UAE hotel offers food for thought to tempt business meetings

The Life: Smoked salmon, cheese, yoghurt and muesli: a Dubai Radisson offers "brain foods" for business breakfasts.

Brain food is served for breakfast as part of the Experience Meetings package at the Radisson Royal hotel in Dubai. Christopher Pike / The National
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There was not a croissant in sight nor a doughnut to be had.

Instead, the breakfast buffet table at the Radisson Royal hotel in Dubai was laden with smoked salmon, cheese, yoghurt and muesli: high protein, slow energy-release "brain foods" that boost concentration and mental performance and reduce stress.

The idea of brain foods is part of Radisson's "Experience Meetings" concept, which was designed to entice customers to its hotel for business meetings and congresses.

As well as a nutritious breakfast, the package includes a "brain box break-out room" scattered with oversized beanbags and board games to promote creative discussions in a more informal setting away from the main gathering.

Other inducements, which are "not new but readapted", include free Wi-Fi, a 100 per cent guest satisfaction guarantee, a commitment to being environmentally friendly and a loyalty programme.

The concept was devised after an extensive survey of guests and meetings planners, says Yigit Sezgin, the global head of sales and marketing at Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, the owner of the Radisson brand.

"The real aim is to continue [to appeal] to a new generation, to make sure we are adapting to the new world and end users' requirements; to continue to push our sales efforts and make sure we are looking good in our offerings in the market," says Mr Sezgin.

The meetings industry is rebounding after slowing towards the end of 2008 as the global economy faltered. Planners are now organising more meetings backed by bigger budgets, according to the most recent results from the IBTM Global Industry Research report for the Arabian Gulf, Middle East and North Africa. Importantly, the research also showed that the UAE had emerged as the top destination for meetings in the region.

A separate report conducted by TRI Hospitality Consulting estimates that the meetings industry in Dubai is worth at least Dh500 million (US$136.1m) annually.

This category of business is one of the most important for Radisson, along with transient business and ahead of leisure customers, according to Mr Sezgin.

The Experience Meetings concept, which has already been introduced in Russia and Scandinavia, has had a "great response" so far, although it is not possible to calculate how much additional revenue the concept has generated, he said at the recent launch in Dubai.

Peter Goddard, the managing director of TRI Hospitality, was sceptical that the brain food and brain box concepts were sufficient on their own to win customers.

"Potential customers look at the overall package," says Mr Goddard. "I don't think they are going to look at brain food and think, 'Gee, I gotta go there'. It's one of a number of determining criteria including cost, location and facilities. It's the cream on the top of the cake."

More important than brain food is free Wi-Fi, according to Mr Goddard.

"I think the brain food and brain box sounds like a gimmick," he says. "Free Wi-Fi is not a gimmick, it is the way of the future and the sooner other hotels stop charging for it the better for everyone." Mr Sezgin describes Wi-Fi as being like "electricity and water".

"We do not charge our guests for water or electricity," he says. "For us, internet it's the same. "

Veronika Bencova, the head of operations at Fleming Gulf Conferences, attended the launch and thought the Experience Meetings concept was a good idea.

"As conference organisers, we really appreciate it when hotel operators come up with something different," she says. "Brain food is light, healthy food. When delegates are in a conference all day and they have eaten croissants and suchlike, they fall asleep and find it difficult to focus and to keep their concentration."

For her, though, it was the free internet that was particularly attractive.

"I am really glad that finally some hotel came up with free internet," she says. "We are in the 21st century. Businessmen need to check their emails. It's really embarrassing when customers or clients come to me and are surprised when they have pay for internet; they expect it to be free or to be provided by the conference organisers. But if the hotel charges me then, I have to charge the client."