The Long Walk to #HattaFortHotel

JA Resorts and Hotels Senior Management

Over the years, many Iconsulthotels clients have become personal friends and I’m delighted to support the senior management team of JA Resorts & Hotels in their latest charity endeavor: The Long Walk to Hatta.

In a bold challenge to raise funds for the All As One foundation in Sierra Leone, JA Resorts & Hotels is literally crossing mountains to get this orphanage a much-needed fund injection.

The company’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) David Thomson and five general managers, who head the hospitality company’s distinct properties, are undertaking the huge challenge of walking from Al Sahra Desert Resort in Dubai to Hatta. The journey covers a distance of approximately 125K kilometers (79 miles) and passes through the Dubai desert and Hajar Mountains.
Comprising five men and one woman, the team will set out at 6:00 am on 14th March 2015 from Al Sahra Desert Resort on the Jebel Ali-Lahbab Road and walk over 12 hours for two full days to reach Hatta Fort Hotel.  In their attempt to do so, they will walk through mountainous terrain, cross Omani borders and will have to sleep overnight in the desert region between Dubai and Hatta.

The team includes Deborah Thomson, Fredrik Reinisch, Otto Kurzendorfer, Torsten Obermann, Yasser Mansour and David Thomson. They have been training since December 2014 for the challenge by mixing strength building exercises and trial walks around Dubai in preparation for the long walk.

It’s all for a very deserving cause though as the team hopes to raise significant funds and gather donations that will support the All As One foundation, which cares for orphans and destitute children in Sierra Leone. To make a donation and help raise funds for the All As One Children’s foundation please visit

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Social Media Savvy – April 2014

“Social Media Savvy” is my monthly column about all things hospitality & digital in Hotelier Middle East Magazine, the largest hospitality & tourism industry publication in the Gulf region.

In April 2014, I wrote about the dos and don’ts of successful and engaging social media competitions. Find out more at or

HOTELS INNOVATE™ launches in Dubai…

It’s not as if Dubai hasn’t already got its fair share of hospitality, leisure, tourism, or technology events and I usually find it hard to get excited about the launch of yet another new event or conference.

HOTELS INNOVATE™, though, seems a different story. Yes, it’s about hospitality, hotels, and technology, but it’s also about innovation, which is something very few existing events in the region really focus on. Hotels in the United Arab Emirates are facing increasing market place internal and external competition and, although there’s a clear link between an organization’s ability to foster and use innovation and the organization’s competitiveness in the market place, so far there has been little focus on the role innovation plays in hotels in Dubai and the other Emirates.

16816_410890745741008_5968826110821430898_nIn 2013, I completed a research project on the attitude of senior managers towards innovation in five-star hotels in Dubai, so I was particularly excited when I heard about the launch of HOTELS INNOVATE™ in Dubai. The high-profile business forum is already an  established event in New York and Miami, and regularly brings together a line-up of game changers and experts who have boldly taken on the challenge of innovation to create iconic products, services and brands in the hospitality, travel, tourism and real estate industries.

At HOTELS INNOVATE™ Dubai, attendees will spend an afternoon with colleagues from hospitality, travel, tourism and real estate industries exploring how hotels and tourism act as anchors for economic development. Leading experts will share their knowledge and insight on the strategies that consolidate a city brand and elevate the positive impact of these related industries on gross domestic product and human capital.

The event’s agenda is tailored to bring together the best minds in the hospitality industry, to present their perspectives on relevant topics ranging from real estate development to hotel branding, highlighting innovations in art, design, technology, products, and services that are shaping new trends for the future.

10891874_410703772426372_498823297197575350_nI was all set to visit the event as an attendee, simply because I’m very interested in what influencers like Hubert Viriot (Yotel), Philippe Zuber (Emaar Hospitality Group), and Gundeep Singh (The Change Initiative) have to say about innovation in & around the hospitality industry in the region, but then the organisers invited me to join the Taste Makers panel as a participant, which upped my interest even more.

The Taste Makers panel, “Designing for the Future”, will focus on how the latest trends in architecture, interior design, marketing and technology can revolutionize the design and development of hospitality products and services. The panelists will share their insights on how innovation plays an integral role in the creation of a “lifestyle” concept that delivers seamless experiences and delights the most discerning consumers.

Following the Taste Makers panel will be the Power Players panel, “Mixed Use Development & Mega Events”, which will highlight the opportunities for urban transformation in the context of hospitality projects that encourage economic growth and sustainable development, and promote exceptional communities with quality of life.

FINAL 1 TO USE HIDubai-FB-Banner_01_V3.2HOTELS INNOVATE™ Dubai takes place on Tuesday, 14th January 2015, at the Capital Club in DIFC. Doors open at 1 p.m. and the Taste Makers panel kicks off around 2.40 p.m., just after the opening remarks by Marc Bennett, SVP International Operations, Dubai Corporation Travel and Commerce Marketing (DCTCM), who will provide insight on the city’s progressive tourism initiatives that are set to promote extraordinary growth in the years to come.

See you there?


Iconsulthotels January & #DSF Offers!

Welcome to 2015! I hope you made it into the new year in style! You know that it’s a brand new year, because the Dubai Shopping Festival has just kicked off its yearly shopping & entertainment bonanza and everybody is out bargain hunting!

The folks in the Iconsulthotels kitchens thought they’d make it easy for you to start the year with great savings and promptly came up with fantastic January & DSF offers:

Iconsulthotels January & #DSF Offers!

Four hours of Iconsulthotels social & digital media training for only AED 1,100! You save AED 2,500!

The number of sessions is strictly limited, so it’s first come, first served. You have to book & pay your session in January, but training delivery can be at any time in Q1 2015.

Use your training hours to get your team(s) refreshed on social & digital media management, or to help them tackle a specific service or platform better. Let Iconsulthotels show you how to target your social & digital marketing efforts better and make your advertising budgets go further. Want to learn more about the subtle art of business blogging or social media monitoring? Reputation management & online reviews handling? Surf over to the Iconsulthotels website, find out more, book your slot(s), and they’ll deliver.

Cristal Hotels & Resorts retains Iconsulthotels

Cristal Hotels & Resorts - An Iconsulthotels ClientWe’re pleased to announce that Cristal Hotels & Resorts decided to increase its cooperation with Iconsulthotels by signing a retainer agreement. This follows the Abu Dhabi-based hospitality group’s employment of Iconsulthotels’ experts on a project-basis in 2014.

The group, which was founded in 2006, currently operates 4 and 5-star hotels in the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Lebanon, and the Comores. The Cristal Group aims to increase its portfolio to 25 properties within five to ten years.

Iconsulthotels provides Cristal Hotel & Resorts with revenue optimization, e-marketing, and general operations advisory services.

To find out more about Cristal Hotel & Resorts, please click here.

ICH_logoIconsulthotels is a Dubai-based ultra-boutique consulting firm. Iconsulthotels specializes in assisting small & medium hospitality & service industries companies to achieve their business goals through innovative use of PR, social/digital media, and customised business strategies.

Jingle the bells! Fire the works! Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

ICH Festive 3

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/Season’s Greetings to all my friends, clients, fellow industry professionals, and contacts!

The Iconsulthotels’ offices will be closed from 24th December 2014 – 4th January 2015 for all non-retained business.

In the meantime, please feel free to check out the Iconsulthotels Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn pages for exclusive updates & information.

Bored? Stuck in a rut? Be more awesome in 2015! Sign up for the Iconsulthotels Monthly(ish) Newsletter here!


YaDig? No you don’t! No diggity…

Four years ago, around the same time as Iconsulthotels started operating, another local Dubai start-up opened its virtual doors to the public. YaDig set out to spice up online consumer reviews in the GCC and billed itself as the “Middle East’s local Search Listings and Business Reviewing Website”. It wanted to connect “Retailers to Consumers, Consumers to Retailers, and Consumers to Consumers” via its “unique social and gamification dashboard”.

Today, it seems, YaDig folded and with it, thousands of consumer reviews of businesses in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Jeddah, Riyadh, and many other cities in the Gulf.

I liked YaDig when it started. It was fresh, friendly, local, and filled the void left in the region by the (continued) absence of other credible online review services such as Yelp. Sure, there’s TripAdvisor, but that’s heavily geared towards hotels. YaDig, on the other hand, attracted a lot of local F&B reviews. Restaurant and bar owners could claim their listings, add useful details, and reply to reviews. Unlike TripAdvisor, business owners didn’t have the last word, but reviewers could reply to review replies, which – at times – created interesting dialogues.


YaDig seemed to make good progress. The number of reviews went up steadily, an iPhone app joined the fray, and more cities were added to the website. YaDig’s founders also appeared to have clever ideas for expanding the service’s and the mobile app’s functionality – customised menus for restaurants, bars, and service providers on listing pages (think “Zomato”, but more customizable), deals & gift certificates (think “Groupon”, but backed by consumer reviews), and consumer loyalty solutions (think “SnappCard”, but more social). Sadly, only the first one ever made it from the drawing board onto the website.

In its heyday, YaDig also had one of the best (if not the best) online business support I have ever come across. Lana rocked customer service and made dealing with YaDig compared to TripAdvisor a real joy for businesses. What YaDig didn’t have, it seems, was a viable business plan regarding monetization of its service. The company’s sales people, in sharp contrast to its support folks, were rather tardy and inflexible, and the advertising options were limited. In the beginning, SEO also appeared to be problematic, with reviews written on YaDig ranking low in search results, which limited the service’s appeal to advertisers. Although this was eventually addressed, it seemed to come a little too late.

Still, consumers seemed to like the website and mobile app and, unlike Zomato, for example, YaDig managed to attract reviewers from seemingly all nationalities and backgrounds, which gave the reviews added authenticity.

A while ago, I noticed that emails to YaDig’s business support team bounced back. I tried emailing other YaDig folks with change requests for Iconsulthotels clients listings on the website, but only got more email bounces. Phone calls went unanswered and messages to YaDig’s Facebook page also received no replies. I started to get a little concerned, because many Iconsulthotels clients had put a lot of time into optimizing their YaDig listings, uploading menus, photos, and events details, and replying to user reviews.

ToYaDig Office 25th November 2014day, I thought I’d pay YaDig a visit and stopped by their office in JLT’s Indigo Icon Tower.

YaDig’s logo was still outside the door, but other than that things looked bleak. No amount of knocking and rattling the door handle elicited a response.

Oddly enough, YaDig’s website ( went offline a little while later.

YaDig’s sudden demise poses the question whether we really need a local alternative to established global review giants like TripAdvisor in the Middle East. Perhaps, today’s consumers prefer to review businesses on Facebook and Google rather than dedicated online consumer review websites?

What’s your opinion?

YaDig, it was spiffing to have you around and I’m a little sad to see you go. No digitty!

Social Media Savvy – March 2014

“Social Media Savvy” is my monthly column about all things hospitality & digital in Hotelier Middle East Magazine, the largest hospitality & tourism industry publication in the Gulf region.

In March 2014, I continued my mini-series of articles about “social” hotels and wrote about how hotels can tap into the social potential of their engineering departments. Find out more at or

Social Media Savvy – February 2014

“Social Media Savvy” is my monthly column about all things hospitality & digital in Hotelier Middle East Magazine, the largest hospitality & tourism industry publication in the Gulf region.

In February 2014, I discussed email marketing. Many people think email marketing’s dead or about to die. Interestingly, the opposite is the case and there are many ways email marketing can be helpful and rewarding for hotels and restaurants. Find out more at or

Social Media Savvy – January 2014

“Social Media Savvy” is my monthly column about all things hospitality & digital in Hotelier Middle East Magazine, the largest hospitality & tourism industry publication in the Gulf region.

In January 2014, I continued my mini-series of articles about “social” hotels and wrote about ways to make hotels’ reservation and revenue departments more social. Find out more at or