Directing events

Laura Haucke, director of conference and catering services for The Ritz-Carlton, Doha, talks to Caterer about last minute events, creating an Alpine village in the desert, and picking up two Depa Hotel Awards.

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By  Sarah Campbell Published  July 1, 2006

Laura Haucke, director of conference and catering services for The Ritz-Carlton, Doha, talks to Caterer about last minute events, creating an Alpine village in the desert, and picking up two Depa Hotel Awards.

Laura Haucke has a team of eight, helping her arrange events for up to 3000 people.

Laura Haucke is normally the face behind the scenes when it comes to big events. However, the director of conference and catering services for The Ritz-Carlton, Doha got the chance to step into the limelight in May when she was awarded the Depa Middle East Young Hotelier of the Year accolade in Dubai.

At just 29 years old, Haucke is already making a name for herself when it comes to pushing the boundaries of events management in the region, and it is little surprise that the hotel was also awarded the Hotel Convention and Conference Facilities award on the same evening.

Doha is only Haucke’s second overseas posting from her native Germany, where she studied hotel management, and was initially drawn into the events field. Her first hotel posting was in Spain, at the Mallorca Marriott Son Antem Golf Resort & Spa.

“I started as a trainee, and was then made co-ordinator in sales and marketing and events management. I got a chance to do both, which was very useful. Naturally, sales is the first step to an event. You have to establish the relationship with the client,” she says.

The Mallorca Marriott Son Antem Golf Resort & Spa has two 18-hole golf courses, and as a Mediterranean resort it has a lot of potential for outside events. “We organised a lot of golf tournaments, product launches and big events,” Haucke remembers.

However, from a Mediterranean isle to the bustling Middle East hub of Doha, the change could not have been more dramatic, yet Haucke took it all in her stride.

“I came here straight from Mallorca, and joined as assistant director of conference and catering services. The function area is huge here, but the market is very different. It is very fast, and very last minute. But I have got used to it, and have enjoyed it since the start,” she admits.

Within 18 months of being in Doha, Haucke was promoted to the position of director, and took charge of her team of eight event co-ordinators.

Outside catering is a growing trend in Qatar, and the Doha market is particularly booming, with five-star brands such as Four Seasons, Sheraton and The Ritz-Carlton going head to head to capture the large delegations and most sumptuous weddings. Haucke, and her team of eight, regularly find themselves juggling events for up to 3000 pax, as well as the odd, very last minute, dinner for 500. Yet the young hotelier remains calm, as she confidently smoothes out any last minute wrinkles to present an event filled with all the glamour and service the guests expect from The Ritz-Carlton.

“The market here is very last minute and you have to get used to that, and be relaxed about it. You have to adapt and have to make it happen,” Haucke says.

“It is not usual to get requests for a 500 pax event for the following day. This can be for many reasons: usually because someone has quite simple forgot to book the event, but invites have already gone out. The client is in a situation and you have to make it happen, but in The Ritz-Carlton way,” she adds.

Since joining the hotel in 2004, Haucke has overseen a wide variety of creative and challenging events. Not long after joining, Haucke was at the helm for the Superbikes 2004 challenge. Superbikes is a major international bicycle event that takes place in Doha at the Losail racetrack. Throughout the two-day event, the hotel served breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea to 1000 attendees daily. In addition, The Ritz-Carlton, Doha provided the main organiser and HE the Emir of Qatar with a special VIP service in the control tower, while the rest of the attendees were in the VIP Village facing the racetrack.

A separate culinary tent was set in the VIP Village and another VIP kitchen in the control tower. The VIP Village hosted 50 separate VIP lounges hosting different companies, while the control tower benefited from a separate set up and a different VIP menu.

“I enjoy dealing with caterings that really challenge you,” Haucke says, but that has to be something of an understatement. Following on from the Superbikes event, Haucke then went on to build an ice skating rink in a tennis court, for an evening event entitled ‘With love from St. Morritz’. The event also recreated an Alpine village, a real feat considering that this is the Middle East.

Another creative ideas saw The Ritz-Carlton, Doha taking over an island to cater for 3000 people.

“Sometimes you have to take a risk,” Haucke admits. “Guests to Doha usually go to typical ‘Heritage Village’ events, so they certainly remember travelling into the desert and entering a Swiss forest, for example.

“It is all about the event leaving a memory. Of course, you can’t force a client to see things your way when creating an event, but some just trust you,” she remarks.
It is easy to see that Haucke has a talent for the unusual, and a client that gives her free reigns on an event is promised something out of the ordinary.

“I enjoy looking at a room and imagining what I can do with that space. It is fun to do,” Haucke says.

Selling an idea is just one part of the events process. Developing a relationship with the client, and getting to understand their vision of the event, is key to success.

“The personal approach is something that everyone will remember,” Haucke maintains.
She takes the same attitude when managing her team.

“We meet daily at 5pm and talk about our day, and the events still to come. We also talk about our personal events, as that helps me to get to know them in order to allocate events. An analytical person is better suited to large conferences, while a creative personality fits better with romantic events, such as weddings,” she explains.

“It is my job to create the excitement with the team, to focus them on the events. The way to manage is to lead by example; I can’t sit in the office all day. I write my own offers, and give the team the freedom to try things on their own, while always being available.

“I have to say, I am sure there is no better team in the world than this team,” she says with a proud smile.

However, even after winning two awards, Haucke is not ready to sit on her laurels just yet. She knows that, with the number of new hotels set to enter the Doha market in the years to come, competition is going to get a lot tougher.

“I have to watch what the other hotels and catering companies are doing. I do my research,” she admits. “We cannot continue doing things as we did yesterday, we have to continuously improve.

“However, I have to say that I the Hotel Convention and Conference Facilities award really meant a lot to me. Everyone in the department worked really hard to achieve that, and I felt really proud. Now we have to continue living up to it.”

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