Luxury logistics

Patrick Antaki, general manager at Le Meridien Al Aqah, efficiently manages the hotel’s supply chain to ensure customers receive unbeatable five-star service.

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By  Robeel Haq Published  May 29, 2006

|~|patrickantaki2.jpg|~|Patrick Antaki, general manager at Le Meridien Al Aqah|~|Holidaymakers are packing their suitcases and heading towards the United Arab Emirates in record numbers. The unlimited supply of golden beaches, luxurious shopping malls and electrifying nightlife has created a massive boom in the country’s hospitality industry. Whilst a large number of tourists are flocking to Dubai and Abu Dubai, the picturesque emirate of Fujairah is also attracting an increasing share of the UAE’s tourist market. In particular, the Le Meridien Al Aqah beach resort has established itself as a haven for holidaymakers looking for a relaxing break away from the city. The logistical challenges at high occupancy hotels, such as Le Meridien Al Aqah, are normally quite intense. However Patrick Antaki, the hotel’s general manager, has adopted a stringent 24/7 logistics strategy to ensure operations run smoothly and customers receive a five-star service. “The biggest logistical challenges were presented during the hotel’s opening,” says Antaki. “Careful pre-planning is essential because huge amounts of furniture is being delivered months before the hotel doors are opened to the public. Everything must arrive on schedule in perfect condition.” Le Meridien Al Aqah purchased a variety of furniture prior to the hotel’s opening, including beds, cabinets and lamps for the bedrooms, and tables, chairs and kitchen equipment for the restaurants. Some of the furniture was sourced locally, whilst other items were shipped from various European countries. “During hotel openings, there are plenty of empty rooms available, so storage space is not a problem,” says Antaki. “The furniture is later allocated to different rooms on a floor-by-floor basis and distributed internally.” The complexities of hotel openings normally present some logistical nightmares, especially in terms of unreliable suppliers. Although Le Meridien Al Aqah now boasts a dependable network of suppliers, this was not always the case. “We suffered some bad experiences during the opening,” admits Antaki. “For example, the hotel’s supply of linen is supposed to arrive one month prior to the grand opening to allow time for quality checks. Unfortunately our supplier arrived empty handed on the delivery date and provided a variety of excuses. Luckily, we found another supplier who provided just-in-time deliveries, so the crisis was avoided.” The situation highlighted the importance of reliable suppliers and Le Meridien has since become more selective before choosing its business partners. “I strongly believe in marriage of brands,” says Antaki. “If you are a quality brand, you cannot settle for a company offering inferior quality. It is essential to analyse suppliers, test quality and negotiate prices before selecting your business partners.” “Instead of focusing on costs, we base this process on reliability and value for money, even if that means picking a more expensive supplier,” he adds. The hotel has enjoyed considerable success since its opening three years ago. The focus on logistics has now shifted to the daily movement of supplies such as toiletries, food and beverages. “The daily logistics operations cover a lot of different products,” says Antaki. “We normally favour bulk deliveries because of the hotel’s location. Suppliers are not available nearby and the majority of deliveries are arriving from Dubai, which is roughly two hours away by truck.” The distance has increased the importance of stock level optimisation. Running out of items is not acceptable, whilst urgent deliveries are troublesome because suppliers are not located nearby. “I cannot pick up the phone and request the urgent delivery of tomatoes for the kitchen. We need to pre-plan the deliveries and make sure these items are constantly in stock.” Antaki’s team predicts stock levels based on hotel occupancy levels. During peak seasons, the number of items purchased increases to cope with higher demand. Items such as fruit, vegetables and meat are normally ordered a week in advance. Certain speciality items such as Thai and Indian vegetables, used in the restaurants, have a shorter life span and the hotel therefore orders them two or three days in advance. “Pre-planning also produces cost savings for the hotel,” says Antaki. “Making emergency purchases is more expensive. For instance, although ordering 15 kilos of blue crab from a supplier and requesting delivery on the same day is possible, the costs are higher because of the urgency. By pre-planning and purchasing in advance, the price is considerably lower.” The price of food also fluctuates in the Middle East and pre-planning allows the hotel to avoid sudden increases in costs. “Food is a commodity, one day it is expensive, one day it is cheap. For instance, when the bird flu peaked, the price of chicken increased. However, because we pre-planned and purchased in bulk, the excessive charges were avoided.” The majority of deliveries arrive directly at the hotel, although during certain circumstances, Antaki sends an inhouse delivery vehicle to Dubai, where items are collected and brought back to the resort. “Sometimes we order smaller quantities and the costs of delivery by the supplier cannot be justified,” says Antaki. “Therefore, we have a refrigerated truck that regularly visits three or four suppliers around Dubai. Once the truck is filled, it returns back to the hotel.” Similarly, the hotel also owns a smaller purchasing van that will collect individual out-of-stock items, in addition to delicate or expensive items. In addition to food items, the hotel also purchases large quantities of drinks, including fruit juices and alcoholic beverages. “Soft drinks are pretty stable in storage and don’t require very specific conditions. However something like wine takes a lot of care,” says Antaki. “We need temperature and light controlled storage environments otherwise the quality of the wine decreases and its lifecycle shortens. We also purchase beers, which arrive in large barrels that require lots of storage space,” he adds. Le Meridien Al Aqah has a variety of storage rooms to suit its different requirements. This includes dry storage areas and temperature controlled storage with air conditioned, chilled and frozen areas. The hotel is now planning to increase storage capacity in the near future. “When we first opened the hotel, we thought we had plenty of storage space. Today we are actually increasing our storage space because we purchase many items in bulk and need suitable storage space to accommodate the large volumes,” says Antaki. The storage rooms and other supply chain processes have been controlled manually since the hotel opened. However, it has since started converting to digital supply chain management and Antaki hopes to completely switch away from manual processes in the near future. A number of specialised logistics packages are available in the Middle East for the hotel trade, which have been designed to suit the industry’s specific needs. “The supply chain has to be properly managed,” says Antaki. “We currently have a mixture of manual and digital processes, but we are in the middle of computerising supply chain management. We are planning to introduce a complete solution that will include inventory management, purchase ordering and deliveries. Once implemented, all orders will be done through the system.” “We are constantly looking for ways to improve logistics and implementing such technology will help to ensure the hotel remains on top of its game,” Antaki concludes. ||**||

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