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Breaking Travel News interview: Russel Sharpe, chief operating officer, Citymax Hotels

Breaking Travel News interview: Russel Sharpe, chief operating officer, Citymax Hotels

Citymax Hotels broke the mould when it moved into the historically underserved midscale market in the United Arab Emirates.

Now, with a boom in the sector validating the business model, and a World Travel Award in hand, chief operating officer Russel Sharpe sits down with Breaking Travel News to discuss what comes next for the aspirational brand.

Breaking Travel News: Perhaps we could begin with just a brief overview of where Citymax Hotels is at present? How many properties are open, what does the pipeline look like for the brand?

Russel Sharpe: Citymax Hotels is a home grown mid market brand, the hospitality division of the Landmark Group, operating three hotels in prime city locations in the United Arab Emirates such as Al Barsha, Bur Dubai and Sharjah and providing services and facilities of a four-star hotel at a three-star price.

Citymax Hotels is planning to further grow the mid-market segment of the hotel industry in the coming years in the UAE, where additional rooms are much needed in the three-star category, as well further afield in the GCC. 

Three new properties are planned in Al Barsha, Business Bay in Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah, all in varying stages of construction and scheduled for completion by 2016.

This will bring the total inventory to around 2,000 rooms within the next three years with further properties close to finalisation of lease agreement in Abu Dhabi and Fujairah.

BTN: You have chosen to begin operations in Dubai, one of the most competitive tourism markets in the world. What do you bring to this destination which had not previously been on offer?

RS: Traditionally, Dubai as a destination has always been synonymous with luxury.

More than half of the existing 85,000 hotel rooms are in the upscale segment.

So, when Citymax Hotels opened three years ago with a vision to create a strong brand in the mid-market segment catering to budget conscious travellers, we were the odd ones out.

Now, with mid-market hotel development high on the agenda for both government and private sector alike, there is a development frenzy of mid-market hotels.

Within the last year, Dubai has received 151 applications for three and four star hotels with a total of 25,000 rooms.

This expansion is a necessity due to the 2020 vision and the ever increasing number of tourists to our shores and Citymax Hotels welcome the competition.

Our business model is well established and has proven successful with consistently high room occupancy rates.

Citymax Bur Dubai illustrates the fresh perspective the brand has bought to the destination

BTN: How has Citymax been received in the market to date? Can you tell us a little about occupancy at the hotels and the feelings among guests who have stayed with the brand?

RS: What distinguishes Citymax from other three-star hotels is the variety and high quality of the in-house restaurants and bars.

Also, we offer additional services which one would generally only get in a high-end hotel such as 24-hour room service, full concierge services including porter services, full buffet breakfast, complimentary tea and coffee in your room, complimentary beach shuttle service as well as shopping centre shuttle service, full gym facility with bathrooms as well as a swimming pool. 

The fact that we are able to provide these above-three-star-level services at very affordable prices without compensating on quality, places Citymax Hotels in a different bracket to your standard mid-market hotel.

This exceeds our guests’ expectations as you can read from the below reviews on Trip Advisor.

BTN: Citymax was recognised as the Middle East’s Leading Budget Hotel Brand by the World Travel Awards at the recent Middle East Gala Ceremony in Dubai. Can you tell us how it feels to have taken this title?

RS: Receiving the nominations and of course winning renowned travel awards like these is an endorsement of quality from the voters as well as a guarantee of excellence for the hotel guests, and we are delighted to have won both awards.

BTN: What is the secret of your success? Why do you think voters have responded so well to the Citymax offering?

RS: Our offering is very transparent and that appeals to voters. Citymax Hotels is honest, no-frills accommodation at affordable prices.

Citymax guests spend less on room rates which allows them the choice of spending more on the pleasures of dining.

With this in mind, the standard all-day diner - which is often the only restaurant available in mid-market hotels - has been supplemented at Citymax Hotels with a variety of individual outlets, enabling the hotel brand to cater to a wider audience.

We have succeeded in carving a niche in the highly competitive dining-out market in Dubai for our outlets to exist as independent brands with identities so strong that they have become household names in the local community.

This is one of the secrets of our success.

Interview: Chris O’Toole