Peter Skudutis tells us how he revolutionised Dubai's Zero Gravity
Peter Skudutis’ life has been spent by the beach. Raised in Melbourne, Australia, he got involved in hospitality from an early age and has never left. He was made F&B director of a Novotel resort in his homeland at just 19, and then a move to Fiji kept him by the water. But as we sit by the sand at Zero Gravity he tells me he “always had the goal to get to Dubai”.
Now when you think of beach clubs in Dubai, two places immediately spring to mind: Barasti and Zero Gravity. But with the latter not existing when Skudutis made his move here in 2008, it was in the former that he cut his teeth as beverage manager.
He was instantly impressed, and slightly overawed. “Coming out from a hotel where I had five outlets and banqueting and mini bar to look after, and private functions and corporate functions, I thought a place like Barasti would be a walk in the park. Until I got inside.”
The scale of the operation took him by surprise, but he found his feet quickly and played his part in bringing Barasti on to the beach for the first time with weekly parties.
“That changed a lot of things for outdoor venues in Dubai,” Skudutis notes. He also helped pioneer the Barasti beach dome, an activation still in use for events such as the World Cup last summer.
Having spent three successful years at Barasti, Skudutis left for other ventures before receiving the call about Zero Gravity in 2013.
Originally, he says, “the plan for Zero Gravity was for it to be a good quality beach side restaurant,” but Skudutis “saw the potential in it. An incredible space to use in an incredible location”.
With his Barasti background, it was never going to remain just a beach side restaurant, however Skudutis took the tortoise approach to growth.
“We didn’t want to force people to come here and it was the best decision we ever made,” he says. “We didn’t do a large opening party as we didn’t want to have a giant spike in business and then to drop back to nothing and have to start from scratch and waste a lot of resources.”
But after testing the waters with some large scale events, it wasn’t long before Zero Gravity was booking the world’s biggest DJs. Paul van Dyk was the first to come, but he was certainly not the last.
“We’ve flown in 430 international artists into the city, which we’re very proud of because we believe that’s probably one of the highest numbers of any venue in the city,” he says.
To put on these large scale music gigs, Skudutis had to expand Zero Gravity to include a large stage and get high quality audio and visuals. It paid off with Skudutis saying they “broke all records within our group" becoming "one of the highest revenue earning operations within the group ever.”
And so, emboldened by that success, Zero Gravity expanded further. Next up was the swimming pool which was “designed to maximise guests both day and night”. As a marketing tool for the club it has been second to none. The 27-metre long pane of glass that surrounds one side of it must be one of the most Instagrammed locations in Dubai, instantly giving them free promotion.
Skudutis is keen to note that all this expansion happened while Zero Gravity continued to operate as normal.
“We never close,” he says. “We run every single day of the week. Weekends we open at eight o’clock in the morning and close at three the following morning, turn the venue around and do the same the following day. When we built the pool we didn’t want to affect that. We still put the events on, we still ran the beach, we still put on everything.”
Key to Zero Gravity’s success says Skudutis, is that as they opened with essentially a blank canvas.
“We were able to design the space for purpose rather than the other way around. One of the big mistakes is when a hotel is built around rooms and public areas and then there are spaces left behind for F&B to go in. What we’re finding out now more and more is F&B is so important to the success of a hotel so that mind-set needs to flip.”
Skudutis describes Zero Gravity’s structure as being “like a hotel without the rooms” as the sheer size and scope of it covers so much. When they put on an event with up to 8,000 people attending, staff numbers increase from 155 to upwards of 700. He talks us through a “single checklist a mile long” required to put on events of that scale that would take a full magazine to detail.
As Skudutis was overawed when he went to Barasti, so have managers that came to work at Zero Gravity. One said to him: “Peter, when I worked in the hotel there was someone who made the cuff, someone who made the sleeve, someone who made the collar, someone who made the front of the shirt, someone who sewed the buttons on, and then somebody at the end of the process who put it all together. In Zero Gravity you have to learn to make the whole shirt.”
It’s because of this that Skudutis feels his staff, and by extension himself, don’t get the credit they deserve for the continued success of Zero Gravity.
“I don’t believe the recognition is there because I don’t feel the understanding [of the scale of the operation] is there,” he says.
That in 2013 Zero Gravity was nothing but a plan for a beachside restaurant, but now in 2019 is spoken in the same breath as Barasti gives some idea of Skudutis and team’s achievements.
At the heart of it all is a desire to give customers the best possible day out, as Skudutis says.
“If we could put an intercom at the exit we’d like to hear everybody walking out the door saying ‘wow, that was amazing’ and that’s what we really strive to do.”
He adds: “We’ve been in growth since we opened and that growth hasn’t stopped. I believe one of the reasons for that is we are really adaptable.
“We’re positioned well to maintain strong business levels over the next two years. There’s obviously a lot of hope in what 2020 will bring to the market and we look forward to that. But we need to ensure that we continue to innovate quickly.”
Skudutis hints at taking more “risks” when it comes to Zero Gravity’s booking policy, rather than the same old DJs and the creation of more home-grown brands rather than relying on bringing in concepts from abroad.
He's a GM with a proven track record, let’s see if it continues.