What motivated the set-up of the First Collection in Dubai’s highly competitive hotel sector? Why Dubai as the location for your first hotels?
While Dubai is extremely well established as one of the world’s most popular luxury travel destinations, its more affordable upper-midscale hotel market is actually driving the growth of the city’s hospitality and tourism sectors.
In developing our brand offering, we identified a largely unmet demand for premium upscale Llifestyle hotel accommodation in central locations across Dubai that provide guests with strong value for their money and high-quality service standards, modern amenities and innovative F&B offerings. We are targeting guests who appreciate the high-quality and unique lifestyle experiences they receive when they stay with us, from our designs, services, leisure facilities to our award-winning restaurants, cafes and bars.
Lifestyle hotels focus on overall experience but not only product and service.
As a brand, The First Collection has set a new benchmark in all of these areas, and its success to date is highlighted by the fact that The First Collection at Jumeirah Village Circle was recognised by TripAdvisor as one of the 25 ‘Hottest New Hotels for 2022’ worldwide.
How is the brand positioned? What is your comp set?
Our unique approach to hospitality is what differentiates The First Collection as a brand. We take pride in being a dynamic organisation that adapts to our guests’ needs, monitoring global trends and implementing best practices to ensure their time spent in our hotels is tailored madeare comfortable with and memorable experiences.
We are aware that we are the curator of our guests’ memories and that is why we are so intent on exceeding meeting their specific expectations during their stay with us. As a team, we work smart smart to ensure they have the best possible memorable experience when staying or dining in our hotels.
Tell us more about the DNA of the brand and the guest profile?
The First Collection is a homegrown hospitality brand that encompasses a unique portfolio of great-value hotels, restaurants, and Lifestyle-focused experiences.
Each of our hotels has its own personality and character, with a commitment to providing comfortable, modern accommodation combined with authentic and value-driven leisure and dining experiences that inspire our guests to ‘make the most of it’ during their stay time with us.
The First Collection’s commitment to providing the highest-quality service standards at a competitive price point has made it very popular with business and leisure guests alike.
Our aim as a brand is to deliver outstanding hospitality experiences tailored to our guests’ needs. We also want to uplift the communities in which we operate and enrich lives through inspiring initiatives and long-term partnerships.
Are there any expectations which have proven to be more challenging to achieve?
Launching a new hotel brand in a highly competitive market like Dubai is always going to be a challenge, particularly in respect to communicating our brand ideals to potential guests.
However, The First Collection at Jumeirah Village Circle really set the benchmark for what we are trying to achieve as a brand, and the way the hotel has been embraced by guests and local residents really highlights we’re on the right track in terms of providing a unique Llifestyle experience.
The recent launch of our second hotel, The First Collection Business Bay, has further boosted our brand visibility in the marketplace and helped consolidate our reputation as Dubai’s leading Lifestyle-focused hospitality brand.
Brand positioning earlier as we just started to get established, with JVC. The opening of our second hotel in Business Bay our brand visibility improved and we look forward to opening more hotels in the future to increase awareness.
What about pricing and your ADR performance so far? What do you expect for the rest of the year?
As a private firm, we don’t publish our key performance data publicly, but needless to say our results to date have exceeded our expectations, particularly in comparison to our competitive set both in Jumeirah Village and Business Bay.N/A
Looking ahead, we are confident of achieving impressive gains throughout the winter high season, particularly given the influx of visitors who are expected to stay in Dubai and travel to FIFA World Cup games in Qatar throughout November and December. The traditional holiday season in December and January should also drive occupancy rates.
We don’t want to reveal the numbers. Amongst our comp-set our hotels are healthy and expecting to be better in rest of the year.
How are your F&B and wellness offerings structured? To what extent do you also attract locals?
One of the most exciting aspects of The First Collection’s success to date has been the popularity of our hotels among residents living in the communities in which they operate. Much of this success can be attributed to the popularity of The First Collection’s F&B portfolio.
When developing The First Collection brand, one of our core goals was to establish each hotel as a gastronomic hub in its own right, and this approach has proven successful in attracting local clientele to our restaurants, cafes and bars.
In a crowded F&B market like Dubai, we are focused on delivering exciting and authentic dining experiences in unique venues that offer exceptional quality food and value for money.
Recognising that in today’s environment our guests are food savvy and will come to us with a variety of culinary experiences, our aim is to create homegrown relevant F&B brands that differentiate us from our competitors and allow our guests to enjoy something new and innovative.
Our award-winning F&B portfolio includes Santè Ria Restaurant & Bar, a Latino-inspired eatery located in The First Collection at Jumeirah Village Circle that offers breathtaking city views, and The Blacksmith Bar & Eatery, Dubai’s famous homegrown smokehouse restaurant, which is our signature offering at The First Collection Business Bay.
As a leading lifestyle-focused hotel brand, fitness and wellness are also core components of our guest offering. All The First Collection hotels feature ultra-modern and well-equipped gyms, large outdoor pools, and luxury wellness spas offering a range of specialized treatments.
In hospitality ensuring a consistently high customer service is critical. What has been your approach?
I think our commitment to delivering the finest independent Lifestyle-focused hospitality experiences is what differentiates us as a brand.
Authenticity is the word that epitomises our offering. We want guests to embrace our lifestyle offerings and view our hotels as sanctuaries from the hustle and bustle of the city.
We want our guests to feel free to be themselves, to sleep well and recover quickly from travel. To be able to stay connected with friends and family, stay healthy and feel they are in a fun, warm and safe environment.
The success of our unique brand offering is highlighted by the overwhelmingly positive reviews we have received from guests.
According to the latest TripAdvisor tally of independent guest reviews, The First Collection at Jumeirah Village Circle is ranked 8th overall out of 905 hotels surveyed in Dubai with a five-star ‘excellent’ rating, while our recently opened The First Collection Business Bay, which only opened in July this year, already ranks among the top 10% of hotels in Dubai is ranked 85th out of 905 hotels and also boasts a five-star ‘excellent’ rating.
Both hotels have received significant praise from guests for their personaliszed service standards and strong value for money. For Business Bay, can we highlight that the hotel is just operational since July 2022. Instead of 85%, we say amongst the top 10% of best hotels in Dubai
What is your operational model? Do you consider franchising or management for expansion?
At this point we are wholly focused on boosting brand recognition in the marketplace while building guest loyalty. Providing the highest-quality service standards has been the key to our success to date, and we consider We are a soft brand (flexible and lifestyle based) and we are considering management as the future as we are building team players through training who are committed to delivering excellent service at all times.
Which are the next properties in your development strategy?
We are continuing to develop our property pipeline in Dubai and are actively assessing opportunities to take the brand to other markets across the Middle East.
With over 25 years of experience in the hospitality sector managing renowned luxury properties worldwide, Karim is the Vice President, Hotel Operations at The First Group.
In his current role, he is responsible for driving operational success, executing profitability strategies, while developing talent for the group’s properties. Furthermore, Karim was part of the team who saw The First Collection at Jumeirah Village Circle recently named ‘one of the world’s hottest hotels’ by TripAdvisor.
With a strong track record of building and sustaining cohesive, top-performing teams, Karim has a successful background in multi-property operations, as well as managing prestigious F&B venues, including Michelin star restaurants.
Over the years, Karim has worked at 5-star luxury and lifestyle hotels around the world including The Plaza Hotel – A Fairmont Property in New York, The Ritz Carlton Central Park New York, Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Egypt, Sofitel Philadelphia, Qatar Foundation, The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort and Spa, The Knickerbocker Hotel New York, which was the first independent, luxury property in Times Square, the InterContinental Hotels Dubai Festival City and InterContinental Jubail Resort.
In addition, he has developed nine prestigious ultra-luxury hotels including Mandarin Oriental, Park Hyatt, Capella, Solis, MGallery and Zulal Wellness Resort by Chiva-Som in Qatar.
His hard work and dedication to bettering the industry have won him accolades from the International Hospitality Institute where he was the Global Hospitality Award Winner and recognized as one of the Global Top 20 Hospitality Executives to Watch in 2022.
Karim is a guest satisfaction enthusiast who demonstrates the ability to increase guest satisfaction scores year on year, while ensuring strong positioning for his properties. He graduated from St. John’s University in New York City with a Bachelors’ Degree in Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management.
More from LEADERS
In conversation with visionary luxury hotelier Ingo C. Peters, General Manager of Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten, Hamburg (Exclusive Interview)
What is your view on the impact of the current International economic and political context on luxury, specifically luxury …
How have your hotel performed post pandemic? Are there challenges still persisting? The year 2022 will go down in history as …
In conversation with Fanny Holzer-Luschnig, General Manager, Motto Hotel Vienna (Exclusive Interview)
How is the Motto Hotel positioned in Vienna’s luxury sector? We stand for the “new luxury” a chic understatement that is …