A Dubai hotel has banned its staff from using formal greetings such as sir, madam and "ma’am/sir" in an effort to make its guests feel more at home.
When it opened, the Radisson Blu Hotel on the Dubai Waterfront set out to be the friendliest hotel in the emirate, rolling out an extensive training programme for its employees.
A major focus was placed on recruitment, with senior staff conducting more than 1,000 interviews to find the very best candidates for the new venture.
Today, as the hotel nears its first anniversary, the effort appears to have paid off. Guests are addressed using their first names only and the hotel scores consistently highly on review sites.
“Lots of people in hospitality say they recruit on personality but it's often very difficult to find proof of that,” said David Allan, the hotel’s general manager, who met with all prospective employees.
“There are usually at least a few sour-faced people who are in the wrong industry. And we didn’t want to have that in this hotel."
Part of staff training involved the way in which they were encouraged to address each other. This later spilled into suggesting similar interactions with hotel guests.
“When opened the hotel we used the 'friendliest five-star hotel in Dubai' line for a few months," said Mr Allan. "The campaign for no sir, no madam was just an extra step beyond that."
Mr Allan is also addressed by his employees on a first-name basis. “I am not sir, I am not Mr David. I am plain old David,” said Mr Allan.
“We don’t use this horrible Mr or Ms in front of people’s first names. And we said we don’t want to do that with our guests, either. Everyone is an absolute equal in this building."
Intended as a mark of respect, the titles sir/ma'am, sir or madam, are frequently used across the UAE, particularly in the service industry or by those in domestic roles.
But their use is not always welcomed, with many finding the terms irritating or an unnecessary barrier.
In the Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Waterfront, if staff are not sure of a guest's first name they can still use the title Mr or Ms, but only with a surname. They are not allowed to use Mr or Ms followed by just a first name.
“At breakfast we don’t ask for your room number. We ask for your name,” said Mr Allan.
“It just personalises [the guest experience] from the start. If they say 'my name is Stephen', you can say ‘welcome to breakfast Stephen. Let me show you to your table’ and you are off to a fantastic start."
The strategy was partly inspired by Mr Allan’s experience working with the British Royal family early on in his career.
"At Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, staff were expected to address the Queen as ‘Your Majesty’ in every sentence, and ‘Ma’am’ at a push later," said Mr Allan.
But he said things were different once at Balmoral, the Queen’s Scottish holiday home.
“They are on holiday there so you have to cut it all out,” he said.
“If an environment like that can be relaxed about these things, then why can I not do it in a hotel in Dubai?”
Experts agree the strategy is refreshing and that it works. Friendliness, they say, can only be created through a personal connection.
"I totally agree with the approach,” said Maria Pearson, chief executive and founder of Grow.ME, a Dubai-based global development consultancy that has worked with several hotels to train their team and leadership.
“The key will be providing employees with the skills, confidence and alternatives to engage with guests; to show respect and build a friendly rapport.
"An important aspect to understand is what does respect and friendliness look like for the customers."
So far, guests at the hotel seem to have appreciated the novel approach — even if they are not consciously aware it is different.
“Nobody has made any negative comments and no one has said they would rather be referred to as sir,” said Mr Allan.
“I don’t think a lot of people recognise directly that they are being spoken to in a slightly different way. It’s subconscious.”
The hotel scores consistently highly on customer service on sites like TripAdvisor, where guests rate their stay.
Not all reviews are five-star, but some have remarked on how the hotel lives up to its promise to be the friendliest place to stay in the city.
"I particularly appreciated the personal touches with my stay — a visit from the hotel front desk manager, special concierge treatment, and friendly staff in every encounter,” wrote one guest.