Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 October 2007
Issue No. 865
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Turning moments into memories

The first Fairmont hotel chain in Egypt opens in the fall. Al-Ahram Weekly talks to the general manager about his expectations

Click to view caption
The façade of the new Fairmont Towers due to open soon

Heliopolis is the venue of the Fairmont complex: Fairmont Towers, the first property to be opened by the Canadian chain in Egypt, and Fairmont Heliopolis, formerly known as the Sheraton Heliopolis. Fairmont, reports Rehab Saad, will operate the property (Fairmont Heliopolis) under the name Hotel Heliopolis prior to an extensive renovation period which will include rooms, public areas and the building's façade.

The gateway to Egypt, the property is the first complex that Fairmont will be managing in Cairo. The other will open in four months at the Nile City complex on the Nile.

Alex Kassatly, general manager of Fairmont Towers, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the company was now expanding and had big plans for the Middle East. "We are now in Europe, Mexico and China and we are proud to be in Egypt. Dubai had the first [Fairmont] property in the Middle East and Egypt the second."

Fairmont Towers is designed to hold 247 guest rooms including 10 suites. It is built to reflect a unique sketch of contemporary and art deco designs with emphasis on Greek, ancient Egyptian and Asian cultures. In Greek, Heliopolis means "city of the sun". The sun was thought to have been a primary factor in the process of creation and, in the old Egyptian kingdom, Atun was the god of creation. With five sun- shaped designs, the "sun theme" runs through the atrium, the bridal suite, and the conference and banqueting floors at Fairmont Towers.

The hotel's lighting accentuates the sun theme with subtle orange tones that tastefully adorn glass floors, partitions, ceilings and paintings. Even the public bathrooms feature orange coloured spotlights.

Looking deeper into the creative construction of Fairmont Towers, one could easily identify what the Chinese philosophers referred to as the five states of change: earth, wood, metal, fire and water. Landscaped gardens, indoor plants, fountains, rivers, water passages, wooden pontoons, stone pillars, sand walls, guaranteed ventilation, and natural lighting are just a few examples of the elements of the universe and the states of change.

The awe-inspiring atrium is a masterpiece in contemporary design -- 17 basking metal pillars 22 metres high, 1,000 square metres of wire truss holding the glass façade, 15 fountains, 20 palm trees, and floral beds. At the heart of the structure a white pergola sheds its glowing light on a gray ceiling that takes the shape of the Pharaonic Horus eye -- a symbol of power and protection. The pupil of the eye is the reflection of the fountain lights in the centre of the pergola. The glass stage on the side of the pergola is creatively designed to fit a variety of purposes, be it entertainment or decoration.

On the left, an escalator leads to the ballrooms and ahead runs an artificial river that flows through the whole atrium between plants, water passages, pebbles and stones. Floor lights emit a spectrum of orange, blue and green, and wooden pontoons serve as the water dining areas of the gourmet restaurant Aqua e Luce. The restaurant's design is an integral part of the dining experience with its open areas, private dining room, wine racks and display kitchens.

"The beauty of this complex is the two towers, the atrium in the middle, the pools, the spa, the health clubs, the ground and the luxury of the product," says Kassatly. "It will be an open resort where you can walk out of the room and have gardens all over. You feel that you are in a resort out of this world instead of being in a city centre where you walk out and you smell the gasoline and people are all over the place. It is the sense of being at ease.

"Ten restaurants presenting various themes make you feel you don't have to go out, you don't have to break your head in traffic and don't have to smell car exhaust. It is also a complex where honeymooners can spend a week where everything is accessible. They can go to the Pyramids, Sharm El-Sheikh or Luxor and return, so it is well placed in a community and in an environment that will appeal to a lot of clientele."

Aqua e Luce is the first gourmet restaurant of its kind to open in Cairo. Serving contemporary Italian cuisine with French overtones, the hotel's heartthrob offers guests modern presentations in hip and trendy dishware. Unlike the regular breakfast buffet, Aqua e Luce offers guests tastefully designed bite-sized amuse-bouche delights in tempting presentations served in the most inviting cups and spoons. Lunch and dinner are served à la carte offering dining connoisseurs a variety of antipasti, soups, salads, home-made raviolis and pastas, mouthwatering seafood platters, and tantalising desserts.

In the centre of the atrium, Café Heliopolis is another refreshing encounter for guests with its unique selection of home- made ice-creams, juices, and paninis. Camel milk ice cream with organic dates is one of the countless creative offerings on the ice-cream menu. The outdoor pizza bar takes its guests back in time to happy memories of their childhood and youth with its comfort food menu that serves a variety of salads, pizzas, pastas, and timeless favourites like fish 'n chips and burgers.

The reddish brown fusion glass of Fuze bar instills an immediate feeling of warmth, optimism and energy. Fuze serves continental cuisine and high end snacks. Between freshly shucked oysters, tiger prawns is coriander puree and mango salsa, deli gourmet sandwiches, grilled Asian satays, Angus beef burger and sushi.

The Fairmont Company was established over 100 years ago in southern Canada and the US where service tops all else. "It is the service culture that we offer to our clientele," Kassatly said. "We care about our clients and we believe the guest is the boss. When he enters the property we have to bring out the red carpet." He said every guest has his own preferences and Fairmont over the years has successfully become aware of the preferences of each and every guest like, for example, wanting to have feather pillows or fresh juice in the morning, or to dine in French or an Italian restaurant. "By knowing their preferences we want guests to feel like he/she is at home away from home."

Kassatly said Fairmont is a brand with a mission, a vision and values. Fairmont's main mission is turning moments into memories for every guest, and its values are to respect the integrity of all employees and guests.

"In Fairmont we work for the community. We participate in festivals and in charity events. We have been able to create a relationship over the years with clients, many of whom have become followers and friends who go to each property in various destinations, everywhere we are."

Kassatly believes that the company's success will ultimately lie in its staff. "We invest a lot of time and money in them because they are the ones who are going to pass on the message of Fairmont -- the message of respect and care."

Conferences facilities in Fairmont are another story. Named after ancient Egyptian precious stones, there are three function rooms on the mezzanine level: Amber, Turquoise and Onyx, which is a fully equipped smart room. The business centre is on the same level and it has its own pantry and one board room. On the naturally lit lower mezzanine level, there are two meeting rooms -- Coral and Granite -- and the main ballroom -- The Canyon -- along with two bars. This level is equipped with a huge elevator that can accommodate a passenger car, which makes Fairmont Towers an ideal venue for car launches. The car park also opens directly onto the lower mezzanine, giving guests a higher level of privacy and independence.

Although regarded as one complex, Fairmont Towers and Fairmont Heliopolis are two different properties. "Each property will have its own identity and its own clients," Kassatly said. "Fairmont Towers is at the higher end of the market where we will compete with the Four Seasons. Fairmont Heliopolis is up against Grand Hyatt and the JW Marriott."

As the number of deluxe hotels in Cairo increases, competition has become intense but Kassatly says that's healthy. "We won't offer outstanding service but we'll provide the outstanding product. We'll communicate that to our guests and we'll make them live that experience. We have created over the years a large network of clientele worldwide who are anxious to work with us and come to our properties in Egypt."

Several marketing techniques are also on Kassatly's list. "We are going to create relationships, meet ground operators and will introduce ourselves in all the markets in the area. This is not something done overnight. You build it as you go along. All ground operators and travel agents should know that we are good, credible and trustworthy. This is important."

Kassatly believes that Egypt embodies all the characteristics of a major tourist destination. "Nobody can copy what Egypt has. Here you get the foundation of civilisation and you get things that nobody else can offer... I think you have to capitalise on that and promote yourself vigorously around the world in different markets. I see that Egypt is promoted well in newspapers and magazines. But today there are more and more destinations available for different clients and for different travellers. It's not like before when there were lesser options. Today all the eastern part of Europe is opening up, China is opening up and India too, so the market has become more competitive so you have to be always present."

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