Winning a coveted title such as The Best Luxury Boutique Hotel in the UAE, 2020, by the prestigious Luxury Lifestyle Awards is no small thing, especially in such a competitive environment as that of Dubai, which is home to many globally acclaimed properties. This is exactly whatMeliã Desert Palm Dubaihas just achieved. It takes exceptional skill to stand-out in this market, and so we set out to find out just how Nathalie Cockayne, General Manager of Meliã Desert Palm Dubai has realized such success.

Luxury Lifestyle Awards: What background do you have in hospitality?

Nathalie Cockayne: Hospitality has always been my passion, since I was a student. I obtained my Bachelor of Business degree in Hotel Management from the Australian International Hotel School, Canberra (Australia).

I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years and my UAE connection goes back to the year 1999, when I started my career at the iconic Burj Al Arab in the position of Guest Services Executive. I’ve worked my way up the rungs since then, having worked with some wonderful brands including InterContinental Dubai, The Setai South Beach Miami, The Savoy London, Fairmont Beijing, Island Shangri-La Hong Kong and Mandarin Oriental Qatar.

I returned to the sandy shores in 2012 to join The H Hotel as the Director of Operations and Hotel Manager for St. Regis. Later, I joined MeliãDesert Palm Dubai in July 2019.

LLA: What is your special interest in horses and the game of polo?

NC: I was a keen equestrian as a child and still totally adore horses. Polo has been rightly called “the sport of the kings”. It is regal and undoubtedly suitable for the lifestyle of the GCC residents and nationals. As a British national, it is second nature for us to go for polo matches, and socialise with our family and friends, over afternoon tea.

Dubai hosts one of the world’s most prestigious events in the world, the Dubai World Cup, that is proof that people in the region, including the royal families, have a keen interest in polo and horse racing.

LLA: What kind of guests do you attract, and where are they mostly from?

NC: We mainly attract GCC travellers along with guests from the UK and Spain. We have very private pool villas in the resort, which is a lucrative offering for Arab nationals, as they prefer complete privacy, especially for families that want to swim or enjoy a private BBQ in their garden.

Meliã Desert Palm Dubai has always been a popular location for staycations as we are located close to Downtown Dubai, yet once you arrive, you are in a secluded, undisturbed space totally unique compared to the hustle and bustle of the rest of Dubai.

The retreat regularly welcomes wellness groups participating in a variety of retreats, couples looking for a mini moon or baby moon, and for the last 10 years it has hosted numerous extravagant and gorgeous destination weddings.

LLA: What are the fundamental management skills necessary to run a successful luxury hotel?

NC: In my opinion, the essential management skills necessary to run a successful luxury hotel are patience/tolerance, the ability to think on your feet, an eye for detail, genuine care for people and a never-ending desire to improve. I work with hotel staff from across the globe, for example, our Executive Chef is Argentinian so in a city like Dubai, it is essential that we accept each other’s cultural differences, and work together to achieve a common goal.

As someone who deals with not just staff from different nationalities, but also guests from all over the world, I need to think on my feet. Dealing with unsatisfied guests, complaints or simply working out strategies to put our best foot forward every season and delivering quality customer service requires thought and planning.

The last few months were definitely unpredicted and have affected everyone; such scenarios need crisis management, and as a GM it has been my responsibility to pivot away from the traditional way of doing business, bring the team together, and assure them that the situation will get better.

LLA: How has Covid-19 impacted the way you operate?

NC: Travel and hospitality industries have been hit hard by Covid-19. As mentioned earlier, nobody knew we would be dealing with a global pandemic. We are a boutique luxury property, so we have always taken care of guest safety and hygiene, but with Covid-19, we are following all the necessary sanitation procedures to ensure our staff and guests are safe and comfortable at the resort. Strict social distancing measures have been implemented throughout the resort, especially at the F&B outlets and Fitness Centre.

Samāna Spa is operating within the ‘Stay Safe with Melia’ guidelines set by Melia Hotels International, but we have managed to alter our offering to ensure we provide our guests with their preferred treatments that are approved by the authorities.

LLA: What in your opinion is the best way to keep your staff motivated?

NC: Transparency and communication.Your staff need to trust and believe in you. In the last few months, we have definitely seen that being transparent about the situation and communicating our vision and approach as a brand, helps in keeping the staff motivated and encourages them to think differently about the way they support the property.

LLA: What are 3 positive things your employees would say about you?

NC: Haha, I hate to blow my own trumpet, so I requestedthree members of the team to write a little something. Please see below.

  • It is a pleasure to work with Nathalie. She took the reins of the resort when it was undergoing a turbulent time, and under her guidance we have been more successful than the previous years.
  • Nathalie is innovative. She is always thinking of new ways to entice guests and Desert Palm residents, and deliver the best offering
  • Nathalie has a calm and cheerful demeanour. With her open-door policy, she is always willing to hear our ideas and provide feedback

LLA: Where do you feel you delight your guests the most – what is the ‘wow’ factor for them?

NC: As the GM of a legacy property tying up with Meliã Hotels International, it has been important for me to retain the rich heritage of the resort, while still offering something new. We host Desert Palm loyals as well as new travellers, so we want to ensure that the old don’t feel alienated because of the ‘new’ offering.

Another ‘wow’ factor for guests has definitely been the views of the lush polo fields. Despite the resort being located in a city, once you enter the premises, you can feel the tranquil ambience and even hear the birds chirping in the grounds.

LLA: Melia Desert Palm Dubai has just won The Best Luxury Boutique Hotel in the UAE, 2020 by Luxury Lifestyle Awards – what does this mean to you?

NC: We are honoured to win this prestigious accolade. Earlier this year, Meliã Desert Palm Dubai received its five-star certification from the Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing, Government of Dubai. Winning The Best Luxury Boutique Hotel in the UAE 2020 by Luxury Lifestyle Awards is another feather in our cap.

LLA: Is there any message you’d like to get out to your guests and staff for this win with the Luxury Lifestyle Awards?

NC: The UAE government has done a commendable job in handling the Covid-19 crisis. We are all facing challenging times right now and we will emerge stronger. I have faith the industry will bounce back and travellers will get to enjoy their much-awaited holidays soon. Without the support of our owners, loyal guests, Residents and colleagues we could not have achieved what we have through the pandemic, and they desire to be recognised for the important role they have played in our success.