The WOW Factor: Getting To Know Thibault De Vries

We sat down with Thibault De Vries, the new General Manager of Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort and Spa and got to know the proud Dutch father, marathon-runner, skier, and global hotelier. From creating “wow experiences” and wellness-centered messaging for the luxury resort to exploring Bahrain’s tourism potential, this ‘new GM on the island’ has much to offer. Read more to find out…

What, in your opinion, sets Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain apart from other hotels in Bahrain?

We’re on a mission to set ourselves apart as more than just a resort—think of us as a wellness sanctuary. It’s about escaping the daily grind and focusing on mental well-being as much as physical health. We’re diving deep into nutrition, sleep, and other vital aspects of personal wellness. Picture yourself unwinding, recharging, and reconnecting with loved ones amidst our serene surroundings.

We’re exploring unique offerings tailored to rejuvenate and energize, crafting packages that leave a lasting impact on your body and soul. While there are plenty of family resorts in the area, we’re determined to stand out as Bahrain’s ultimate destination for holistic wellness.

Our goal? To create unforgettable experiences that leave our guests saying, “Wow!” We’re dedicated to elevating our service to a level where every visitor leaves feeling genuinely wowed, and eager to share their experience with friends and family. It’s all about those wow moments that keep our guests coming back for more, spreading the word and inspiring others to join in on the magic.

What are your immediate priorities at the hotel and how do you plan on benchmarking your success?

As the proud General Manager of our esteemed 5-star hotel, I’m deeply committed to ensuring that every guest who graces our doorstep receives a truly unforgettable experience. Since our inception, we’ve strived to deliver top-notch service, but I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve encountered a few hurdles along the way. However, our focus now is crystal clear: to provide our guests with a “wow experience”.

My team and I are pouring our hearts and souls into elevating our service standards. We recognize that outstanding service is the bedrock of our reputation, and I’m personally invested in handpicking the best talent and providing them with the training they need to exceed expectations. From the moment our guests arrive, we want them to feel not just welcomed, but truly cherished.

At the same time, we’re shaking things up in our sales strategy, aiming for consistency and impact. It’s not just about drumming up business; it’s about forming genuine connections and showcasing the extraordinary features that make us stand out. Whether it’s our intimate private cinema or our sprawling spa, we want every guest to discover something special here.

We’re breathing new life into overlooked corners of our hotel, like our stunning infinity pool and serene beachfront eatery. These spaces hold so much promise for offering unforgettable moments, whether it’s through exclusive adult-only experiences or cutting-edge culinary ventures.

Let’s not forget our littlest guests. We’re revamping our kids club to be a place of wonder and learning, where sustainability isn’t just a buzzword but a way of life.

In essence, my vision is to create a deeply personal guest journey that goes beyond the expected. With passion, creativity, and a genuine desire to exceed expectations, we’re on a mission to redefine luxury hospitality in our corner of the world.

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from your global experiences as a hotelier?

Reflecting on my extensive travels, one of the most significant lessons I’ve learned is the importance of adaptability. It’s a skill that’s become paramount in navigating diverse cultures, environments, and professional settings. As a Dutch national, I’ve always prided myself on being open-minded, but every relocation, occurring roughly every three to four years, has presented a fresh set of challenges.

Moving from Paris to Johannesburg exemplifies this adaptability. Transitioning from the opulence of a Park Hyatt property in Paris to a different interpretation of luxury in Johannesburg required a fundamental shift in approach. Initially, I attempted to replicate the Parisian model, only to realize that the local context demanded a completely different strategy.

In Johannesburg, I had to reassess my goals, standards, and methods of motivation. Unlike the professionals I encountered in Paris who would work round the clock, the team in Johannesburg had different priorities and expectations. This adjustment process was crucial in fostering a collaborative and productive work environment.

The transition from Johannesburg to Moscow further underscored the necessity of adaptability. The shift from Johannesburg’s temperate climate to the Russian winter was not just a change in weather but a profound adjustment in professional and personal dynamics.

Through each relocation, I’ve honed my ability to pivot and tailor my approach to fit the unique circumstances. Adaptability has become a cornerstone of my professional ethos, enabling me to thrive in diverse environments and lead teams effectively.

Adaptability has become a cornerstone of my professional ethos, enabling me to thrive in diverse environments and lead teams effectively.

– Thibault De Vries

What are some of the opportunities and challenges you’re anticipating in Bahrain’s hospitality sector?

The experience right after moving to Bahrain has been positive so far, both personally and professionally. I’ve also learned that while Bahrain does see some tourists from other GCC countries, it’s considerably less compared to destinations like Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Even Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in tourism. There is a need for Bahrain to diversify its tourism sources and make it more accessible for visitors from Europe, the CIS, and the US. We need to develop captivating attractions that will entice travellers to choose Bahrain as their destination.

For instance, Bahrain boasts an impressive exhibition centre, but without adequate airlift, its potential remains untapped. In the short term, expanding air routes, particularly through Gulf Air, is crucial. As a Dutch national, I’ve noticed the absence of direct flights from Amsterdam to Bahrain, highlighting a missed opportunity to attract affluent tourists; not just Amsterdam, but other main gate cities in Europe as well. There’s immense potential in Bahrain’s tourism sector, but strategic initiatives are needed to capitalize on it.

What are you most excited to explore in Bahrain outside of the Resort?

I haven’t had much time to explore yet so that seems like a fair question <laughs>. Well, Bahrain has seen some fantastic developments lately, especially in terms of dining options and entertainment venues. What strikes me most about Bahrain’s potential is its diverse offerings. Take the Al Dana Amphitheater, for instance, attracting big-name concerts. Let’s not forget the impressive exhibition centre. Bahrain International Circuit is another incredible attraction here. All of these are about 15 minutes away from the resort. 

I’m also particularly interested in exploring how Bahrain could become a hub for events, congresses, and conferences. With solid foundations like Al Dana Amphitheatre, Exhibition World Bahrain, and the Bahrain International Circuit, there’s real potential to ramp up tourism. The logistics of hosting thousands of attendees and providing diverse entertainment options need careful consideration. While Bahrain is making strides, we need to ensure we’re competitive on a global scale. Direct flights to major destinations could be a game-changer, but we also need to offer something extra to sway organizers to choose Bahrain over other hubs like Dubai. It’s a balancing act between price, infrastructure, and unique offerings. And it’s a question I’m eager to explore further.

How do you spend your time when you’re not at work? 

On weekends, I make it a priority to spend quality time with my kids. They’re still young, and I don’t want to miss out on being there for them. My first few months here are all about getting settled and steering the team in the right direction. But come summer, I’m hoping to carve out more family time. We’re big on running, thanks to my wife’s passion for ultra marathons. Funny story – I started running a 5K just to keep up with her! Besides running, I love hitting up bars or restaurants with friends and, whenever possible, escaping for a few days of skiing. It’s my ultimate way to unwind and enjoy the great outdoors. And though travelling is a bit trickier with kids, it’s still a big part of our lives.

Where’s your favourite place to travel to?

I have quite a few favourite places, but one that stands out is Lombok, a little island near Bali. It’s incredibly authentic, with a rich culture and warm locals. I visited about 10 years ago so it may have changed since then, but I loved the untouched beauty and jungle vibe. It felt like a true adventure, with stunning beaches and resorts.

If you could offer one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Have more fun and don’t pressure yourself too heavily on building your career experience.