FoH Interview: Willem Du Plooy

Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa sports and leisure manager Willem Du Plooy talks about the evolution of the fitness industry in the UAE, and discusses trends in the sector

What inspired you to take up a career in hospitality?

Tourism and hospitality have always fascinated me since I was in school. I grew up in South Africa which is a great tourist destination, and therefore got used to the diversity of its visitors. I enjoy working in a multicultural environment and being in Dubai, there is always a new opportunity to learn new cultures and traditions through the hotel guests that I meet on a daily basis as the sports and leisure manager. Hospitality always has something new in store — no two days are the same as every day presents a new opportunity to explore and experience.

What are some of the responsibilities in your role?

As the sports and leisure manager, I work with a team comprising 26 professionals taking care of various activities at the resort. This includes the ‘Satori Spa’, two infinity pools in the heart of the desert, a range of leisure activities covering archery, desert bicycling, desert tours, camel and horseback riding, lawn games activities, croquet, volleyball, table tennis as well as the Aladdin’s Kids Club that offers educational and physical activities. I am also responsible for the daily operations, ensuring we maintain a high standard of guest satisfaction with all the services that we provide. I am also tasked with developing new and innovative recreational programmes for hotel guests, and members from the private and public sector.

How do you approach your role at the property?

My role is very dynamic and that is probably why I love my job so much. In addition to our active operation, leisure and recreational activities that we offer to our hotel guests, we work very closely with our events department, which promotes the secluded location and its landscape — perfect for a wide range of activities and recreational programmes.

Having worked in the UAE since 2009, how has the fitness space in the industry evolved?

The fitness industry has evolved tremendously since 2009 especially in Dubai, which has become a hub for major sports and fitness events. A few stand-alone fitness centres and gyms, which, from my point of view, were established based on a preference rather than a profitable business, evolved too quickly— and many have ended up struggling to attract members as operating costs have also increased a lot since 2009. On the other hand, we have seen some big gyms opening their door presenting major names and promoters, which is a great contribution to the fitness sector in the UAE. However I would assume, based on personal experience that they struggle to maintain profitability.

Cross-fit and hybrid forms of staying fit are trending among residents; are these trends you will also push at the property?

The concept is expanding in the UAE and the cross-fit and hybrid forms of staying fit definitely has its audience, however I have some doubts whether the trend will be able to sustain itself. There will always be a need for a gym with traditional fitness classes like the Les Mills classes in a studio set-up environment with choreography. At Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa, we try to be up-to-date with the new trends and concepts in the fitness and recreation sector and ensure that any new facility or service undergoes proper evaluation and assessment prior to its launch and implementation.

What would you say are your most significant achievements in your career?

In 2012 we successfully launched a cricket tournament for amateur clubs in the UAE; we managed to get 32 teams to take part in the Saadiyat Cricket Tournament that was conducted over a three-month period.

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