Bollywood Parks' general manager gears up for its grand opening

Thomas Jellum didn’t watch his first Bollywood movie until he had already started his role as general manager of Bollywood Parks in 2014. But he has watched a few Indian blockbusters since then. The 48-year-old was promoted to the position after initially consulting on the project for Dubai Parks and Resorts the year before. He’d previously worked as general manager of the candy-themed park BonBon Land, in his home country of Denmark. Mr Jellum is now gearing up for the grand opening of Bollywood Parks on November 18.

6am

I’ve always been up early, so I don’t use an alarm clock. I live in Victory Heights with my wife, 17-year-old son and 15 year-old daughter. When I started in this business they were about eight and 10, which is our target group, so they’re now black belts in the theme park business. They’ve visited most of the world’s theme parks.

6.30am

I head for Al Qudra to go cycling, eating bananas and apples on the way. There are always about 300 cars parked there when I arrive. I don’t go cycling just for the exercise, it takes my mind off my job and relaxes me before work. Ours is the first 100 per cent Bollywood-inspired theme park in the world. Bollywood isn’t just popular in the Indian subcontinent, it’s huge in Africa too. My first Bollywood movie was Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, a road trip movie that features as one of our attractions.

8.15am

My most important job is to walk the park, and it will be the same when it opens. During the first two hours of operation, you get to see what kind of visitors we have that day, and then you know what decisions need to be taken. In the hotel industry, you’ll know more or less who’s arriving tomorrow. In the theme park business it’s the opposite a lot of people come spontaneously on the day, and you don’t know what demographic they’ll be. I start at the main gate, to experience the same kind of walk that the visitor will have. There’s stuff you notice when they’re building the attractions that you couldn’t see in the two-dimensional drawing plans – such as a staircase, which doesn’t work for disabled people.

10.30am

I have an internal meeting with the director of the marketing, retail or finance departments to find out what challenges we’re facing. We have a checklist to finish the construction and also to look forward to 2017. Are there things we can create that we haven’t thought of yet? It could be new products, a new kind of entertainment.

12.30

We have a fantastic Indian staff canteen that serves up mainly Indian food, but lunch often involves a tasting session of samosas, sandwiches and pastries to choose the menus for our restaurants. We’re choosing snacks for the Rajmahal theatre, where our shows will be performed.

1.30pm

I have a corporate meeting with some of the relief departments who help us with facility management and medical supplies.

3.30pm

I catch a show rehearsal, because the key component of our park is the shows. I only go to rehearsals when invited, I don’t sneak in on them because the actors won’t be in their costumes and make-up, so they feel uncomfortable. The Rajmahal shows already gives me goose bumps. Imagine 70 people on stage at the same time, with lots of lighting and effects.

5.30pm

I walk around the site again, because a lot of leadership is overseeing things that are happening. I’ve found that a closed door or too many meetings and I’m not helping anybody. Just under half of my 1,000 staff are Indian. I’ve worked in four different European countries and learnt some Polish, German, and English, but I haven’t picked up any Hindi yet. I need to make sure the guys understand me when I tell them something. We also have lots Africans and East European employees. We try not to have more than 50 per cent Indian employees because it’s not an Indian park, but a theme park that’s Bollywood-based.

7pm

I get home and as teenagers need their food, that’s when we eat. Often its Danish food, like meatballs and potatoes. In Dubai you cannot buy my favourite sauce, which is béarnaise sauce, so I cook it from scratch.

8.30pm

My wife is active in the Danish business council, so normally she has an evening event and my daughter and I watch Danish reality TV shows together. It means I totally relax, and when we return to Denmark, we have something to chat with our friends about too.

11pm

I go to sleep – unless there’s a Manchester United football match on late.

business@thenational.ae

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Bollywood Parks' general manager gears up for its grand opening

Thomas Jellum didn’t watch his first Bollywood movie until he had already started his role as general manager of Bollywood Parks in 2014. But he has watched a few Indian blockbusters since then. The 48-year-old was promoted to the position after initially consulting on the project for Dubai Parks and Resorts the year before. He’d previously worked as general manager of the candy-themed park BonBon Land, in his home country of Denmark. Mr Jellum is now gearing up for the grand opening of Bollywood Parks on November 18.

6am

I’ve always been up early, so I don’t use an alarm clock. I live in Victory Heights with my wife, 17-year-old son and 15 year-old daughter. When I started in this business they were about eight and 10, which is our target group, so they’re now black belts in the theme park business. They’ve visited most of the world’s theme parks.

6.30am

I head for Al Qudra to go cycling, eating bananas and apples on the way. There are always about 300 cars parked there when I arrive. I don’t go cycling just for the exercise, it takes my mind off my job and relaxes me before work. Ours is the first 100 per cent Bollywood-inspired theme park in the world. Bollywood isn’t just popular in the Indian subcontinent, it’s huge in Africa too. My first Bollywood movie was Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, a road trip movie that features as one of our attractions.

8.15am

My most important job is to walk the park, and it will be the same when it opens. During the first two hours of operation, you get to see what kind of visitors we have that day, and then you know what decisions need to be taken. In the hotel industry, you’ll know more or less who’s arriving tomorrow. In the theme park business it’s the opposite a lot of people come spontaneously on the day, and you don’t know what demographic they’ll be. I start at the main gate, to experience the same kind of walk that the visitor will have. There’s stuff you notice when they’re building the attractions that you couldn’t see in the two-dimensional drawing plans – such as a staircase, which doesn’t work for disabled people.

10.30am

I have an internal meeting with the director of the marketing, retail or finance departments to find out what challenges we’re facing. We have a checklist to finish the construction and also to look forward to 2017. Are there things we can create that we haven’t thought of yet? It could be new products, a new kind of entertainment.

12.30

We have a fantastic Indian staff canteen that serves up mainly Indian food, but lunch often involves a tasting session of samosas, sandwiches and pastries to choose the menus for our restaurants. We’re choosing snacks for the Rajmahal theatre, where our shows will be performed.

1.30pm

I have a corporate meeting with some of the relief departments who help us with facility management and medical supplies.

3.30pm

I catch a show rehearsal, because the key component of our park is the shows. I only go to rehearsals when invited, I don’t sneak in on them because the actors won’t be in their costumes and make-up, so they feel uncomfortable. The Rajmahal shows already gives me goose bumps. Imagine 70 people on stage at the same time, with lots of lighting and effects.

5.30pm

I walk around the site again, because a lot of leadership is overseeing things that are happening. I’ve found that a closed door or too many meetings and I’m not helping anybody. Just under half of my 1,000 staff are Indian. I’ve worked in four different European countries and learnt some Polish, German, and English, but I haven’t picked up any Hindi yet. I need to make sure the guys understand me when I tell them something. We also have lots Africans and East European employees. We try not to have more than 50 per cent Indian employees because it’s not an Indian park, but a theme park that’s Bollywood-based.

7pm

I get home and as teenagers need their food, that’s when we eat. Often its Danish food, like meatballs and potatoes. In Dubai you cannot buy my favourite sauce, which is béarnaise sauce, so I cook it from scratch.

8.30pm

My wife is active in the Danish business council, so normally she has an evening event and my daughter and I watch Danish reality TV shows together. It means I totally relax, and when we return to Denmark, we have something to chat with our friends about too.

11pm

I go to sleep – unless there’s a Manchester United football match on late.

business@thenational.ae

Bollywood Parks' general manager gears up for its grand opening

Thomas Jellum didn’t watch his first Bollywood movie until he had already started his role as general manager of Bollywood Parks in 2014. But he has watched a few Indian blockbusters since then. The 48-year-old was promoted to the position after initially consulting on the project for Dubai Parks and Resorts the year before. He’d previously worked as general manager of the candy-themed park BonBon Land, in his home country of Denmark. Mr Jellum is now gearing up for the grand opening of Bollywood Parks on November 18.

6am

I’ve always been up early, so I don’t use an alarm clock. I live in Victory Heights with my wife, 17-year-old son and 15 year-old daughter. When I started in this business they were about eight and 10, which is our target group, so they’re now black belts in the theme park business. They’ve visited most of the world’s theme parks.

6.30am

I head for Al Qudra to go cycling, eating bananas and apples on the way. There are always about 300 cars parked there when I arrive. I don’t go cycling just for the exercise, it takes my mind off my job and relaxes me before work. Ours is the first 100 per cent Bollywood-inspired theme park in the world. Bollywood isn’t just popular in the Indian subcontinent, it’s huge in Africa too. My first Bollywood movie was Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, a road trip movie that features as one of our attractions.

8.15am

My most important job is to walk the park, and it will be the same when it opens. During the first two hours of operation, you get to see what kind of visitors we have that day, and then you know what decisions need to be taken. In the hotel industry, you’ll know more or less who’s arriving tomorrow. In the theme park business it’s the opposite a lot of people come spontaneously on the day, and you don’t know what demographic they’ll be. I start at the main gate, to experience the same kind of walk that the visitor will have. There’s stuff you notice when they’re building the attractions that you couldn’t see in the two-dimensional drawing plans – such as a staircase, which doesn’t work for disabled people.

10.30am

I have an internal meeting with the director of the marketing, retail or finance departments to find out what challenges we’re facing. We have a checklist to finish the construction and also to look forward to 2017. Are there things we can create that we haven’t thought of yet? It could be new products, a new kind of entertainment.

12.30

We have a fantastic Indian staff canteen that serves up mainly Indian food, but lunch often involves a tasting session of samosas, sandwiches and pastries to choose the menus for our restaurants. We’re choosing snacks for the Rajmahal theatre, where our shows will be performed.

1.30pm

I have a corporate meeting with some of the relief departments who help us with facility management and medical supplies.

3.30pm

I catch a show rehearsal, because the key component of our park is the shows. I only go to rehearsals when invited, I don’t sneak in on them because the actors won’t be in their costumes and make-up, so they feel uncomfortable. The Rajmahal shows already gives me goose bumps. Imagine 70 people on stage at the same time, with lots of lighting and effects.

5.30pm

I walk around the site again, because a lot of leadership is overseeing things that are happening. I’ve found that a closed door or too many meetings and I’m not helping anybody. Just under half of my 1,000 staff are Indian. I’ve worked in four different European countries and learnt some Polish, German, and English, but I haven’t picked up any Hindi yet. I need to make sure the guys understand me when I tell them something. We also have lots Africans and East European employees. We try not to have more than 50 per cent Indian employees because it’s not an Indian park, but a theme park that’s Bollywood-based.

7pm

I get home and as teenagers need their food, that’s when we eat. Often its Danish food, like meatballs and potatoes. In Dubai you cannot buy my favourite sauce, which is béarnaise sauce, so I cook it from scratch.

8.30pm

My wife is active in the Danish business council, so normally she has an evening event and my daughter and I watch Danish reality TV shows together. It means I totally relax, and when we return to Denmark, we have something to chat with our friends about too.

11pm

I go to sleep – unless there’s a Manchester United football match on late.

business@thenational.ae

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UAE families struggle to balance the cost of education

The Loughran family lived happily together in Abu Dhabi as a family for 10 years.

But this year, with the low oil prices creating a climate of uncertainty, Peter Loughran and his wife Aida made the difficult decision to send their daughters, aged 13 and 14, to a state boarding school back home in the United Kingdom.

“My initial reason was the uncertainty surrounding employment here at the moment,” says Mr Loughran, 53, an English teacher. “In January, people in the college where I work whose three-year contracts were up for renewal were all told they weren’t being kept on. I was one of those people. A few months later I was offered a new contract, which I signed, but the whole episode had already created a lot of uncertainty in my mind.”

Mr Loughran’s eldest daughter, Ciara, has just begun her GCSE years in the UK school system. “Had the children stayed, then I’d lost my job – and the next job doesn’t pay school fees, which seems to be happening more and more – we would’ve all had to go home midway through the school year, which would’ve been very unfair on Ciara,” says Mr Loughran.

His daughters are now attending a UK state boarding school at a cost of £11,400 (Dh51,350) per year per child, Dh9,000 cheaper, per child, than the British curriculum school they had been attending in Abu Dhabi.

His decision is not surprising.

According to two recent independent studies, parents in the UAE can spend Dh1 million or more on their child’s education – a figure that includes a school education in the UAE and university studies overseas.

While asset management group Old Mutual International calculated this cost as nearly Dh1.5m per child, Zurich International Life, Middle East estimated a total cost of Dh1m per child. Either way, it’s a hefty sum for parents to consider.

A report from the consultancy Colliers, released this week, urged British curriculum schools in the UAE to reduce their fees to reflect the effects of slowing growth in the wider economy.

Education providers should establish “an affordable fee structure” which the report cites as in the range of £6,000 to £12,000. Mansoor Ahmed, the education analyst at Colliers, also warned that many employers and government agencies have started to “curtail education allowances”, which “directly affects parents’ ability to afford schools”.

That is certainly a situation Mr Loughran was facing.

“It got to the stage where my company’s schooling allowance didn’t cover the whole amount, so I was having to top it up,” he says.

Ambareen Musa, the founder and chief executive of the comparison website Souqalmal.com, says the average annual fee of the 300 schools listed on her site is Dh30,000, with some school fees as high as Dh120,000.

“Rising school fees have definitely put a dent on parents’ budgets,” she says, “but salaries and benefits are not growing as fast. Many companies are becoming much more conscious of their cost base and looking at ways to stay lean. The other factor to consider with the pound is that while it may appear cheaper to send the kids to school abroad, parents need to remember that the exchange rate is variable and education is long term.”

Andrew Prince, a financial planner at Acuma agrees. Making a decision that will split a family up to save money, or to mitigate against uncertainty, should not be made lightly, he warns. “These decisions take time, careful planning to prepare and execute,” he says.

“Some of the considerations in this instance should include: which school would suit their needs best? Are there relatives in proximity to look after them? How much should I budget an allowance for them on top of the school fees? How often will we see them and how much would the flights and accommodation be? And finally, are there any tax implications involved with spending time back home?”

Julie Gibson, from Scotland, the manager of Blooming Minds nursery in Khalifa City, first came to Abu Dhabi to work for a different nursery chain in 2011. But two years later, the unexpected happened. “I fell pregnant, which was a lovely surprise, but we had to assess how we were going to manage it because the rent cap had just been lifted,” says Ms Gibson, 37, whose husband runs a corporate wellness programme in the capital. The couple already had two children, who at the time were eight and four.

“Our rent in a really lovely house in Al Nahyan Camp was put up by Dh20,000, which was a significant amount of money compared to what we were earning. I was still on a good enough salary to pay the children’s school fees and for a little bit of disposable income. But then my husband’s job starting feeling a bit unstable – more on a gut instinct, but in fact we were proven right in the end. So we decided the best thing to do would be for me and the kids to go home.”

In 2014, Ms Gibson returned to her home near Glasgow, in Scotland, with the couple’s two children and gave birth to her son. “My husband was unable to travel because of his job in Abu Dhabi, but I felt lucky to have the UK’s National Health Service and my extended family at home to support me,” she says.

Then after a five-week holiday in Abu Dhabi this summer, Ms Gibson decided the grass wasn’t greener back home and in Aug­ust, the family returned to live in Abu Dhabi with Mr Gibson.

“It wasn’t difficult at all to come back, I feel very at home here,” she says.

Nevertheless, Ms Gibson’s new job provides a single person’s package, so financially the Gibsons are no better off now than they were before she left Abu Dhabi. “The whole pinnacle of wanting to get a good package and some stability here has still not been reached,” she says. “We put the money in a pot now to pay the school fees.”

For manual workers in the UAE who come from countries such as Pakistan, Nepal and the Philippines, the costs of supporting family in the Emirates can be espe­cially hard to bear when compared with the relatively inexpensive cost of school fees, food and bills back home.

Moin Uddin, a Pakistani who has lived in the UAE for two years, made the decision this July to move his wife, two daughters, aged 13 and nine, and his eight-year-old son back home to Pakistan. “It was due to high cost of living, plus due to losing my job unexpectedly,” says Mr Uddin, who recently opened a new business, Al Haris General Trading, in Ras Al Khaimah. “I have now moved from a larger accommodation to a smaller one. At present nothing has been saved, but the difference in cost between the large and small accommodation is half.”

Mr Loughran is also saving money by downsizing from a four-bed villa to a one-bed flat in Abu Dhabi.

“So we’re now saving on our housing allowance,” he says. “Lots of people in the block I’m in are single blokes, so I think many wives and kids are being sent home.”

But other earners want to keep the family in the UAE for as long as they can. Mohamed ­Farid, a business lecturer from Damascus, Syria, has been based in Dubai since August 2010. He fears his contract will not be renewed next year and that he, his wife and two children, ages 17 and 10, will have to return to war-stricken Syria.

“We are in a very threatening and depressing situation,” says the 47-year-old. “My kids have been educated in a British school in Dubai for the last six years and their Arabic is very poor, so if we need to move back to our home country, they will not be able to adapt. Every night we expect an email to say goodbye, we don’t need your services.”

pf@thenational.ae

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Well being: Nokia wakes up to the value of sleep

What’s the most common issue on the minds of international wellness experts right now? Sleep, and how we’re not getting enough of it.

That’s according to Tommy Hutchinson, the co-founder and co-director of the Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces. “We are increasingly realising how important sleep is,” says Mr Hutchinson, whose international organisation promotes health and well-being in the workplace and showcases best examples.

He was in Dubai last month at the Cigna Foundation’s Global Workplace Wellness Summit to give a talk on the challenges of delivering workplace wellness programmes. “People are not giving themselves enough time to recover and sleep is a very big factor,” he says. “‘Presenteeism’ is becoming as much of a problem as absenteeism’ – in other words, people are overworking.”

Some companies are now waking up to the problem. Nokia’s senior country officer for the UAE, Mohamed Bhatti, a Briton based in Dubai, explained at the summit how his company gave 12,000 of their senior executives health-monitoring wristbands to wear last year. The resulting data was sent straight to head office. Nokia was particularly interested in how sleep was affecting their employees – especially those whose jobs involved international travel.

“Within Nokia, we have a ridiculously high rate of people travelling,” explains Mr Bhatti. “We recognised this was causing a lot of stress and health problems. The data from the wristbands eventually went back to the employees’ line managers to say ‘these are the people we want you to keep an eye on, here is what we recommend that you have to change’.”

Mr Bhatti says among the changes implemented as a result of the experiment was a change in Nokia’s travel policy. “To save money, we had been putting people on flights that included stopovers for three hours in Cairo or Istanbul, for example. Now the staff all fly direct, and at 8am or 10am rather than 2am.”

“Nokia are taking the well-being of their staff incredibly seriously,” Mr Bhatti adds.

Q&A: Tommy Hutchinson of the Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces

Your organisation has an annual awards programme for companies with successful health programmes. Which companies have recently won?

Last year GlaxoSmithKline won in the multinationals category, this year it was Unilever.

What made those winning companies stand out?

Direction from the very top – from the chief executive and the board – was critical. The business has to be focused, otherwise the programmes simply won’t work.

What do you think affects workplace well-being more than anything else?

In surveys, we find that the thing employees value most is having a kind, grateful, considerate boss. A boss who says thank you is more important than free gym membership and bowls of fruit everywhere.

What issue currently concerns employers the most?

Our annual survey for Buck Consultants shows the No 1 concern is stress in the workplace. Workplaces are becoming more stressful because of information overload, and people working long hours.

What’s your advice to com­panies wanting to implement a new wellness drive?

Don’t just think about wellness as one new concept, like giving out free gym membership. Try to approach it in a holistic way. Think about things like mental health, physical health and diet as a package.

business@thenational.ae

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What’s the most common issue on the minds of international wellness experts right now? Sleep, and how we’re not getting enough of it.

That’s according to Tommy Hutchinson, the co-founder and co-director of the Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces. “We are increasingly realising how important sleep is,” says Mr Hutchinson, whose international organisation promotes health and well-being in the workplace and showcases best examples.

He was in Dubai last month at the Cigna Foundation’s Global Workplace Wellness Summit to give a talk on the challenges of delivering workplace wellness programmes. “People are not giving themselves enough time to recover and sleep is a very big factor,” he says. “‘Presenteeism’ is becoming as much of a problem as absenteeism’ – in other words, people are overworking.”

Some companies are now waking up to the problem. Nokia’s senior country officer for the UAE, Mohamed Bhatti, a Briton based in Dubai, explained at the summit how his company gave 12,000 of their senior executives health-monitoring wristbands to wear last year. The resulting data was sent straight to head office. Nokia was particularly interested in how sleep was affecting their employees – especially those whose jobs involved international travel.

“Within Nokia, we have a ridiculously high rate of people travelling,” explains Mr Bhatti. “We recognised this was causing a lot of stress and health problems. The data from the wristbands eventually went back to the employees’ line managers to say ‘these are the people we want you to keep an eye on, here is what we recommend that you have to change’.”

Mr Bhatti says among the changes implemented as a result of the experiment was a change in Nokia’s travel policy. “To save money, we had been putting people on flights that included stopovers for three hours in Cairo or Istanbul, for example. Now the staff all fly direct, and at 8am or 10am rather than 2am.”

“Nokia are taking the well-being of their staff incredibly seriously,” Mr Bhatti adds.

Q&A: Tommy Hutchinson of the Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces

Your organisation has an annual awards programme for companies with successful health programmes. Which companies have recently won?

Last year GlaxoSmithKline won in the multinationals category, this year it was Unilever.

What made those winning companies stand out?

Direction from the very top – from the chief executive and the board – was critical. The business has to be focused, otherwise the programmes simply won’t work.

What do you think affects workplace well-being more than anything else?

In surveys, we find that the thing employees value most is having a kind, grateful, considerate boss. A boss who says thank you is more important than free gym membership and bowls of fruit everywhere.

What issue currently concerns employers the most?

Our annual survey for Buck Consultants shows the No 1 concern is stress in the workplace. Workplaces are becoming more stressful because of information overload, and people working long hours.

What’s your advice to com­panies wanting to implement a new wellness drive?

Don’t just think about wellness as one new concept, like giving out free gym membership. Try to approach it in a holistic way. Think about things like mental health, physical health and diet as a package.

business@thenational.ae

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Well being: Corporate choirs keep the workplace humming along

When it comes to corporate wellness, most people think of teambuilding games and sports as effective ways to encourage bonding and promote a healthy lifestyle. But there’s another activity catching on in the business world that ticks those all boxes – corporate choirs.

One UAE company joining the trend is the Dubai office of the engineering and design company Atkins.

Helen Robinson, the firm’s regional head of talent management, learning and development, launched weekly office singing sessions earlier this year to help the staff feel “healthier and more energetic”.

“It’s about getting people together from different parts of the organisation,” Ms Robinson explains.

Ms Robinson admits that by the end of a hard day at work, Atkins staff aren’t always in the mood for communal singing. “They might be thinking ‘I don’t really want to go to choir.’ But they get an email from me telling them to buck their ideas up and come along. Then they go home smiling.”

The Atkins choir member and travel administrator, Charmaine Bucud, from the Philippines, says the singing sessions give off “positive vibes”.

“It’s nice to make acquaintance with people from different nationalities and departments too,” she adds.

Other UAE companies embracing the trend include Emirates with EKlectic, which won the Best Corporate Choir accolade at Dubai’s ChoirFest Middle East 2016 in March. Other entrants to the annual contest this year included Deutsche Bank and Dubai Duty Free.

Ms Robinson, who is now planning a Christmas show for her 12-member singing group, says the corporate choir movement is also catching on in her native UK, thanks in part to the popularity of the TV choirmaster Gareth Malone’s BBC series The Choir: Sing While You Work.

Companies such as Deloitte, The Telegraph newspaper, John Lewis and Citigroup all have their own choirs.

One of the first global companies to lead the way, however, was Zappos, the US online shoe and clothing company headquartered in Las Vegas. Its a cappella group, formed in 2011, has morphed into the current 20-person ZChoir.

Group singing fits in well with Zappos’s notorious happiness culture, as Ryan Zsun, the company’s culture maestro, explains. “Zchoir is a wonderful way to build camaraderie and engagement … All these qualities resonate with our core values, especially core value No 7: build a positive team and family spirit.”

Q&A:

Michael McLean, a cabin supervisor with Emirates and a member of the company’s corporate choir EKlectic, tells Jessica Hill more about the singing group:

How long has the choir been running?

The choir was put together in February, two weeks before we won at ChoirFest Middle East 2016.

What jobs at Emirates do your members have?

All of our members are Emirates cabin crew. Some have been at the company for a year and others for seven or eight years. We’ve never been able to fly together but would love an impromptu performance on board for our customers.

Is it called EKlectic because you have an eclectic repertoire?

EKlectic represents our music style as well as our nationalities. We are ten members from eight different countries and have very different performing backgrounds. When we put our styles together it creates something very special.

Where else has the choir performed?

The choir performed at the Emirates financial ball several months ago, which was another great night for us. We have not performed together for a while now but all still very eager and looking forward to getting another gig soon.

Do you have any tactics for warming people up to public singing?

Nerves are good. Adrenalin is great for your voice so embrace the nerves and the more you do it the more comfortable you become. And have fun. The more fun you have on stage the more your audience will have fun with you.

business@thenational.ae

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Alserkal Avenue director helps make a creative-type economy

Dubai’s creative economy is booming right now, says Vilma Jurkute, director of Alserkal Avenue, home to Dubai’s creative industries. And the art hub has certainly played its part. Spread across 500,000 square feet in Al Quoz, the architect-designed warehouses host numerous art galleries, art studios, a black box theatre and dining options, and will also soon be home to Dubai’s first art house cinema. A Lithuanian with a background in international business, Ms Jurkute worked in New York, Chicago and London before settling in Dubai in 2011. The 31-year-old, who joined Al Serkal Avenue five years ago as communications director, moving into her current position in 2014, is speaking at the Women In Leadership forum at Dubai International Financial Centre on how art can inspire social change.

How has Alserkal Avenue evolved since first opening in 2007?

Alserkal was founded by Abdelmonem bin Eisa Alserkal, an art enthusiast who wanted to create a thriving creative community in his home of Dubai. The Alserkal family are true art patrons – Abdelmonem’s father Eisa Alserkal has an incredible collection of calligraphy. The first gallery moved in in 2008, and since then we’re grown into a community of creatives that encompasses galleries, community spaces and creative spaces. We grew organically and I think that’s what creates that aura of authenticity for us – it took us almost a decade to be where we are today.

Last year, you inaugurated a massive extension. Tell us about that.

We had more and more galleries joining the community and reached the point where we had no space to accommodate the new creative businesses. The Alserkal family made an investment of Dh55 million to extend the neighbourhood by 76,200 square metres, to twice its former size. New galleries included the first international art spaces ever to open in the history of the Middle East, such as the Leila Heller gallery from New York and the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation (an art museum).

Has the addition of these international galleries been a game-changer for the local art scene?

Yes, it signifies the maturity of the art scene to have international galleries opening in this region for the first time. This is part of the synergy of what the UAE stands for in this region. In Sharjah, there’s the Sharjah Art Foundation and in Abu Dhabi you have the Louvre, Guggenheim and Zayed National Museums all opening soon. That’s probably why the international galleries are now opening in Alserkal Avenue, to get a foothold in this part of the world.

To what extent is the venture profit-driven?

It is a community initiative so the Alserkal family have always had a patron’s outlook. Profit was never the focus. It’s not a real estate project and now that it’s an arts organisation, as a self-sustainable initiative, a big part of our focus goes on supporting multiple profitable activities. We’re focused on supporting home-grown talent, in particular in emerging arts, and we initiated our home-grown programming almost two years ago. We’re opening an artist’s residency space in March 2017, which will be our first live-in and workspace for artists from this region and beyond. We want to foster artistic practice locally, to enable artists to create work here, and to be economically sustainable as artists. As a not-for-profit activity, it’s a way for the family to support the arts.

What would you like to see more of at Alserkal Avenue in the future?

We want families to be part of the scene, to be more community driven. When you go to an exhibition opening in Italy at 9pm, it’s full of babies. There’s no stigma in bringing your kids. Here in Dubai we need to work on this a little bit more to engage families. We actually have quite a few activities for families now.

Is the creative economy in Dubai experiencing rapid growth?

Absolutely. Back in 2012 when we announced our expansion, we received almost 700 submissions for the space, and we only had 50 spaces available. The home-grown talent that we’ve met with in the past few years has demonstrated the level spreading within this region. And we still have new spaces opening as part of our community. Apart from Alserkal, there are very few places in Dubai where artistic entrepreneurs can see their businesses have a home. In emerging economies, the role of arts and culture really shapes the cultural geography of the country, and the identity of the city itself. In the next five to ten years we foresee “cultural economics” playing a more significant role within the UAE and the region.

What have been your biggest success stories?

All of our home-grown galleries. When they started less than a decade ago, there was no art scene. They were the first galleries to open and now they’re the main pioneers for the art scene in this entire region – they’re the first ones to be accepted at international art fairs, and they participate as part of major biennials. Artists from around the Middle East have tended to gravitate towards Dubai in the last 10 years, since it’s become a commercial arts hub.

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Dubai’s creative economy is booming right now, says Vilma Jurkute, director of Alserkal Avenue, home to Dubai’s creative industries. And the art hub has certainly played its part. Spread across 500,000 square feet in Al Quoz, the architect-designed warehouses host numerous art galleries, art studios, a black box theatre and dining options, and will also soon be home to Dubai’s first art house cinema. A Lithuanian with a background in international business, Ms Jurkute worked in New York, Chicago and London before settling in Dubai in 2011. The 31-year-old, who joined Al Serkal Avenue five years ago as communications director, moving into her current position in 2014, is speaking at the Women In Leadership forum at Dubai International Financial Centre on how art can inspire social change.

How has Alserkal Avenue evolved since first opening in 2007?

Alserkal was founded by Abdelmonem bin Eisa Alserkal, an art enthusiast who wanted to create a thriving creative community in his home of Dubai. The Alserkal family are true art patrons – Abdelmonem’s father Eisa Alserkal has an incredible collection of calligraphy. The first gallery moved in in 2008, and since then we’re grown into a community of creatives that encompasses galleries, community spaces and creative spaces. We grew organically and I think that’s what creates that aura of authenticity for us – it took us almost a decade to be where we are today.

Last year, you inaugurated a massive extension. Tell us about that.

We had more and more galleries joining the community and reached the point where we had no space to accommodate the new creative businesses. The Alserkal family made an investment of Dh55 million to extend the neighbourhood by 76,200 square metres, to twice its former size. New galleries included the first international art spaces ever to open in the history of the Middle East, such as the Leila Heller gallery from New York and the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation (an art museum).

Has the addition of these international galleries been a game-changer for the local art scene?

Yes, it signifies the maturity of the art scene to have international galleries opening in this region for the first time. This is part of the synergy of what the UAE stands for in this region. In Sharjah, there’s the Sharjah Art Foundation and in Abu Dhabi you have the Louvre, Guggenheim and Zayed National Museums all opening soon. That’s probably why the international galleries are now opening in Alserkal Avenue, to get a foothold in this part of the world.

To what extent is the venture profit-driven?

It is a community initiative so the Alserkal family have always had a patron’s outlook. Profit was never the focus. It’s not a real estate project and now that it’s an arts organisation, as a self-sustainable initiative, a big part of our focus goes on supporting multiple profitable activities. We’re focused on supporting home-grown talent, in particular in emerging arts, and we initiated our home-grown programming almost two years ago. We’re opening an artist’s residency space in March 2017, which will be our first live-in and workspace for artists from this region and beyond. We want to foster artistic practice locally, to enable artists to create work here, and to be economically sustainable as artists. As a not-for-profit activity, it’s a way for the family to support the arts.

What would you like to see more of at Alserkal Avenue in the future?

We want families to be part of the scene, to be more community driven. When you go to an exhibition opening in Italy at 9pm, it’s full of babies. There’s no stigma in bringing your kids. Here in Dubai we need to work on this a little bit more to engage families. We actually have quite a few activities for families now.

Is the creative economy in Dubai experiencing rapid growth?

Absolutely. Back in 2012 when we announced our expansion, we received almost 700 submissions for the space, and we only had 50 spaces available. The home-grown talent that we’ve met with in the past few years has demonstrated the level spreading within this region. And we still have new spaces opening as part of our community. Apart from Alserkal, there are very few places in Dubai where artistic entrepreneurs can s

Etihad's Savoy-trained butlers strive for consistency

White gloves might be de rig­ueur for royalty or a trip to the opera, but it’s also what your butler will be wearing when he or she delivers a hot towel during your next journey with Etihad Airways’ The Residence.

A uniform prerequisite for the carrier’s team of 52 butlers, they can take some “getting used to”, according to butler Thomas Piro­ska.

“Sometimes I have guests who request me to remove them,” says the 31-year-old, from Slovakia. “I tell them that it’s part of my uniform, but they say no, I want you to feel comfortable.”

Etihad’s Savoy-trained butlers are one of many reasons the airline secured the coveted “five-star” rating from Skytrax last week.

Etihad has been ramping up its premium offering over the past two years. It launched its three-room suites, The Residence, and Apartments (private cabins) on its long-haul flights in 2014 and its butlers the same year. The butlers only work for The Residence on Etihad’s nine A380s, doubling up as F&B managers if the suites are unoccupied.

Mr Piroska says that when he first started the job, he expected the guests to be royalty and cel­ebrities. “But actually it’s nice, normal ladies and gentlemen who are not really demanding,” he says, adding that he considers himself more of a “lifestyle manager” than a traditional butler. Another feature that helped Etihad gain its five-star accolade is its new fine dining “food philosophy”, launched earlier this year.

“We took a lot of inspiration from Michelin-starred restaurants around the world,” says the carrier’s line manager for in-flight chefs Francois Banzyo, from South Africa.

Mr Banzyo makes sure the chefs follow the guidelines. “These have photos attached so chefs can follow them exactly to a T, to create consistency.”

Etihad’s eggs for the upper classes, however, are customised to each passenger. To fry one, the pan goes into a special aircraft-friendly oven. “In case there’s turbulence, we can’t have oil flying around”, he says.

But all this precision will cost you. A return flight to London Heathrow on The Residence will set you back around Dh83,000.

Q&A

Eugen Pongracz, a performance manager at Etihad, tells Jessica Hill about his role overseeing the airline’s team of butlers:

Do you have male and female butlers?

I have almost equal numbers. Some guests do prefer to have female butlers, but most have no preference. We have to look at the demographics of where we’re flying to – some guests prefer an Arabic speaker, some prefer English butlers.

What does the butler training involve?

Butlers have one week at West London University and two weeks at The Savoy hotel. Then we have follow-up training here in Abu Dhabi.

What is the most valuable lesson from the stint at the Savoy?

We’re like a breeze, you feel it but it’s not there. That means being very discreet and sophisticated at the same time.

What’s the hardest aspect of being a butler?

We want to be able to provide everything the guest requires, but sometimes we simply don’t have that particular thing they want on board the aircraft. A guest might ask for a certain type of beverage or sushi – if we haven’t ordered it before the flight there’s nothing we can do. But there’s always an alternative we can offer instead.

What do customers like most about flying Etihad First Class?

They appreciate the products, especially the Poltrona Frau leather seats and the Panasonic entertainment system. But what’s most important is our hospitality mindset.

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