – that made me the extra money to travel and have fun. I kind of fell into it. When I moved out of the house at 16, I needed to support my lifestyle, that’s how I started and I found that I enjoyed it.
On work-life balance, I try to have a strong routine. I start my day early, I’m in the hotel by six or seven in the morning which gives me a good two hours before meetings start and my front-ofhouse activities. In that time, I work on my documents and key initiatives, then it’s guest involvement and team engagement. I have done many years of 110-hour weeks and I’ve now learned that I need to step back and let the team have the opportunity to run things a bit – it is important for them for their empowerment to be running things themselves. That attitude comes with age, maybe it’s time to delegate and to be more focused on strategy and differentiation.

You are a recent arrival in Bahrain, what things have particularly impressed you so far?
I enjoy it here, there is a lot to discover. I had to do a deep dive into the property to be ready for the opening of operations. Of course, when I can, I also like to dive into the culture. I like markets and fresh produce. I also enjoy the souq and visiting restaurants. I cook a lot at home, we have a baby boy, Dylan, and two dogs – they are what balances me. ✤