SPOTLIGHT ON Sandra Tikal, COO ENSHAA Hospitality Division & General Manager Palazzo Versace Dubai

By Dellvin Roshon Williams

Sanrda Tikal’s passion and belief in the brand have not only earned her an association with one of the world’s most unique and luxurious fashion houses, but the equally singular distinction of having opened the world’s first fashion-branded hotel concept: Palazzo Versace. Luxury Hotelier sat down with the Australian native to talk about what inspired her collaboration with the eponymous fashion house, why Palazzo Versace had the courage and vision to bring hoteliers, developers and fashion together in such a new, deeply imaginative way, and the value of great design.

You’ve been associated with the brand from its Gold Coast pre-opening and now as GM of Palazzo Versace Dubai. What inspired you decide to join such a project?

“I went for the interview and I got so intrigued by the courage to create something like that, in Australian of all places, and then on the Gold Coast of Australia of all places. Something as unique and luxurious as Palazzo Versace did not exist in Australia… It was just such an incredible vision and outstanding success story. When I joined, it was the first time I had ever worked and reported directly to a developer, actually. The passion of this developer, and the vision, was so great; they had travelled the world with Versace, visiting the Miami home, the Lake Como home, all the boutiques, via gesù—like our pebbled driveway, they have that in the courtyard, all of those things. So, when you are taken through this and the progress walk arounds, you know, it was a living, breathing heritage story.

How would you characterize your contribution to the success of the Palazzo Versace brand?

I think no one person’s contribution is responsible, to be honest. What I’ve appreciated immensely is the coming together with the hoteliers, a developer and a fashion house. I had that privilege of being around people who were exceptional at what they do, and passionate about it. So, you have people who have been with Versace for many years, through Gianni and Donatella. And they had a deep love for it and a deep understanding of how Versace portrays themselves. What was special about it was their willingness and humbleness to share and bring you on board to make you feel part of it and understand. You don’t get those experiences normally in hotels, so you can do nothing but love it at the end. I did not have that sense of space or that need to respect the intention of detail before I worked for this brand—the message it’s communicating and how it contributes to how other people receive it and experience it. Everyone knows that I actually sincerely love the brand and believe in the brand. I think that’s what I bring to it.

Intuitive service is a phrase used to describe the Palazzo Versace experience. What do you mean by intuitive service?

We spend a lot of time on intuitive service. It requires empowerment so you have to feel comfortable in your workplace to provide intuitive service. I mean, there are more natural elements of intuitive service, and some of us are better at it than others—recognizing when people want to be spoken to and when people want to be left alone; the simple things. But those magical moments like when you walk past a table, just you heard them say something and you respond to it. I had a great experience in Moscow—and this was really old world. We were out in front waiting for our car—and they were very wealthy people. A man jumped out of the car and gave this massive bunch of tulips to this lady. And I turned around and said, “Oh my God I love tulips.” When I got back that night to my room, there was a bunch of tulips just sitting there. That’s intuitive service. That’s an old world hospitality that I think has gotten lost over time. I try to reinforce that what we’re trying to do every day matters; it really makes a difference.

If you could summarize the Palazzo Versace brand in a three words, what would they be and why?

It’s “a hidden gem”. That’s what it is. When you walk through that door you’re just blown away. It’s unexpected, as well. The interesting thing is that both the Gold Coast property and this property have that amazing sense of place. People always say they feel calmer when they are here. Despite the perception that might exist, it’s unbelievably peaceful, and the Gold Coast property was the same. That’s great design. Great design is when the attention to detail elements is considered. So, the people may not see or understand it because they don’t need to. It feels right, and that’s in the detail, it’s not in the big stuff. You will always see floor to ceiling matching detail and symmetry. The balancing of everything is very, very critical… Palazzo Versace is designed like a large villa, and living rooms and real bedrooms, and that home away from home sense of space. The amount of work that went into every detail—how the curtain connects with the bedspread, and how the bedspread connects with the beige off the chair; how the marbles interact with each other, and how the leathers that we select for the tissue boxes and accessories work together. Every single one of those is done in finite detail.

How does Palazzo Versace Dubai go forward from here?

A boutique hotel should not be everywhere; it should be in the right locations. It should not be rolled out in 35 different places. It should be select; doesn’t have to be a palace concept in its entirety; doesn’t even have to be a combination of residences and hotel. It’s got to be in the right place. You’ve got to find that right synergy… It’s authentic. And when it’s authentic, you pay for authentic. So, right location, right partners.

About the author

Dellvin Roshon Williams is an haute lifestyle writer specializing in articles, features, and B2B PR & Marketing copywriting services in the luxury hospitality, residences and lifestyle industries. Williams helps resolve brand language and strategy challenges for affluent, discerning partners by working with them to focus and direct communication to bring conceptual precision and polish to their overall message design. Williams also contributes articles to International Policy Digest, a globally recognized independent foreign policy website, and has presented in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, India, and the UAE. You can find him on Linkedin at www.linkedin.com/in/williamsconsult

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