Knowing the ARMANI HOTEL project since more than 6 years ago, when it was just another ”crazy” idea which was being debated at the newly opened headquarters of the Armani group in Milan, Italy. At the time, it was not clear how this would come to life, especially without having identified the right investment partner. This came three years later, when Mr Armani created a joint venture with Emaar Holdings of Dubai to develop not just one hotel but an entire chain internationally. Dubai was supposed to be the flagship and it would be followed by Milan, Paris and New York. Unfortunately, the crisis has put on hold all projects except for Dubai and Milan.
After more than one year of delay, the ARMANI HOTEL was opened in Dubai last month. Building up on my curiosity and expectations, I could not help but book a room at the Armani Hotel for my current trip to Dubai. And i must say I have been very pleasantly surprised and definitely the hotel exceeded my expectations.
It must be said that, like most of you, I was thinking of the Armani Hotel of yet another designer hotel, opened in Dubai, the world capital of extravagant and grand projects. Like many other guests might think, I was also weary of yet another diversification of the ARMANI brand which include evening gowns, jeans, sneakers, sunglasses to kitchens, furniture, porcelaine china, cutlery, mobile phones, plasma screens, books, chocolate, flowers, fragrances, cosmetics etc. With the exception of the Prive couture and Black lines, the Armani doesn’t manufacture anything. Most such collaborations are done through a joint venture or licencing deal, whereas Armani lends its brand and sometimes its design and the resulted products are distributed in the Armani shops and in some cases in the showrooms of the partner company. Mention should also be made that the investment is entirely sustained by the partner. While all these collaboration must have had financial benefits, not all of them have proven successful, especially on the long term, some even damaging the reputation of the brand. Probably the most successfull such collaboration has been with L’OREAL for the fragrances and cosmetics.
Mention should also be made that Armani, once considered one of the top exclusive luxury brands is today more and more accessible to larger number of customers. Particularly, in its fashion and accessories business, Armani have created several affordable lines such as Emporio, Exhange, Jeans, EA7, which no longer reflect the true Italian spirit of the brand, mostly due to the fact that the products are made in Asia. The only remaining line which is made exclusively in Italy is the Giorgio Armani (Black Label), which embodies the spirit of the timeless Armani style.
The ARMANI HOTEL Dubai has a spectacular location within the Burj Khalifah, the world’s tallest tower, today a symbol of Dubai and an international architecture icon. The tower is surrounded by several hotels, also developed by Emaar, the developer of Armani Hotel, with impressive fountains and low rise Arabic style buildings in the center, recreating a typical atmosphere of Las Vegas. However, for the hotel, the location could be both beneficial and harmful. While it is housed in such a prestigious building, the tower and the area is a mangnet for tourists, most of them just visiting the premises. With such a large area on the lobby level covered by restaurants, lounges and cafes, the hotel might easily become mostly a social and entertaiment destination for both tourists and locals. One could not help but notice the Asian guests of the hotel who take pictures and film wherever they are in the building. Maintaining exclusivity and prestige will be a major challenge for the management.
Architecturally, the hotel is impressive in every single corner, with no detail being overlooked. The quality of the construction, the materials as well as the facilities and technology are state of the art and of top quality. Mr Armani’s unique vision is refelected in every detail and what is most impressive is the way he manage to recreate an atmosphere which does indeed ”feel Armani”, which is reflected by many details, from the impecable food created by a team of Italian chefs, the many Italian staff, the especially created music, the impressive uniforms of the staff which are also designed by Mr Armani, to the bathroom amenities of the Armani Prive collection exclusive to the Armani hotel. And of course, the furniture and design decor items which are all ARMANI CASA. Most of the staff have clearly been selected for their looks, especially men, who look like models off an Armani catwalk show.
Another important achievement is that Mr Armani succeeded in designing rooms which feel very cosy, comfortable and warm, aspects which are usually missing from other designer hotels. The in room automatic system which control the curtains, lights and door opening is easy to use and efficient. However, the one important update will have to be made on the very bright screens of the temperature control panels which might keep guests awake.
Mr Armani also had a brilliant idea which was to give away little about the design of the rooms, leaving it up to guests to discover, thus instilling an element of surprise. The hotel website has very brief description of the hotel room types and virtually no interior photos, with the exception of the lobby. This will certainly help in the short and mid term strategy to maintain a selective and exclusive access to the hotel.
One of the many innovations brought by Mr Armani is the Lifestyle Manager concept, whereas each guest is assigned a personal Lifestyle Manager who provides 24 hour service and performs guest relations, concierge and front office duties all in one. During my stay, as the hotel was fully book, my Lifestyle Manager was even a bell boy and went out to buy something from the pharmacy. The same system has been previously implemented by Melia Hotels for the ME by MELIA chain of design & lifestyle hotels, the managers being called Aura Managers, unfortunately, with little success. However, unlike Armani Hotel, ME by MELIA hotels have both Aura Managers and a full staffed reception desk with a concierge They are supposed to be able to handle any requests at any time. However, not having a full time team of specialized concierge will prove to be challenging in maintaing a high level of service. From the room, guests can access directly only the Lifestyle Manager, the In Room Dining and the operator. If one should wish to speak directly or make a request to Housekeeping, the Lifestyle Managers are the ones to take care of this too. The other shortcoming which I have noticed during my stay is fact that the assigned Lifestyle Manager is only rarely available, as he or she are handling several guests at a time or in my case, the assigned manager was off on the first day of my stay.
One very important aspect, actually a standard of service in any luxury hotel is name recognition and in the case of the Armani Hotels seems to have been overlooked. Apart from one’s dedicated lifestyle manager and his or her assistant, staff throughout the hotel, from the entrance, lobby to the restaurants and lounges do not know your name and, that is why, repeatedly ask for your name.
One challenging factor in the long run will be for ARMANI HOTEL Dubai to attract and maitain the loyalty of leisure guests, given the fact that the hotel has no outside pool, just a very small one indoors. Other issues which will need special constant attention are the decor features, including the furniture, which being of such bright color and silky materials, will easly get a tired look and feel.
Service throughout the hotel is attentive, predictive and friendly. There is a nice informal feel throughout the hotel and the fact that there are over 35 nationalities working in the hotel is a big advantage.The hotel will also benefit from the motivational factor of the staff who I have seen as being very proud of working in the first Armani Hotel. They not only wear Armani clothing and work in Armani premises but they also feel like being part of a family (this I have been told by several staff).
There are several issues which I am sure will be improved in time, such as the airconditioning system (impossible to maintain a fixed temperature – risk of getting quickly too cold or too hot), the extra soft mattress which not be suitable for all guests, the water pressure especially in the bathtub and shower, the very bright light on the control screens which may keep you awake during the night, lack of a clock, the central control panel should be indeed connected to the lifestyle manager so he or she does indeed call or come to the room.
Considering the huge awareness of the Armani brand and the novelty of the hotel concept. I am confident of a very successfull performance. Given its rather high pricing (among the most expensive in Dubai) is likely to keep away regular five star Dubai travellers, especially corporate (from outside the Gulf area) and leisure travellers. Due to the crisis, Russians, Ukraineans, Turkish or German wealthy travellers prefer to cut on hotel spending to maintain a similar budget for shopping and entertainment. In the long term, it will very much depend on how management will be able to maintain the level of service as well as keep the product offering attractive and fresh.
Oliver Petcu in Dubai
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