Le Royal Meridien has already undergone a number of new improvements in Dubai and its sister hotel, The Grosvenor House has also been nominated for a World Travel Award this year—Dubai’s Leading Hotel. Pam Wilby, who was named General Manager of the Year in the JC Maclean Hotelier Awards 2005, juggles the management of two of the most reputable hotels in Dubai, with more than 700 rooms, 200 apartments and 1,700 associates to tend to on a daily basis.
Wilby tells Breaking Travel News about the current climate of the hotel market in Dubai, revealing key industry trends, including the significance of spa tourism, the rise of the international budget brand and the serviced apartment boom.
BTN: How are occupancy levels at Le Royal Meridien and Grosvenor House?
Wilby: Both hotels are performing exceedingly well with occupancies over 90 percent.
The first year has been very good for Grosvenor House, with some excellent international interest and feedback, while the restaurants and bars have really made a name for themselves in Dubai. Business has increased each month and we believe it will stabilise at or above the Dubai five-star norm.
BTN: Dubai has a highly competitive hotel sector, what sets your resorts apart from other properties in the region?
Wilby: A combination of factors: service and the staff are the most important, but both properties have a passion and a desire as well as a commitment to be the best and this keeps the guests coming back time and again. A great hotel will always have a good bed, shower, TV and spa, but very few have a good feeling about them.
BTN: Dubai has a high level of repeat visitors - what initiatives do you have to encourage guests to return to both properties?
Wilby: For loyal customers of Le Royal Meridien, they are invited to join our Royal Dining Club, offering discounts and special offers at our restaurants, while some are awarded Ambassador status.
Our Ambassadors come up to five times a year, and are really part of the family. For Grosvenor House, we have not yet completed a full year, so we have not identified which areas most of our repeat guests are coming from and how to encourage their ongoing support. Having said that, many are business travellers, so a corporate rate and great seamless service works.
BTN: Do you accommodate mostly business travellers and from which regions are your guests come from? Are you targeting any new markets?
Wilby: Grosvenor House is predominantly a business hotel, though we do get a few leisure travellers as well. Most of our guests are from the GCC countries and from the UK. The average length of stay at the hotel is 3.2 nights. We are constantly looking at new markets, especially where new airline routes are opening for inbound travel into Dubai.
BTN: If you could use one word to describe the ambience of The Grosvenor House and Le Royal Meridien what would it be?
Wilby: For Grosvenor House it would be stylish; for Le Royal Meridien it would be homely.
BTN: You’ve won General Manager of the Year in the JC Maclean Hotelier Awards 2005. How do you juggle the management of two hotels? What is the most interesting aspect of your job?
Wilby: The “juggling” is the most interesting aspect of the job. With more than 700 rooms, 200 apartments and well over 1,700 associates, no day is ever the same.
BTN: What are your thoughts on the growth of the spa industry and what has it done for your business?
Wilby: Spa facilities are playing a growing role in a hotel’s offering to guests, becoming one of the key market differentiators. For the last 20 years, spas have been seen as a ‘nice to have’ or as an afterthought; however, we are seeing increasingly large numbers of potential guests use spa and health facilities as a major factor in their hotel choice.
According to a global survey on spa consumer preferences, 34 percent of respondents only visited spas when travelling, and 93 percent actively looked for spa facilities while abroad.
Put that in the context of Dubai, where the luxury hotel business is booming, and record numbers of tourists are visiting the city instead of the Far East or traditional favourites such as Bali. Dubai has developed its five-star product tier, with many luxury properties doubling profits in the last year, and re-investing the money in renovation and the extension of spa facilities to meet this increased demand.
BTN: With so many outstanding hotels in Dubai. Do you think it is important to go beyond just having a great property?
Wilby: The key focus for hospitality in Dubai has always been on pushing the boundaries on service excellence. You can have the most unique looking property in the world, but if you do not have the desire to be the best and deliver outstanding service, then people will choose the competitor who delivers.
BTN: Can you comment on any emerging trends amongst Dubai hotels?
Wilby: In the industry as a whole, we will see more internationally branded four and three star properties to service the wider business community, while hotels will be forced to offer more lifestyle enhancements, such as wireless internet throughout and great business facilities.
BTN: Hotel apartments are increasingly popular in Dubai. Has there been a shift in the market to this type of property?
Wilby: The growth of furnished apartments is just the sign of an increasingly mature tourism market with more accommodation tiers.
Dubai as a place has long needed apartment stock to cater for the influx of consultants on short-term contracts, as well as executives that need a base in Dubai even though they live elsewhere.
BTN: You completed a major renovation at Le Royal Meridien in 2002. Do you have any other projects, renovations or expansions in the pipeline for either property?
Wilby: Le Royal Meridien has a number of improvements, including a new pool and landscaping.