French flair for Makkah’s iconic hotel

A massive clock tower overlooking the holiest of Muslim sites, the Kaaba in Makkah, is run by a French company. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 July 2020

French flair for Makkah’s iconic hotel

  • Accor runs six of the seven hotels that are part of Abraj Al-Bait, including the Makkah Clock Royal Tower

RIYADH: A massive clock tower overlooking the holiest of Muslim sites, the Kaaba in Makkah, is run by a French company.

Fairmont Makkah, the hotel connected to the iconic tower, is operated by Accor Group, a French multinational hospitality company that owns, manages and franchises hotels worldwide. It is the closest hotel to the Kaaba, making it the best for Umrah and Hajj. 

The building’s structure also spreads over seven skyscrapers erected above podiums and stands 601 meters above ground. Accor operates six hotels in the seven skyscrapers within the King Abdul Aziz Endowment, known as Abraj Al-Bait. 

“We open our doors to offer unparalleled peace and a warm Arabic welcome for pilgrims to this holy sanctuary,” Alaa Eldin Saleh, managing director of Raffles, Fairmont and Swissotel Makkah, told Arab News.

“Accor understands the unique path that many faithful followers take before or after Hajj and Umrah, and thus enjoys the largest inventory of rooms in both Makkah and Madinah, which is an added value for pilgrims looking to stay steps away from both holy mosques.” 

The Makkah Clock Royal Tower, the third-tallest building and fifth-tallest freestanding structure in the world, is located less than 50 steps away from the sacred Grand Mosque.

The 120-story structure is topped by a four-faced clock, visible from a distance of 25 km. The clock is the highest in the world at over 400 meters above ground, and its faces are the largest in the world, measuring 43 meters by 43 meters on each side — 35 times larger than Big Ben in London.

Work on the Makkah Clock Royal Tower began in 2004 and was finished in 2012, while the hotel was built in 2010. The tower complex includes residential towers, Abraj Al-Bait shopping mall, an Islamic Museum, a Lunar Observation Center and a large prayer room with space for more than 10,000 worshippers.

The complex allows up to 75,000 residents from all the seven towers to exit the building through a podium during each prayer time. 

While work largely has been halted during the pandemic, staff have found ways to keep ways busy.

“We have a series of things to be proud of,” said Saleh. “In this pandemic, we have shown our positioning as the leaders of hospitality in the holy city by stepping forward and conducting unlimited corporate social responsibility initiatives to bond with our local society.

“We have managed to protect our colleagues, and have shown a great level of solidarity and stayed connected as much as we can. Our teams have shown high dedication by working remotely and have carried out the required (measures) across different functions.”

Last year, Saudi Arabia hosted 2,371,675 pilgrims in Makkah for Hajj, but due to the exceptional circumstances and the country’s safeguarding the residents and nationals, only 1,000 will perform their religious journey later this month.

Accor’s hotels in Makkah will welcome back a limited number of guests.

“Welcoming, safeguarding and taking care of others is at the heart of what we do and who we are,” Saleh said.

“The health, safety and well-being of our staff, guests and partners remains our top priority. Our hotels have now established some of the most stringent cleaning standards and operational procedures in the world of hospitality to ensure guest safety as hotels reopen around the world.”

Sanitary guidelines help operations align on a set of common standards and inspire best practices when reopening.

“Our hotels are pioneering a new guest safety initiative that redefines the hospitality experience in the Middle East and Africa during these unprecedented times,” he added.

The ground-breaking ALL Safe Officer program, which is scheduled to be rolled out in coming weeks, will see every hotel appoint a health and safety officer who will not only ensure cleaning and hygiene protocols are implemented to the highest standards, but also will be available to handle guests’ questions and concerns.

“These specially trained officers are the face of Accor’s new ALL Safe Accor Programme — a set of rigorous measures designed to protect and reassure guests that are being implemented at its 300 properties in the region,” Saleh said.

While the hotels were forced to close when the pandemic struck, Accor is in the process of reopening them again.

“We showed great solidarity and emotion when closing our hotels. We want to reopen them with even greater care and passion,” Saleh said.

Saudi women embrace COVID-19 measures at driving schools

Updated 08 August 2020

Saudi women embrace COVID-19 measures at driving schools

  • Students are not allowed to head to class until 15 minutes before it starts in order to monitor the degree of socialization and distancing between them

JEDDAH: Women in Saudi Arabia have been able to resume driving lessons and license applications, but with a few changes as the country eases restrictions and cautiously returns to normality amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

The Kingdom’s return to normality began on June 21 and businesses were allowed to continue their activities, but only by implementing the safety regulations and directives from the Ministry of Interior to ensure everyone’s safety.

Regulations at women’s driving schools include maintaining a minimum 1-meter distance between people in waiting areas and classrooms, providing hand sanitizers, disinfecting the area at least twice a day, checking the temperature of visitors and workers and refusing entry to anyone with a temperature of over 38° C.

There is also the provision for an onsite room to hold people suspected of being infected, and the appointment of a monitoring body to eliminate social gatherings between classes or in waiting areas and parking lots.

For Sahar Al-Shenawi, a deputy director at a corporate communications firm in Jeddah, these precautions could save her father’s life.

“My father is on dialysis and I’m always taking care of him and giving his medication,” she told Arab News. “I was very surprised to see how prepared they were when I returned (to driving school). It made me feel safe.”

Al-Shenawi was asked to show her ID upon arrival and get her temperature checked before entering the building.

“Seats in the waiting hall and classrooms were a meter apart and very clean. The room was also well ventilated. Everyone was wearing a mask, and instructors and employees would tell everyone coming in not to take off their mask for the duration of their stay.”

Students are not allowed to head to class until 15 minutes before it starts in order to monitor the degree of socialization and distancing between them.

Al-Shenawi began her theory classes this week and she noticed that the length of sessions had decreased from two hours to one to ensure students did not spend too much unnecessary time together.

After class, the instructor escorts five students at a time to minimize overcrowding.

“The theory and simulation parts of the course were merged, because the practical sessions are more important,” she said. “Their examination was canceled, while the first hour is to be spent on theory education and the second on simulation practice.” She added that their preparedness had made her feel very comfortable.

“Precautions should be taken from both sides, not only the organization or the places we go to. These precautions are nowadays considered as social etiquette and manners, it shows how much an individual is responsible, aware and cares about the community and the people around him or her,” Al-Shenawi said, adding that she hoped people were careful with themselves and one another once they left their homes.

Bashayer Al-Mahmadi, a health insurance employee from Jeddah, had a similar experience at driving school. She was reassured when she entered the waiting area and saw that adjacent seats were empty, and was relieved by the sight of hand sanitizers at every corner.

“Only four individuals are allowed into the elevators, and social distancing was maintained throughout my visit to the school,” she told Arab News.

Al-Mahmadi recommended that schools ensured that classrooms had hand sanitizers in them, and for gloves to be distributed among students. “I didn’t notice any during my simulation lecture either, and I was a little disappointed.”