Palace of a hotel

The Taj Palace Hotel Dubai has become popular with GCC guests and attracts an equal share of business and family leisure guests, its general manager Yannick Poupon tells JONNA SIMON. The Taj group is also looking at major expansion in the region with its second hotel to open by early 2004, also in Dubai.
Poupon ... expansion plans.

Q: As the general manager of The Taj Palace Hotel, what type of guests are you aiming at attracting to the hotel?

A: The Taj Palace Hotel opened in the middle of summer last year and we immediately received families from the Gulf region. The children were on summer holidays and the families came to Dubai to have a change of scenery. The hotel very quickly became popular with guests from the GCC states.

Q: Do you consider The Taj Palace Hotel a family, business or a leisure hotel? All three? And what are the approximate ratios of guests in these categories?

A: The Taj Palace Hotel was built for corporate clients. We found that we were very popular, because our rooms are very large - in fact the largest in Dubai. The local families enjoy the ambience and atmosphere of the hotel, so we also cater to them. The ratios are, today, 50 per cent business and 50 per cent families or leisure.

Q: You do not serve alcohol in the hotel - is this a disadvantage or an advantage?

A: The Taj Palace Hotel does not serve alcohol, because the owner, Juma Al Majid, being very conservative did not wish his hotel to serve alcohol as a matter of principle and we at the Taj Group of Hotels must respect his stand.

I must admit that for the restaurants, it is an inconvenience. Diners expect to be able to have a glass of wine or a beer with their meals. On the other hand, the GCC guests like this hotel, because it does not have any discos or bars and the families feel comfortable and safe with us.

Q: I understand this hotel is the first property for the Taj Group of Hotels in the Gulf region - are other properties planned for this region or the Middle East?

A: The Taj Group of Hotels operates 60 hotels in India and 10 outside the country. They are located in London, Kathmandu, three in Colombo, two in the Maldives - of which one is reopening in June this year - one in Lusaka as well as our flagship hotel here in Dubai.

A new hotel is under construction on the Shaikh Zayed Road in Dubai called The Taj Towers with 320 rooms, which is scheduled for opening in late 2003 or early 2004.

However this is only the beginning for Taj in the Middle East. We are looking at operating properties in Abu Dhabi, Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, Bahrain and Qatar.

Q: Some people keep saying, there are too many hotels in Dubai, but the emirate continues to grow and thus continuously needs more hotel rooms - do you believe that The Taj Palace Hotel can prosper in this competitive environment?

A: Dubai has a very competitive environment. The Dubai Government wants to develop the emirates as an all-year destination. Emirates airline has ordered many new planes to commit to the Government's plans in order to bring more visitors to Dubai. The Government wants 15 million visitors by 2010 and I believe, this will happen. I think there is room for everybody to make a profit, to make viable business.

The competition is good, because it forces you to be better, to offer the utmost service to clients.

Q: What do you think of the current business and tourism scene? Do you see it continue to grow with quality visitors, not the backpackers and cheaper tourists?

A: There is a slight danger that if a destination goes for greater volume of visitors, something has to be traded off to reach the set targets. This might mean that the high-end and exclusive segment of the tourism market will decline somewhat.

Obviously if you open your doors to many hotels and airlines, you get the volume, but you have to discount your prices and that is maybe what is going to happen in Dubai in order to reach the target of 15 million visitors.

The niche for the wealthy travellers in very small and Dubai has to share the percentage with the Caribbean Islands and the Maldives. It is a very competitive market segment, so perhaps Dubai might have to go for the masses and that is where the danger lies.

However, businessmen keep coming back to Dubai and they also sometimes bring their families, so a combination of business and leisure might be the future for Dubai.

Q: As an experienced hotelier, what priorities do you set for the management and staff?

A: Going back to the competition and the many hotels in Dubai, the solution is - we have to be better than the competition.

If you run a nice hotel that is fair enough, but you have to be tops in the service section. If you want to be 5-star, you have to deserve the denomination. Training my staff to be 5-star is my main goal.

We have to be better than the rest of the competition, that's how you get the business.

The training is ongoing and I have a staff of three just concentrating on training. The Taj Group also supplies me with back-up in the form of training materials and courses. We believe that is the way to go.

Q: Hotel executives seem to work very long hours- is this a career you would recommend to a school leaver or college/university graduate?

A: It is hard work, it is glamorous, but it is not only glamour, it is long hours every day. I would recommend it, because this is what I like doing despite 12-14-16 hours a day, it is still a rewarding career.

Q: Has the Internet made an impact on the hotel industry? Do you envisage new developments changing the way hotels are chosen by guests and reservations booked?

A: The Internet has had a tremendous impact on the hotel industry. It has changed the way we do business far more than we realise at this stage. Each hotel now has its own website, where guests can look at the rooms, restaurants, facilities etc. there is no middleman any more, as guests can now book reservations directly through the website. This development has made life much easier for everybody. Communications via e-mail through the Internet is faster and cheaper. It is a very good way.

Q: What in your opinion are the most attractive features of The Taj Palace Hotel?

A: It is a very attractive building with the largest rooms in Dubai - 51 sq m for an average, standard room, which is above the average, international, 5-star norm. The ambience and dŽcor of the hotel is very comfortable and cosy. Guests feel at ease here. The dŽcor is not too extravagant or too modern, the hotel is neither too big nor too small.