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ATM interview: Marc Dardenne, CEO, Emaar Hospitality

ATM interview: Marc Dardenne, CEO, Emaar Hospitality

Marc Dardenne is one of the hottest names in hospitality. He’s led the creation, launch and opening of The Address Hotels & Resorts from scratch, and made it one of the most successful groups in the Middle East. He has also been instrumental in the launch of the world’s first “Armani Hotel” in Dubai with the second one due to open in Milan in 2011. This week Armani Hotel Dubai played host to the prestigious World Travel Awards 2011 Middle East Ceremony. Emaar was voted “Middle East’s Leading Tourism Property Development Company”, The Address Montgomerie Dubai picked up “Middle East’s Leading Golf Course” and Armani Hotel Dubai won “UAE’s Leading Hotel”.

Give us your assessment of the Hotel Industry’s performance in the past year?
MD: The UAE has recorded robust growth in tourism this year. According to latest estimates, the number of guests served by Dubai’s hotels during the first half of the year was 4.2 million, compared to 3.85 million during the same period in 2009. The number of hotels and hotel apartments also grew 16 per cent, while hotels sustained a healthy occupancy rate of 71.7 per cent on average despite the increase in number of hotel rooms.

(The bar at Armani Hotel Dubai)

From which regions have you seen a growth over the last year?
MD: The travel and tourism sector is integrally linked to the overall performance of the economy. With countries like China, GCC and India, among others, recording healthy growth, there are positive trends in business travel too.

(A suite at Armani Hotel Dubai)

Despite the recent downturns in the economy, what areas are you investing in?
MD: Emaar Hospitality Group has announced plans to take The Address brand across Egypt, Morocco and France. Other upcoming destinations include Indonesia, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, China, UK and USA.

Research predicts that $290 million will be spent on technology across new hotels in the Middle East with over 108,600 rooms coming online by 2011. What ways have you found to differentiate yourself from the competition?
MD: Emaar Hospitality Group features a bouquet of experiences providing unique benefits for business and leisure travellers within its properties. Our properties are marked by their distinctive location, superior service standards and a commitment to offering tangible guest benefits. The Address Downtown Dubai, The Address Dubai Mall and The Palace – The Old Town are located in Downtown Dubai, in close proximity to The Dubai Mall and overlooking The Dubai Fountain. The Address Dubai Marina and The Address Montgomerie Dubai are located in the vibrant and prestigious areas of Dubai Marina and Emirates Hills. All properties offer unique services such as a 24-hour stay benefit for guests booking club rooms and suites, complimentary WiFi and a fashion advisory service for guests staying at The Address Dubai Mall amongst others.

(The lounge at Armani Hotel Dubai)

Can you define what makes a boutique or lifestyle hotel?
MD: Boutique and lifestyle are tags attributed to properties as a way of differentiation; they define a level of individual and personalised attention and go above and beyond offering just the average hotel amenities. Our emphasis is on providing tangible guest benefits in properties defined by a unique location and marked by superior service standards. By constantly engaging and building a rapport with our guests, we form a long lasting relationship with them which keeps them coming back.

Are these types of properties viable in the current economic climate?
The key to making a difference in this current economic climate is in assuring tangible guest benefits – which forms the core operational ethos of The Address Hotels + Resorts. All our hotels opened in the midst of the financial crisis, yet have been very successful.

(A bedroom - Armani Hotel Dubai)

What about the advent of low cost hotels. How do you think these will affect the market in Dubai?
Dubai’s vibrant tourism offering provides the opportunity for all sectors of hotels to flourish. Low cost hotels will complement the overall hospitality industry catering to a niche segment. More recently, low cost airlines have been successfully introduced in the Middle East and the budget hotels will cater to this segment complimenting the established four and five star market nicely.

What is the business outlook for 2011 and beyond and are you optimistic about the future?
All tourism and travel trends indicate a robust 2011 and we are confident of achieving positive growth and expanding to new, promising markets.