THE opening of the much-anticipated Armani Hotel in Dubai has ushered in a new era of ultra-luxury to the region.

Dardenne...desirable locations
Dardenne...desirable locations

MARC DARDENNE, CEO of Emaar Hospitality Group and Armani Hotels & Resorts, speaks to SHALU CHANDRAN on what it takes to create a successful luxury business model amidst a global economic recession.

To begin with, has the region’s hospitality sector started to pick up?

Yes, I think definitely business sentiments have improved. At The Address Hotels & Resorts (also part of the Emaar group), we opened hotels during the downturn. So we were really ramping up our hotels. When we compare numbers from this year to last we are significantly ahead. We always felt business was improving. We have also been really happy with our occupancies in the first quarter 2010.

We are fortunate to have most of our hotels in a very desirable location and we have the ability to attract both leisure and business which is a huge advantage. We have out-performed occupancies this year because of this factor. On the leisure side we have been able to attract the GCC business and key markets were Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and weekend visitors from Abu Dhabi.

The international market is not so much our source business because they prefer beach properties. Our market is primarily corporate, Mice and leisure – for GCC and stop-over. We have also announced, in co-orporation with Emirates airline, a promotion for first-class transit passengers at the Armani Hotel and for business-class passengers at The Address Downtown or at The Palace. In terms of our GCC leisure guests, they are looking for great shopping, great hotels and leisure activities for kids – which we can offer with Dubai Mall and Kidzania and the fountain.

What are your predictions for the summer months?

June is going to be a relatively good month and July, which is historically the month when the GCC market travels, we will benefit the most. I think, like every year, Ramadan is going to be fairly quiet from a rooms point of view. By Eid, it will pick up and I think quarter four will be better than quarter one.

With the opening of the Armani, what feedback have you received?

The Armani Hotel has received such positive feedback. Giorgio Armani himself was extremely pleased with the outcome – not only from the design point of view but also with the quality of the finishing. What he really enjoyed was the service and the ambassadors to the brand, which made a huge difference. The food and beverage has been very strong since opening. The rooms have been popular with residents and have been popular during the weekends with people wanting to try them out.

The GCC and the international market, following our international media campaigns, have been showing interest and with the Armani, guests will come to Dubai just to experience the hotel and the brand.

Do you believe that the region still has a demand for ultra-luxury properties like the Armani?

When you have the ability to deliver a very specific experience, like the Armani experience, where you don’t compete on price, yes. I am not saying it’s the best in the world but it is a unique, specific experience. Our guests are not staying at the Armani to spend a night at a new hotel but to experience the Armani service.

What is the Armani service?

It begins with our brand ambassadors. Much deliberation has been put in choosing associates who have that unique talent for service. Almost all associates came onboard in early 2010 so we’ve spent a lot of time on training. Besides skills training, we spent a lot of time training them on how to be an ambassador to the brand – what Armani Hotels & Resorts is all about, because at the end of the day, what makes a great hotel are its people.

The second part is the lifestyle management concept. It is really a group of highly talented lifestyle managers who get in touch with the customer from when the booking is made, arranging their schedules till they leave the hotel. It engages the guests to stay in touch with us and also recommend the hotel.

Has luxury taken on a new definition with the Armani on your portfolio?

Armani has taken luxury to the next level. Ultra-luxury is a unique experience. When you can duplicate it, its not ultra-luxury anymore. From its service to attention to detail, Armani should have, and hopefully will, set new standards.

What are your plans ahead with this association?

Our goal is to develop multiple ultra-luxury hotels and resorts worldwide and the next hotel to open is in Milan, which will be in April 2011. We are planning and designing Marrakech and also looking at destinations like New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, London and Paris.

How do you think The Address Hotels & Resorts brand is perceived globally?

What we have strived to achieve is to get a regional recognition. Globally, we are better known now in Europe with the announcement of our properties in France and Morocco. Both The Address Jnan Amar Marrakech and The Address Domain de Lavagnac will open in the first quarter of 2012.

We are about to sign a new property in Europe and this will increase the brand awareness as we go ahead. We are currently negotiating properties in Budapest, Istanbul, Shanghai and Sanya and more properties in the Middle East. All these properties, when confirmed, will be management contracts, since it’s quicker for us to expand our portfolio and also because there is a demand for The Address brand.