In keeping with CPP-LUXURY.COM yearly tradition for the past 11 years, we pick the most dynamic and competitive luxury hotel market, providing a unique comparative review, which are notorious for all luxury sectors.
This Spring we have carefully picked 5 luxury properties in Dubai and one outside Dubai to reflect on the very diverse and at the same time complex offering that the city provides.
The most powerful disruptors shaping the Dubai luxury hotel market are:
- Russians (once among the top 3 visitor nationalities) spend less on hotels, most of them at the same hotels – thus putting pressure; overall, the image of Dubai as a destination has become for the UHNWI Russians – with tens of direct flights not only from the major cities but also from second and third tier cities at ‘low cost’ rate; more Russians travel to Dubai with children
- UK travellers to Dubai have dropped by 45% – in great part because of the deteriorating lifestyle association – Dubai is no longer associated with luxury
- Asian travellers (especially from China) have increased in numbers but, similarly to other international destination, they do not place value on the hotel (also they are not drawn by resorts and beaches) – so their key attractions are shopping, dining and traditional touristic options such as camel riding
- India is one single market that has been driving a very healthy growth of the market – not only do they stay in luxury hotels but also mix-match (i.e. they may stay at a hotel but each evening dine at a different hotel); They are also then biggest growing segment for high end accommodations such as Spas
- in the past 3 years, East European high quality human resources have been leaving Dubai mostly for financial reasons – this has created a major discrimination issue unseen in other major destinations (many luxury stores and luxury hotels recruit nowadays based on ‘European looking’ staff, with lighter / whiter skin which are predominantly attracted from Tunisia and Morocco
- the turnover of staff has reached sky high limits – which for any luxury business is essential – bigger training costs and most dramatic in the long term – growing inconsistency of service
- the booming party scene with daily ‘events’ which attract both locals and visitors as well as a certain other ‘profile’ may seem to be cool and some may even be tempted to make comparisons with Miami – on the contrary, as Dubai loses authenticity (including its religion, cuisine, rituals, customs), there is no more ‘sense of place’
- many luxury hotels have given in on the continuously shortening of the season because of the unbearable heat in 5 months of the year
The exceptional opportunities which Dubai still presents:
- yachting & other sea activities – the Dubai canals are widely unexplored; there are still very few luxury marina docks which can receive direct traffic
- focus more on expats for staycations and dining concepts
- some major international luxury chain hotels must renovate immediately – maybe even with the support of the Government – there is already a perception of top luxury international chains which are cheap in Dubai (it is unacceptable for some hotels to not have undergone ANY renovations in more than 10 years
- focus more on promoting Dubai to markets such as Colombia (direct flights) which boast a solid segment of both ‘old money’ and ‘nouveau riche’
- casino & gambling (regulated on remote islands) are a must for the long term feasibility of the Dubai market as a leading tourism destination
- sticking with your global business model – if, internationally
- hire more locals in key positions which interact directly with guests – many perceive that there are two different ‘worlds’ – the locals which have an air of superiority and the others – visitors / travellers (this is one of the major winning factors of Oman, providing an authentic experience and a much more humble approach
- large air conditioned venues – whether shows, concerts, theatre, movies etc etc
- local dining concepts (not necessarily local cuisine) – see the hugely successful MAINE chain of restaurants
- Spas should expand their offering so that traffic by locals is insured – weight loss, detox programs, sleeping disorders, pregnant women, organic tanning etc.
- limit alcohol consumption
- attract a solid and high spending LGBTQ segment – who avoid Dubai because of internet censorship of thousands of websites and Apps
- stop blocking social media messaging – i.e. Whatsapp voice calls are blocked in Dubai (China gave that up 2 years ago)
- redefine and restrict drastically the ranking of hotels – luxury is a designation too easily used!
Despite the apparent and so much ‘talked about’ investments of billions in tourism, the reality of the past 3 years providing different. Except with Madinat Jumeirah which has a beautiful natural soft sand beach, many new Dubai luxury resorts have artificial sand which in some cases are so rough guests cannot even get into the sea for a swim.
Running relatively low occupancy rates have also forced some luxury hotels to give up their rules – i.e there are no more ‘adult’/ ‘children’ pools. Children of the smallest age are taken by parents to fine dining restaurants or clubby lounges, often the parents placing a tablet or phone in front of their children to keep them busy (I have come across this almost at all hotels visited). I was baffled to see 2 and 3 year old children in the pool of one of Dubai’s ‘Ibiza’ style all-day clubbing.
Detailed separate comprehensive review articles for each property will be coming up later this month
For couples or small groups of adult friends seeking a genuine luxury exclusive experience, away from big crowds including children, Oberoi Al Zorah Ajman (40 mins drive from Dubai) has no competitor. It not only boasts the most sophisticated architecture and interior design by famed Italian architect Piero Lisoni, with the highest standard quality of finishes and furnishings. The mix of guests is a big achievement of the resort – diverse foreign nationalities but also locals who frequent the hotel discreetly mostly the bar.
Service is not only of the highest standard but it is consistent. There is an incredible pristine natural sand beach (Maldives quality) with a area entirely dedicated to villa guests and a discreet separate serviced area for non-villa guest. The two restaurants have a wide array of dishes to please all type of guests – finest quality and diversity. Staying true to its values, Oberoi Al Zorah has resisted all ‘temptations’ or even ‘pressures’ to organise brunches or Ramadan majlis – there are no buffets!
Hotel provides all guests with a fleet of brand new Audi chauffeur driven limousines for day trips or half day trips to Dubai, Abu Dhabi etc. The resort also includes a Spa with several pure organic brands of the highest quality – the only spot the hotel is aware that can be better. To reassure the long term strategic approach of the Oberoi Resort, the two large plots of land on both sides of the resort are owned by the developer of the entire Al Zorah Complex. Reliability, a sense of place, an effortless luxury rooted in simplicity is what makes Oberoi Al Zorah a unique destination in itself.
Mention must still be made that Oberoi Group operates an upscale business hotel downtown Dubai, which, considering the new ownership of the group, will hopefully be de-flagged soon.
Bulgari Resort Dubai has two huge competitive advantages over all its luxury competitors in Dubai – it sits on a man-made private island which has a stunning marina (the only one in Dubai that super yachts can dock directly), the impeccably executed serviced residences but also the WOW factor that architecture instills, a WOW factor which also exudes a genuine luxurious lifestyle.
Despite its relatively large number of residences, the resorts still retains its exclusivity. Service is of high standards with many staff going out of their way to please. The hotel is also managing a rather challenging situation – at times, the lobby turns into a ‘selfie paradise’ for Asian travellers who take over – imposing rules may have some immediate draw-back but on the long term would support consistency.
The restaurant by Michelin starred Chef Niko Romito is not only the best Italian restaurant in Dubai but also a dining spot with some of the most spectacular views at any time of the day. The current harsh ‘pebble beach’ which makes it impossible for guest to swim must be replaced with natural sand and the pool area must be improved to reflect the luxury standard that the rest of the resort boosts.
Although it may lose revenue, Bulgari Resort Dubai must no longer organise this mass scale buffets, i.e. second year a huge Majlis is set up (i.e. during Ramadan) – the TENT is obviously in huge contrast with the ultra luxury furnishings – hopefully there will be no mass retail or dining concepts in the presently empty retail space on the ground-floor of each residences building . For instance, the Easter brunch buffet was exquisite – small but with incredible dishes, for many, a wonder of the Italian and catholic traditions.
Bulgari Resort Dubai also offers the most exclusive and spectacular experience, special guests may be whisked away in an ultra luxury super-yacht that takes you to downtown Dubai in minutes. The yacht itself and the staff, not to mention ultra luxury details such as custom made Bulgari branded towels is a memory will always stay in my memory – an authentic ‘Dolce Vita’ experience.
With thousands of rooms spread across tens of hotels in Dubai, thanks to the new executive management of the resort which took over last year, there are huge signs of improvement – the Madinat Jumeirah has the best beach, the best Spa in Dubai and the best villa (Arabian house) experience. CEO Jose Silva has perfectly understood the solid service culture of the company, despite the sheer size of some hotels and has been further enhancing the strategic approach to recruiting and nurturing the best talent.
Judging by service standards, Jumeirah Group is undoubtedly an institution – a more differentiated branding is currently being carefully planned by Silva’s team (including developing a new luxury brand). A major renovation of the Burj Al Arab is also confirmed, however, in synch with Expo 2022.
Less than 10 months into the job former Michelin Guide CEO Michael Ellis who is now Chief Culinary Officer at Jumeirah Group has already overhauled the dining experience at many of the Madinat Jumeirah and Burj Al Arab. Another major achievement is that the hotels that make up the large Madinat Jumeirah complex are increasingly individual, not only in architecture but in their offering and mix of guests.
Despite being one of Dubai’s first hotels with an architecture often associated with Burj Al Arab and despite its renovation and profitability, the gigantic Jumeriah Beach Hotel is the biggest weak point of Jumeirah Group, from a branding point of view.
In Part 2, coming up: Caesar’s Palace (best bathrooms, best rooms), Mandarin Oriental Jumeira (best dining, best suites), Emerald Palace Kempinski (ultimate bling – perfect for an all time niche clientele – most ‘innovative’ fully outsourced dining’. We shall also be announcing CPP-LUXURY.COM’s Luxury Hotel of the Year in Dubai (2019)
Oliver Petcu in Dubai
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