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Jumeirah Interview: Raising the Bar

Since it’s inception, Jumeirah International has developed a group of hotels and resorts that now hold a well deserved place among the world’s most desirable and renowned. BTN caught up with Bill Walsh, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at ATM to find out what plans Jumeirah have in the pipeline.BTN: How many properties do you have here in Dubai?

BW: We have 8 hotels in Dubai and we have 2 in London.

BTN: Which projects is Jumeirah involved in that we have seen here in Dubai, such as Dubailand and Festival City?:

BW: Jumeirah International is a part of Dubai Holdings and through Dubai Holdings there is involvement in projects such as Dubailand - that is with our sister entity. As Jumeirah International we are not part of any of the newly announced projects announced here in Dubai. We are looking grow the company and we have grown quite substantially - we are only 7 years old as an organisation and already we have achieved a position of market leadership here in Dubai and our London properties are doing very well. As has been reported in trhe press recently we are in negotiations through Dubai Holdings with InterContinental to talk about the possible acquisition of the InterContinental Paris, which would become our first property in France and then regionally and internationally we are very interested in the acquisition of management contracts over the next few years to grow our brand around the world.

BTN: Can you specify any markets where you see potential for the Jumeirah brand?

BW: There are certain key markets that are currently generators of business for our hotels in Dubai - the UK, Germany, The GCC and Russia are the primary markets - so we would be interested in having our brand visible on some products in those markets - those destinations would be a good fit for us. An important criteria for to evaluate whether or not we should have a hotel in a potential destination is to examine whether it’s prominent on the Emirates Route network.

BTN: Are you launching anything here at ATM?

BW: This is the first ATM where we are not launching a new project and it is actually quite nice to concentrate on the hotels that we have opened. Last year was an incredibly active year for us with the opening of the Madinat Jumeirah, followed by the opening of Bab Al Shams in the desert in November. This year is all about consolidating the success of the operations that we have opened as well as preparing for the future.

Why is it important for Jemeirah to attend ATM?

BW: The ATM over the past number of years has truly established itself to be one of the big for shows for us as well as ITB, WTM and IMEX and this is an opportunity to engage with business partners and travel agents around the region. As the market luxury hospitality brand in Dubai it is important for us to be here to support the efforts that are made by the DTCM. At ITB we sign contracts - at ATM we solidify friendships.
This is the biggest ATM without doubt and it is interesting to see a lot of companies that would not traditionally be seen as hospitality organisations participating in ATM, such as Nakheel. A lot of the real estate companies are playing a very valuable role in establishing the future of hospitality in Dubai because they are creating the Real Estate projects that the hotels will be in - the market is changing quite significantly but it’s definitely the biggest and the best so far.


BTN: Emirates Towers has launched a ladies only floor. Do you think there is a trend now towards facilitating female business travellers and do you think it’s important to offer facilities like this?

BW: I think the think the trend is very much towards giving the upscale traveller, whether they are business or leisure travellers, a choice and it’s not to try to categorise people, but more to offer them a range of choice and experiences. One of the most successful businesses that I have see open In Dubai recently is location in the Emirates Towers which is a male grooming salon called 1847 - which is men only salon. I think that giving people a choice to move into a specialised environment is something that appeals to them. It’s not any effort of segregation by Jumeirah International.

BTN: Is it something that might be launched throughout the other properties?

BW: I think we are looking at it as a pilot project at the Emirates Towers,we are going to monitor it very carefully. I think it’s probably more suited to Urban environments rather than resort environments I think it is a business traveller product, but clearly as the company grows when we find a formula that works, where appropriate we will look to replicate it.

BTN: Do you think this will be more applicable for this region specifically rather than internationally?

This idea will apply anywhere in the world. It’s not because we are in Dubai that we are doing this. We are doing it because it’s a great idea and will happen anywhere in the world.

BTN: InterContinental recently announced that they will launch their budget brand The Express by Holiday Inn into the Middle East and Dubai. Is there a market for budget hotels in the Middle East?

BW: I think it’s great for the region. I think anyone who wants to come in right now with an International brand, increase the amount of available room inventory and put a little but more choice into the marketplace is actually very good. We are more focused on trying to achieve the destination target that everyone talks about of 15 million visitors by 2010. The only way we will be able to do that is by attracting a new audience we are going to need new players in the market to help us to do that and we are going to need products that appeal. Dubai is a very luxurious 5* destination, but the credibility of the destination can be maintained by offering different range of products as well so good luck to them.

BTN: How important is it to offer guests technology facilities. Where is Jumeirah International in terms of wireless?

BW: We are committed to stay at the forefront. Of technology. The Burj Al Arab was one of the first hotels in the world to provide a laptop in every room. We have a company mission to have every hotel in the portfolio to have a wireless environment as soon as we can possibly manage it. We are looking at the next generation of tablets to control functions in the room and communication functions. We know that the business traveller in particular is looking at ease -it should be there and it should be available - it’s keeping up with the trends. I’m not convinced that having Wi-Fi on the beach at the resorts is going to be the greatest turn on, but within the hotel building - absolutely!

The recently opened Emirates Palace has been compared to the Burj Al Arab. Can you comment on those comparisons?

BW: The Burj Al Arab and the Emirates Palace are two completely different products aimed at two completely different markets. I think the Emirates Palace will in a very short period of time establish itself as the finest congress hotel in the world and that is what it is and that is what it is built for. I applaud what they have done - I think it is terrific for the region. The Emirates Palace has managed to get itself on many front pages of newspapers around the world - there is definitely room for Burj Al Arab and the Emirates Palace. I don’t think they are comparable. They are two brave statements in a relatively conservative industry. Nobody had done a Burj Al Arab before and now the Emirates Palace is something that is completely unique and new. Because they are both unique they are invariably going to get grouped together because there is so much sameness elsewhere in the industry. Beyond that good luck to them and we are confident that the Emirates Palace will be very successful and bring a lot of success to the UAE.

BTN: It feels as though there is competition to build the most extravagant hotel. The Burj Towers will be opening soon. Is it as competitive as it would appear?

BW: I think one of the things that Dubai is all about is raising the bar. People need to get beyond the architecture and exterior of the buildings. At the Jumeirah Beach property we have a repeat rate of about 40%. After the first visit, the fact that the building is splendidly shaped like a wave means nothing. If we weren’t giving decent service and they weren’t sleeping in comfortable beds, none of that would matter. Dubai at the moment is the most exciting place for the development of the hotel business in the world. It has worked. We are running in excess of 90% throughout our properties.

Can you clarify your reasons behind excluding ‘tourists’ and visitors from viewing the Burj Al Arab?

BW: Guests at the hotel or who are booked in for dinner are allowed, but just to go in and take a look around is not allowed. The hotel is running an extremely high occupancy and the average rate is a four figure dollar so to have Joe public wondering around is not appropriate. Also the profile of people who are staying at the hotel has meant we reached that decision.

BTN: What is the next sporting event going to happen on Helepad?

BW: I know and I can’t tell you. It is being put together at the moment and we are in talks with another organisation.