Known as Europe’s oldest hotelier, Kempinski Hotels has long been yearning to establish itself among the world’s top luxury hotel players. Are the recent wave of new openings, some of which may even seem out of the chain’s league, likely to provide a positioning boost?
Once known as a luxury hospitality talent institution drawing on being the oldest European luxury hotelier, Kempinski has had rather fluctuant evolution, in part also due to the management / third-party operator focus (asset-light), despite the fact that current group owners (Bahrain) must be very well aware that securing key locations and maintaining consistent high standards of customer service are most likely to be achieved with partial or integral ownership. ‘Compromise’ hotels, which have not been renovated in a long time: Ciragan Palace (Istanbul), Djibouti Palace, Amman (Jordan), Bansko (Bulgaria), Adriatic Istria (Croatia)
This is probably the reason why Kempinski has been absent from the U.S., Canada, Australia, India, South America and the Nordic countries of Europe. Two failed attempts to operate a hotel in London have probably provided enough frustration to not pursue Paris, world’s most visited city. Other major cities Kempinski has been absent from, include: Rome, Milan, Madrid, Rome, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Prague, Seoul, Tokyo etc.
The number of de-flagged properties (no longer Kempinski) in the past 3 years is however relatively small compared to other international luxury hotel chains including Ajman (UAE), Sofia (Bulgaria), Moscow (second property), Prague (Czech Republic), Bratislava (Slovakia) Munich Airport (Germany) and Mumbai (India).
Nevertheless, Kempinski has been a dominant player in Germany (9), China (21), UAE (4) and Turkey, Russia (each with 3 properties). Presently it operates a number of several iconic international properties which not only stand out from the rest of the chain but are also ranked among the top 5 luxury hotels in the respective destinations: Emirates Palace (Abu Dhabi), Adlon Kempinski (Berlin), Baltchug Kempinski (Moscow), Grand Hotel des Bains (St Moritz), Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski (Munich), Kempinski Gran Manzana (Havana) and the long anticipated The Capitol Kempinski (Singapore).
While these flagship locations are a major statements for the group – housed within iconic, most often heritage buildings, offering exceptional dining experiences and wellness / Spas and a solid customer service standard – it is the the overall inconsistency throughout the rest of the chain that probably weighs in, both in terms of product and service. There is also a discrepancy in terms of interior design, with majority properties of the chain, regardless of whether they may be housed within a historical building (ex. Kempinski Palais Hansen Vienna) boasting a contemporary / modern style in striking contrast with other properties that are overly classical.
With an already very successful property in Dubai, Kempinski Mall of Emirates with part of the hotel overlooking the indoor ski-slopes of the mall, Kempinski has taken on what seems yet another ‘gamble’ for its global positioning, opening earlier this year, a gigantic classic palace-style on The Palm in Dubai, dubbed The Emerald Palace. Even without a formal confirmation from Kempinski, it is obvious that the company was not the initial operator of choice when the owner constructed the resort hotels. This is obvious in the way many rooms are structured, resembling long corridors or ‘wagon style’.
‘Taste cannot be bought’‘ according to an old Dutch saying. However, Kempinski must have done extensive research to justify an extreme ‘Versailles inspired’ interior design for the Emerald Palace, with immense crystal chandeliers, an abundance of intricately assembled marbles from all corners of the world and a predominant contrast of shines, gold & gold plated – being integrated excessively (matter of taste!) into furniture, bed linen, curtains, lights etc.
Despite the overt one-sided interior design style, rooms and suites are comfortable, with excellent beds and fine linen, a very good sound-proofing standard, a very quiet AC, large all-marble bathrooms, plush thick Egyptian cotton towels and all the luxury hi-tech ‘standards’ with a smart Tv and high speed complimentary internet.
From my very first impression to the last, when walking around the hotel, the contrast between the hotel interiors was vivid – the welcoming area / lobby / reception over-staffed, most of them formally dressed – and hotel guests ‘transiting’ to the outdoor pools & beach and the Spa, most of them families with small children, all equipped for a leisurely day. Then, later in the day, I was told that a large corporate event had been going on. Occupancy during my stay was above 90%, the highest in Dubai among similarly sized five star hotels.
Could it be that there is still a segment of guests of a certain profile who are seeking such ‘lavish’ and ‘sparkling’ environments / interiors? The growing influx of Chinese travellers and an evident ‘come-back’ of the Russian clientele (especially from the CIS) could well explain, at least in part, the success of the Emerald Palace Kempinski.
The hotel has chosen no less than 6 dining outlets of which two fine dining restaurants, one under famed Michelin starred Chef Alain Ducasse and the other one by Chris Jaeckle , a superbly designed and executed Spa with stunning facilities (including a pool) operated by Cinq Mondes – a leading French luxury beauty and Spa brand. With a very modern and understated design, the Spa stands out, in sharp contrast with the rest of the hotel. Nevertheless, the Spa is one of the strong assets of the hotel, not only in terms of product but also service, quality of Spa and beauty products but also the highly skilled therapists.
What is rather surprising is the fact that Kempinski has chosen to outsource the Spa but also 5 dining outlets out of the total of 6, some to different owners and/or operators. However, mention must be made that, for instance, the Alain Ducasse branded restaurant (Mix by Alain Ducasse) is not operated by Alain Ducasse but by another local franchisee which is not Kempinski. One of the most successful dining outlets, which has been apparently attracting a solid number of non-hotel guests is MATAGI, the Chinese restaurant of the property.
For a hotel of this size, one should not expect personalised service – none of the staff would recognise quests by name (I believe it is practically impossible). Try to avoid ‘experimenting’ the robotic service among families with small children at the immense breakfast buffet within a ‘Versailles inspired’ restaurant (LE JARDIN) – and instead, enjoy in-room dining – many rooms and suites have generous balconies and terraces overlooking the beautifully manicured gardens, swimming pools, natural sand beach and the Dubai skyline in the distance.
All in all, the hotel does indeed provide guests with a very distinct offering and this niche could well attract a certain loyal segment of guests which may even gather more ‘fans’. With a better control and separation of areas for children access (especially those under a certain age), the hotel may even up its service standards.
But the long-term success target of this exceptionally large property will be to have actually anticipated the timing of the launching of casinos and gambling in Dubai, especially given the ‘remote’ location, at sea, on the man-made island of The Palm. The Emerald Palace Kempinski Hotel building is actually only half of a twice larger structure – an identical mirroring lateral palace building which would be a perfect fit for a grand casino resort. Caesars Palace Dubai is yet another luxury resort property located on a manmade island (Bluewaters) which must be anticipating the launch of casinos and gambling in Dubai. U.S. based Caesars Entertainment even participated in the investment.
Oliver Petcu in Dubai
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