Dubai-based Jumeirah International operates several landmark properties in the emirate including the Burj Al Arab, Emirates Towers Hotel and the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Resort among others. The hospitality giant recently took over two hotels in London. Service and quality are the hallmarks for the group which aims to be a market leader, its corporate director for sales and marketing, Bill Walshe tells TTN's JONNA SIMON.
Q: To bring us right up-to-date, can you tell me how the group is currently faring?
A: The group in Dubai is doing extremely well. The mix of business has changed a little from previous years, as we now have a heavier concentration of individual leisure travellers, whereas at this time of year, we would expect to have more corporate and meeting business.
The leisure traffic is very high. In March this year, for instance, we have recorded higher occupancy across our hotel mix compared to the same period last year.
Q: The airlines frequenting Dubai are reporting healthy business for the future - is this trend reflected in your room bookings?
A: Yes, it is, but what we are finding this year is that the lead time on bookings is shorter than in pervious years and thus our pick up in demand is also a lot briefer. Normally we would pick up the month before for any given month, where in fact our pick up in the month for the month is a lot stronger than it would have been in pervious years. Demand is great and we are very confident about the future, but we are seeing the bookings coming in at much shorter notice.
Q: Looking at your properties in Dubai, you have a rather unusual mixture of hotels, from the 7-star Burj Al Arab to the more modest World Trade Centre Hotel - do you have a group philosophy, which links all the properties under the Jumeirah International banner?
A: Yes, we do. We have a unique collection of properties and all our hotels are 5-star. There is a 7-star feeling associated with the Burj Al Arab, but that relates more to the customer feedback we have experienced. All the properties are different and unique in their own way and we rank them all as 5-star venues.
There are two things which are a common thread throughout the group - one is the attitude of our employees.
We focus very firmly on the hallmarks of the Jumeirah International, which are for instance - "always greet the guest, before he/she greets you", "never say no to guest", and "treat your colleagues with the respect you wish to receive from them". These hallmarks are firmly executed in all our properties.
Secondly, what we aim at is market leadership. The market for the Burj Al Arab is different to the market for the World Trade Centre Hotel, but there is nothing stopping either of them from being market leader in their own segments.
Q: Which is the more difficult hotel to sell - the Burj Al Arab or the World Trade Centre Hotel?
A: At certain times of the year, it is more difficult to achieve the price for the Burj Al Arab than the price for the World Trade Centre Hotel.
But as there is such a defined market for each hotel, they are each great products in their respective fashion. It is a different style of selling, but in terms of opportunities, they are equally the same for both products. All our sales people are empowered to sell all our products.
Q: Burj Al Arab has become the landmark of Dubai and is almost in a class of its own - with which other world class hotels would you compare it?
A: It is very difficult to make specific comparisons, because on the one hand I could compare it with a particular hotel in any part of the world or I could compare it to an architectural structure like the Sydney Opera House.
It is really an icon for Dubai as well as a luxury hotel, which again makes it quite unique and I can't think of a comparison anywhere in the world today.
I am very pleased, when people recognise that in this iconic structure, you can also get a very good night's sleep.
Q: Switching to London - again two different types of hotels, although they share the same business and fitness facilities - does the Dubai style come into your sales activities, when marketing these two hotels?
A: We are very proud to have both the London hotels in the Jumeirah International portfolio, because it is the first 5-star international presence for us.
What we have concentrated on doing initially is to bring the Dubai Jumeirah International approach to the London hotels through the hallmarks I have talked about previously.
In terms of marketing the properties, it is more or less the same technique, apart from the fact that the feeder markets for the London properties are different to the ones in Dubai.
There is a heavy flow of traffic from Dubai to London, which is great, because we can capitalise on the presence of Jumeirah International here, but our London hotels are heavily dependent on traffic from the USA, corporate as well as leisure, which is not the case for the Dubai hotels.
It has been somewhat of a learning experience for us to create an identity of Jumeirah International in the US market on the back of our two London properties.
We also have the added advantage that Emirates airline's associate hotel in London is the Carlton Tower.
Q: I have heard that staff from the two UK hotels are being flown to Dubai to see and experience the other hotels - can you tell me a little more about this exercise?
A: You are almost entirely correct. Staff at the two UK properties, who have been working in the hotels for a year or more are being brought to Dubai to be made welcome to the group and to be inducted into the Jumeirah International family.
Part of that exercise is to expose them to our hotels here, but it is mainly for them to interact with their Dubai colleagues.
We try to introduce the staff from London to a colleague here doing the same sort of job in Dubai, so they can create friendships, compare notes and maybe look for career opportunities.
Q: Does the group have plans to acquire any other UK hotels?
A: As a company we do not have any specific acquisition plans for other hotels in the UK or anywhere else. I think, there is definitely opportunities for growth forJumeirah International outside Dubai, but we have set our criteria for growth extremely high and there are not many hotels around the world which would easily fit into our portfolio.
With the two hotels in London, we have a great platform for representation in the UK market. The Carlton Tower is being refurbished and will be relaunched in June this year. I doubt, we would have any other hotels in London, but we might look at properties in other capital cities frequented by residents from this part of the world on a regular basis - Paris could be a possibility.
Q: The group is unique in also operating the hotel academy. How many students does the academy have at present? And have any of them graduated yet?
A: None have graduated yet, as we have only had our first intake of students. In the full-time degree course we have 15 students from 10 different countries. We are now also introducing some part-time courses across the whole range of hospitality topics.
The intake for the full-time course has now been met fully, and every year onwards we will increase the intake with new students.
Q: In Dubai, I know that you are involved in the exciting new Madinat Jumeirah project. Can you give me a briefing on this project and an approximate timetable for completion?
A: The first phase of this new project will open in September next year in time for the IMF conference in Dubai. That will include a 300-room, 5-star hotel, seafacing and additionally on the complex there will be a 300-room Arabian Palace as well as villas throughout the resort, which will accommodate another 300 rooms, so we are looking at 900 rooms in total.
Forty food and beverage outlets will be available as also a fully operational souk with around 70-80 'shops' or workshops. The souk is intended not just for the guests staying at Madinat Jumeirah, but for all the residents of Dubai.
There will be a convention centre able to accommodate 2,000 delegates and the largest wellness and health spa in the Middle East. The entire complex, which is situated on 42 acres, is going to be connected by a series of waterways, for which we are having a fleet of abras (water-taxis) built.
Madinat Jumeirah is very different to what we have done in the company before.
Q: Has the Internet had an impact on your reservations, i.e. do you see room reservations being executed via the Internet exclusively in the future or will you still be using the more traditional way of travel agents?
A: The Internet has made an impact on our business like it has on many other companies. One of our missions is to be easy to do business with. As head of sales and marketing my goal is to have as many channels available as possible for our customers to buy rooms through, so that we are doing business with them in the way they prefer.
I cannot afford to favour one channel over another, I will not develop Internet over travel agents, nor will I entirely rely on the travel agents at the expense of customers who prefer to book via the Internet.
My job is to ensure that a customer can book in whichever fashion he prefers, make sure he receives the rates and that the booking is confirmed immediately.
* Jumeirah International is a hotel corporation consisting of several properties including Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Resort, the Wild Wadi Waterpark, Beit Al Bahr Villas, Emirates Towers Hotel, Jumeirah Beach Club, Burj Al Arab all-suites hotel, the World Trade Centre Hotel, Jumeirah Hospitality, the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management and the newest project, Madinat Jumeirah - all situated in Dubai. The Group also owns and operates the Carlton Tower Hotel and The Lowndes Hotel in London.
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