Accor bid to lift profile of Sofitel

The newly branded Sofitel City Centre Hotel and Residence in Dubai is part of the Accor Group's expansion plan to raise the profile of the Sofitel brand in the Middle East, general manager Philippe H Drivon tells TTN's JONNA SIMON.

Q: I understand you are changing the name of the hotel and residence - what is the new name of the complex?

A: The new name will be Sofitel City Centre Hotel & Residence Dubai. We are going to have the new name on top of the hotel - that is Sofitel City Centre Hotel on top of the hotel and Sofitel City Centre Residence on the other building.

The name change is part of an expansion plan by the Accor Group to raise the profile of the Sofitel brand in the Middle East. We are looking for more hotel properties for this brand, either owned or managed, here in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Q: The Sofitel brand is a 5-star hotel, is that right?

A: Yes, Sofitel is the luxury category of the Accor Group's hotels and we have 151 Sofitel hotels in 52 countries around the world. The Sofitel hotels are 5-star properties with a French flavour. Of the 1,400 Accor hotels across the world, which encompasses five, four and three star properties, only 151 hotels are Sofitel branded.

Q: Last time I featured the hotel, we talked about the attraction for shoppers and golfers. Would you say these groups are still an important segment of your guests?

A: The location of the hotel is perfect for shoppers coming to Dubai, especially for the regional visitors, who have been staying at the hotel since the opening. I'm talking about repeat clients of which we have many.

Golfers like to stay here, because we are situated next to the Creek Golf & Yacht Club. We are currently looking at promoting golf packages, especially in Europe.

Q: Do you notice the number of visitors increasing during the Dubai Shopping Festival or the Dubai Summer Surprises?

A: This year was better than last year, but most of the time the hotel is fully booked, so we have to turn down business. The volume of our business is increasing year by year. We have reached such a high occupancy level that it is sometimes difficult to offer further accommodation.

Q: How about the Desert Classic Golf tournament - do you have any of the pros staying at the hotel, when the tournament is held at the Creek Golf & Yacht Club?

A: Many of the professional golfers are sponsored by various hotels in Dubai during the Desert Classic, for instance the Marriott sponsored several of the American golfers.

We do not sponsor golfers, but we had several of the officials involved with the tournament staying with us. We had a few golfers for the first days of the tournament, who then did not make the cut or whatever, but we did not accommodate any of the major players.

Q: The City Centre Shopping mall is probably the best-known shopping venue in Dubai with the many international stores and brand names - do the owners and managements of these outlets use the hotel for meetings? Accommodation? Dining?

A: Yes, part of our commercial strategy of being attached to the shopping centre was to give good corporate rates to the tenants in the mall. It is very good business. They use the hotel for meetings, lunch, dinner, cocktails and we are working very closely with them.

We also run several promotions jointly with Magic Planet and the larger retailers. Last year we did a 'Magic Summer' promotion with Disney, which also included a lot of the retailers in the shopping centre.

Q: There are 112 apartments in the residence tower - are these apartments all rented out? Or rather are there any permanent guests, who are not just visitors?

A: Thirty per cent of the apartments are rented to long-stay guests, that is six months to a year or even longer occupancy and 70 per cent are short-stay visitors.

There are also a number of offices located in the middle of the two buildings and they are managed by the shopping centre itself.

Q: Last time I wrote about the hotel, you had just opened La Villa Mediterranean - how is that faring?

A: We have extended the renovations to the bar area and we have changed the concept to Latino with a Cuban band every night except during Ramadan. We have a tapas bar how too with reasonable prices.

Just before Ramadan, we launched a new concept, Latino-Brazilian, where guests can eat as much as they choose for Dh99 ($27) including a salad bar, seven different types of meat, some of them very exotic like kangaroo or crocodile, and desserts.

It is not a buffet affair, but table service, where guests can order their favourite meals such as marinated beef, chicken, lamb etc. and it is served on a giant skewer taken to the table.

Q: Why did you change the concept of the restaurant from Mediterranean to South American?

A: Ever since the opening of the restaurant it was considered to be quite a serious dining outlet, so we wanted to change the concept for it to be more fun for diners to visit.

Dubai is a sort of party city, and if you are too serious or expensive, the clients will not frequent your restaurant, however wonderful the food or ambiance.

With new and different menus, reasonable prices, Cuban music and lighter atmosphere, we have attracted more diners. In the month before Ramadan, the diners doubled in numbers even without advertising or promoting the new restaurant concept.

We believe the restaurant will create good business for the hotel. We have also added pool tables and a cigar room recently.

Q: Dubai has been facing a difficult time after the September 11 tragedies in the USA - how is the hotel doing at present and how do you see the future of the hotel?

A: Because of the diversity of our client base and our marketing strategies, we have not suffered as greatly as some of the other five-star hotels in Dubai, particularly the beach properties, whose clients are almost entirely from the leisure market.

We have GCC, business/corporate clients as well as leisure guests, although we are not a leisure hotel as such.

From September 11 to October 11, the business of the hotel went down by about 20 per cent, but we are still within the budgeted revenue forecast for the year.

It is difficult to predict, what will happen on the world scene. We often receive reservations only a week or two in advance and we work mainly with individuals, families and corporate clients.

We do not have a lot of tourists like the beach properties, where reservations come a long time in advance and in crisis situations can be cancelled. Looking at the figures for February, the numbers are very good, back to normal business figures.

Q: Doses the hotel have any links with a beach resort for the leisure clients?

A: The hotel has bought about 20 memberships at a beach property in Jumeirah and offers complimentary shuttle bus services to that property for leisure guests if they wish to go to the beach and enjoy the facilities there.