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Le Gray Grows

Q&A with GM Georges Ojeil

by Executive Staff

Situated across from Martyr’s Square with a view of the mountains over the Mediterranean, Le Gray hotel has been a prominent structure in downtown Beirut’s landscape since it was founded in October 2009.

Operated by Campbell Gray Hotels and a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, Le Gray Beirut is a luxury five star property with 87 rooms, six F&B outlets and a spa. As such, Le Gray is positioned as a high end boutique hotel with an emphasis on accommodation and food and beverages.

This positioning has served the hotel well in its eight years of operation in Beirut but, since the property didn’t have a banquet hall or large meeting rooms, certain market segments were harder to access- namely the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) and the wedding segments.

While the presidential suites on the hotel’s top floor were often used for small meetings or receptions, this was not enough to usher through the large volume generated by MICE and wedding segments.

The expansion the hotel is undergoing is meant to rectify this and allow the property to tap into these markets.

Executive sat with the hotel’s General Manager George Ojeil to learn of the expansion’s details and its impact on Le Gray.

E What does the expansion entail?

We have finalized three floors in the building. The basement, ground floor and first floor.

The basement includes a ballroom which can accommodate up to 350 people for a seated meal.

E So you’re targeting the weddings market with that ballroom?

Yeah weddings, social events, conferences… It’s a beautiful ballroom with state of the art equipment and decoration.

And then we are going to have a screening room; the only one in Beirut within a hotel. It’s like an amphitheater or small auditorium with the latest technology in audiovisuals, Dolby surround system etc… it can accommodate 53 people.

E What do you see people using the screening room for?

It could be used for product launching such as car launching which needs special effects and advanced audiovisuals; it can be used for a movie presentation or an afternoon kids’ birthday party with animation.

We also added a multipurpose or news room that can be used as a conference room and can accommodate up to 60 people depending on the setup.

Finally we have a board room that can accommodate up to 26 people in a boardroom set up.

This boardroom will have a virtual screen and we will be the first venue in Beirut to have that.

E Are these spaces going to be rented per hour or how does it work?

If any conference is followed by a meal, the conference room will be granted on complimentary basis. However, if there won’t be any meal (and just a coffee break) there will be a rental fee depending on the length of stay per day and on the room. For example, booking the smaller boardroom has a different fee than the conference which is of bigger size and capacity. It also depends on the demand.

E How often do people attending conferences in Lebanon book a hotel room as well?

Demand for residential seminars is on the increase again with the lift of the travel ban and the safety and security we’ve been witnessing at the local level.

Before the lift of the ban, these seminars had been deviated to Jordan and the Gulf (mainly Dubai and Abu Dhabi) so we have been witnessing increasing demand and this should support occupancy in the hotel as well because previously we were perceived as a boutique luxury hotel which offers accommodation simply and I would say luxury or highly developed services in food and beverages. But now I can say that we will be in a position to host residential conferences.

We are also adding more rooms and will have 103 rooms. This usually supports those kinds of seminars because typically when they meet in Beirut they would need up to forty rooms and when we had only 87 rooms, we couldn’t allow ourselves to book half of the hotel for a seminar and anyhow we didn’t have any conference facilities to offer them.

E Is this a rule that you cannot book half the rooms in a hotel for one event?

We prefer to avoid such scenarios especially in boutique hotels. We are a hotel that is known for repeated business and so we cannot book half of the hotel for a single event because it will put us in a situation where we might have to turn down repeaters.

E How does Le Gray still fit into the boutique hotel feel with 103 rooms?

Usually the number of rooms is below 100 and guests are more than just a number.

You have more of anticipating guests’ needs, more of a personalized service, attention to details…

It’s different than a big box and more complicated. We accommodate high end frequent international travelers with sophisticated demands and that’s why they look for such type of hotels. We know their needs from their previous visit and accommodate for them.

E How many new people are you hiring with this expansion?

27 head counts.

We are going to have a new lobby lounge so we will have more wait colleagues for that, banquet sales, banquet operational people, additional colleagues for housekeeping and a few additional colleagues in areas of support (administrative, sales and marketing) and in the kitchen we will have three additional chefs for that.

E With all these new additions, it seems you want to compete in the MICE category knowing that this space is almost saturated with the existing banquet halls and conference rooms?

There will always be other banquet halls or conference rooms and that is why we have a solid differentiation strategy for positioning our product.

Our wish is to position ourselves as the unique destination in downtown Beirut in terms of conferences and events. We have the best location in Beirut -although in politicized area-but when things are calm the location is strategic in being central with easy access.

We are determined on delivering the same quality of service in our banquets that we do in our restaurants and rooms. It’s going to be very personalized: the choice of menu will be meticulously done, the way the food will be set and the displays is going to be different and innovative with elaborated food stations, carvings….

E You are emphasizing your F&B offerings in your reply. Do you consider F&B to be your strength as a hotel ?

We are an F&B hotel.

We have six outlets for F&B and the banqueting in a 103 rooms hotels with each outlet being unique. Our wish now is to take it the higher level and we recruited a new British chef few months ago.

E Why did you choose to undergo the facilities additions when you did considering the situation the country was in then?

I think they took the right decision investing in tough times back in October 2015. Now, we will be inaugurating the project in perfect timing for the summer season.

E How much did you invest into the expansion?

It could reach $13 million. The furniture, choice of fabric, the artwork… we’ve been meticulous about this and it will pay back.

E Who are you targeting with the additional facilities and the expansion?

The conference and events market is flourishing in Beirut regardless of the situation so this will support the hotel during tough times when Beirut is not a destination for international travelers. Lebanese will always spend like crazy on their weddings.

Now we will have an addition which will allow us to penetrate a new market which we did not benefit from at the time and which affected us.

Despite this we have to point out that we were number one in the market in terms of occupancy.

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