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Newsletter 02/2015

Face to Face with... | Sharon Garrett-Otter

 

Please tell us a little about (your workplace/business).

Anantara Hotels Resorts & Spas operate six luxury properties in the UAE including Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, the three different resorts on Sir Bani Yas Island, Anantara Eastern Mangroves in Abu Dhabi and of course Anantara Dubai The Palm. The Area Marketing & Communications office for Abu Dhabi is based at Eastern Mangroves though I spend time at all of our properties each month.

What is your role at (your workplace/business)?

I’m responsible for the Area Marketing and Communications for the five properties in Abu Dhabi including their restaurants, activities and spas.

How long have you been working in the role and where were you working previously?

About 18 years in PR/Marketing functions. I originally came to the UAE for a role with Jumeirah (which of course back then had not been established as the group identity). I’ll never forget that first phone call. I was sitting in my Gold Coast office at Royal Pines Resort and the phone rang. I remember not knowing where the UAE was and the first thought through my mind was, why would I go there? Would I have to be covered and would I be able to drink wine?

Days later I boarded Emirates for interview, arrived in the late night and woke up in Jumeirah Beach Hotel to stunning views of the Burj Al Arab under construction. I was offered the role before I flew back to Australia. The rest is history. I loved working on all of those fantastic properties and a great degree of my role was destination marketing and a lot of change management with regard to the west’s perceptions.

I then moved to Hong Kong for a two year contract with Intercontinental as Director of Marketing & Communications, which was a blast working with a man called Gerhard Hecker who funnily enough has found his way to Dubai to join Shangri-La. On that note, it was my second last day in Hong Kong, when Shangri-La head office called and asked if I’d go back to the Middle East to join their team at the Dubai property and the pre-opening of Traders. That was a crazy time in Dubai, mad parties, traffic jams, it was the mid noughties and the wild times.

After 3 years I decided to take a break from being on the hotel side and started my own business. I did that as well as two radio shows and was a partner in a general trading company that was heavily involved with Dubai Summer Surprises and you guessed it, Modhesh. I had nightmares about that yellow character. My time was increasingly spent on designing kids toys and retail items with significant travelling to different factories in China. Later I was approached to handle Virgin Galactic’s Accredited Space Office in Dubai as Head of Space Marketing & PR. That was out of this world! I can even say I’ve done my astronaut space training in the centrifuge.

End 2011 I took the opportunity to return to hotels and joined Anantara. The attraction was the simplicity of the brand promise, in that our main aim is that each and every guest leaves with an amazing story. I’m really loving my role with Anantara and I work with some awesome people. We’ve opened three properties in Abu Dhabi alone, in my 3 years with them.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Diversity, being empowered and encouraged to be creative and guiding a young team.

What is the most challenging and difficult aspect of your job?

There’s never enough money for all the fabulous things we’d like to do. There rarely is in hotels. I’m sure everyone says that. I think a challenge is keeping yourself up to date with the changing landscape of communications and the digital world. I also think motivating Generation Ys is a challenge, they are very different to the 40+ age group with different drivers and I think being insightful enough to understand that and see how to get the most from this group is going to be more and more important.

What does a typical day at work look like?

No two days are the same. My favourite part of the day is around 10am when I walk down to Ingredients and see our Barista, Rahman, who makes me a flat white or a “Sharon’s Special” which I carry back up the stairs to my office and get through emails. My day involves a lot of writing, many meetings, planning and executing, lots of numbers, putting out fires and a few late nights. No one ever tells you when you start your career in PR for instance, when the full emphasis is on crafting a story and media contacts that you’re going to have to be a whiz at finance!

How do you like to spend your leisure time?

I love going for early morning walks on the beach with my husband and our dog on the weekend, visiting great restaurants or entertaining friends at home. My husband is a great cook and I’m terrific at pouring bubbles. We both love travelling. I love reading but I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read the first 5 pages of a book, only to fall asleep and not remember what I read and do it all over again the next night and the night after that…

Do you have any general comments to make about living in Dubai?

Play by the rules and you’ll have a great life here. Respect the different cultures, try different foods and get to know your colleagues. And my final piece of advice is for the louder types like me. Some Aussies come across as a little over confident and even aggressive, remember that what was normal at home sometimes strikes fear in others. Let them get to know you to understand you.

What is the best piece of advice you could give new arrivals to the business world of Dubai?

Read some of the locally published books like Don’t They Know Its Friday and From Rags to Riches: the Story of Abu Dhabi. Learn cultural sensitivities. Finally, try to learn the language. I’m rubbish at Arabic but the few words I’ve picked up along the way really helped me particularly when I had my own business dealing with licensing departments. Have fun and be inspired.

Sharon Garrett-Otter is a member of the ABCD.

sgarrett@anantara.com

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