Andrew Humphries is getting revved up for a very hectic work schedule next month. As the general manager of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Viceroy hotel – the only hotel in the world to be positioned over a Formula One racetrack – the upcoming racing weekend on November 27, 28 and 29 will leave little time for shuteye. This will be Mr Humphries’ third F1 weekend at the hotel.
When do you start preparations for the F1 weekend?
aThe agreement with Formula One management and the Executive Affairs Authority means the hotel is actually part of the F1 venue. So many of the things we do here, we have to work very closely with the track and ADMM (Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management) to ensure it all goes beautifully. The planning begins 12 or 13 months before, so we’re already planning for next year. The date has been announced, I’m not sure it’s been finally confirmed so as soon as that happens we’re in full planning mode. But the real frenzy begins at race time.
What do F1 preparations involve?
For this F1, we started last year looking at rates and demand, and what events we will have at the hotel. Prices go up over F1 significantly, probably more than in other hotels in the city, because we’re a completely unique location. Due to the pricing rates, we don’t immediately fill up the rooms. In the weeks running up, we are tremendously busy. All the extra food has to be ordered in and there’s no doubt it is a premium event, so it’s all the stuff you’d expect – caviar, smoked salmon, foie gras and other specialities.
How many more staff are needed?
We take on about 80 extra staff in the heart of house rather than guest-facing roles. We prefer to have our own staff dealing directly with the guests, but there is lots of extra work to be done in the back of house.
How do you prepare staff for the rush of racing weekend?
Every year the offering is slightly different, so new training is needed. It’s more about information – so they know who our partners are, the timings of the events and what’s on offer. This will be the sixth year of F1 in Abu Dhabi and many of our staff have been with us for all of the previous F1 events, so while it’s not routine, a lot of what we do has been done before.
How do your day-to-day duties at the hotel change?
My main roles are really financial, marketing and resources. Over the F1, all of that goes out of the window – I shut my office and I spend all my time in the lobby, just meeting and greeting, and being available to help the team operationally. We have a lot of repeat guests for the F1 so, yes, I do get to know them and a lot of them come during the year as well, particularly our local and GCC guests.
How profitable is the F1 for the hotel?
The hotel was really built for the F1, its raison d’être is to sit on the track and host that event. It’s very profitable for us, as the hotel is phenomenally busy. Last year in one day we had 8,000 people passing through the lobby. We’re linked to the track but we’re also linked to the marina, so we become one big, very busy community, with a lot of people coming and going and using our outlets. While it’s expensive – events like this always are – it’s still great value. Everyone goes away feeling like they’ve been part of a very special weekend.
How do your staff cope?
It is a lot of hard work and long hours, but they just love the adrenalin of the event and everything going on around us. The F1 has its own energy, which keeps everyone going. And we take really good care of the staff. We have special uniforms, giveaways and certificates for them. There’s a little ceremony afterwards to acknowledge that their hard work is appreciated.
Do you watch the race yourself?
Not really. Bits of it. I enjoy F1 but it’s a working weekend for us. My job is to take care of the guests and support the staff, so that means I don’t get too much time to watch the race.
What other events keep you busy?
Yas Viceroy is also the sponsor hotel for the Mubadala World tennis championships, so we have all the players staying with us then. And as well as running Yas Viceroy, as the regional vice president of Viceroy hotels in the region I’m also responsible for our new Viceroy hotel on the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai opening next summer. Its address will be Number One, the Palm. There’s a lot of work to be done there before then, so that occupies quite a bit of time. We have a hotel in the Maldives and projects under development in the Algarve, Portugal; Morocco and Serbia, and they all fall under my very modest umbrella too.
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