A Look Into How Dubai's Hotels and Resorts Are Adjusting To The New Normal
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In July this year, while the rest of the world continued to ward off the initial aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, the city of Dubai opened its borders to international tourists while having strict health and safety protocols in place. In a global economy that was hindered by lockdowns and physical restrictions, this move will perhaps remain a testament to the proactiveness of the city and its authorities to help the city return to normalcy as quickly, and safely, as possible.
But with an inevitable second wave of the virus being predicted by global health officials, and many European countries going back into lockdown, it is only natural that travel plans to and from many parts of the world will now be rendered unsafe and improbable.
Unsurprisingly, there has been an expected, significant fall in the number of international travelers to and from the UAE this year. For a nation that is so heavily dependent on tourism to strengthen its economy, the next obvious step was to focus on domestic tourism, says Issam Kazim, Chief Executive Officer of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM). “When travel restrictions were in place worldwide, Dubai’s rapid response to opening the city safely, meant we were able to enable early the domestic tourism market in parallel to the gradual reopening of different sectors in Dubai,” he says. “This led to a series of strategic meetings between Dubai Tourism and its key stakeholders and partners to explore ways of taking advantage of the city’s strong tourism ecosystem to attract and cater to UAE residents. The swift response and strong relief program put in place by the local and federal governments to support the economy gave a great impetus to hotels, as they focused on driving demand for domestic tourism.”
With such a collaborative effort happening behind-the-scenes, it is obvious why the city’s hotels and resorts have seen an increase in the number of locally-based guests. “Since opening for domestic tourism in May, we have seen great pick up in numbers with more and more residents looking at staycations in Dubai with many beach properties reaching above 80-90 per cent during the weekends,” Kazim adds.
Issam Kazim, CEO of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing. Source: Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing
But this move comes with an immense, singular responsibility – to ensure the health and safety of the guests while maintaining social distancing rules. Kazim explains that in addition to the obvious measures of sanitization and mandatorily wearing masks, hotels are also deploying stringent disinfection measures and cleaning of all possible contact points and conducting contactless temperature checks on guests.
DTCM in particular has been very diligent in its measures. “Dubai Tourism, alongside other key government bodies, have adopted a zero-tolerance approach towards ensuring that there is full compliance with these safety guidelines and have sought the cooperation of all our stakeholders including hotel establishments in the city to ensure that both staff and visitors adhere to the precautionary measures at all times,” elaborates Kazim. “Besides, to recognize and encourage industry-wide compliance, we also rolled out the ‘DUBAI ASSURED’ stamp in collaboration with the Department of Economic Development and Dubai Municipality to certify hotels and retail establishments, F&B outlets and attractions that have implemented all public health protocols.”
But the bigger aim here, emphasizes Kazim, is not to simply push for more staycations for the sake of the economy. “Our focus is not just on promoting staycations but to instill confidence in residents by giving them the opportunity to slowly get back to normal life and enjoy wide range of experiences with stringent safety measures in place across the board,” he explains.
However, to ensure such a smooth transition back to normal life, the onus is on the management teams of hotels and resorts.
For Hussein Gamaleldin, Sales and Marketing Director of Grand Millennium Hotel Business Bay, out-of-the-box ideas and new ways to grab customers’ attention are paramount. But he is also fully aware of how a post-pandemic world will be vastly different from the one we’ve been living in. In his assessment of the hospitality market’s current situation, he is blatant and honest. “These are very unprecedented times and the repercussions we are facing are far worse than those of 2008 recession. The ‘new normal’ will change the face of travel for at least a decade,” he says.
The Business Bay-located Grand Millennium is a five-star hotel facing the Dubai canal waterfront with over 250 rooms and suites. But a decrease in travel since April has meant that the hotel inventory has remained high while demand has decreased, explains Gamaleldin. “Staycations and long-term stays have been our primary focus over the last six months,” he remarks. “Consumers will look to be far more cautious when it comes to travelling, with hygiene and safety high on the agenda, and while this presents a challenge, it is one we are absolutely ready to tackle.”
Hussein Gamaleldin, Sales and Marketing Director of Grand Millennium Hotel Business Bay. Source: Grand Millennium Hotel Business Bay
The health and safety measures adopted by the hotel’s management seem elaborate and well thought out. “We take the Dubai Municipality regulations very seriously - from temperature checks upon arrival, to a safe check-in process with disinfection boxes where room keys and pens are sanitized, to the room disinfection process, as well as all the necessary precautions and practices related to food services that are in place,” explains Gamaleldin. “Our guests can rest safely in the knowledge that their health and well-being is taken care of here at Grand Millennium Hotel Business Bay.”
But while the hotel currently offers a variety of competitively priced staycations and brunch deals to deal with changing consumer demands, it is interesting to note that there isn’t a concrete long-term plan in place yet. That’s because, Gamaleldin says, it’s impossible to have a set plan for the long run given the level of uncertainty that is prevalent in the market now. “The market is far more dynamic than before – and it is continually fluctuating with uncertain demand,” he adds. “At present, we are reviewing our plans every quarter. Offers and staycations may need to be tweaked in the future to offer something new and exciting in order to keep up with the ever-changing market and fit into people’s perception of the new normal.”
Unsurprisingly, a lot of hotels realize that this “new normal” will have to incorporate a lot of technological changes and adaptations. At least that seems to be the sentiment that Kosta Kourotsidis, the general manager of Fairmont Ajman, seems to agree with. “Looking towards the future and anticipating the changing customer behavior in the post-pandemic world, to minimize direct contact with anything that someone else might have touched, we foresee digital transformation to be the key,” he explains.
Fairmont Ajman, a beachfront five-star hotel, is located a mere 30 minutes away from the Emirate of Dubai. When it reopened after a month-long hiatus in April, following approvals obtained from the Ajman Tourism Development Department (ATDD) and in line with the directives from the Ministry of Health and Prevention and the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA), Kourotsidis found that there seemed to be quite the buzz about the hotel in Dubai. “Our reopening quickly became the talk of town in Dubai, and consequently attracted a large number of staycation guests from near-by emirates,” he explains. “The fact that we haven’t received as many international travelers during this summer as compared to previous years, has given us an opportunity to encourage the domestic market to vacation and staycation in the UAE and to further support the local hospitality industry.”
Kosta Kourotsidis, General Manager of Fairmont Ajman. Source: Fairmont Ajman
Hotel-wide sanitization and social distancing measures have been put in place by Fairmont Ajman as well. Their health and safety measures adhere to the new requirements received from the Bureau Veritas and ALLSAFE. But what stands out in Kourotsidis’ response to Fairmont Ajman’s long-term plans is the aforementioned commitment to digital transformation in their daily operations. “We have been working closely with our technology and operational teams, in order to permanently implement QR code-based menus across the property, removing all paper-based menus and informative collaterals,” explains Kourotsidis. “Digitalization will ultimately be a crucial aspect to a more efficient service moving forward – from placing food and beverage orders at the beach, to requesting luggage pick-up with a simple message to our WhatsApp concierge.”
With so many digital innovations and changes to ensure greater safety of guests, the coming months will only see an upward trajectory in the staycation trend, says Kourotsidis. “I believe for families it is firstly much more affordable to spend the holidays locally within the UAE, and what’s most important is it’s certainly safer to staycation locally and avoid overseas traveling,” he says.
While international travel plans remain on standby for many, it will be fascinating to observe how well the UAE’s hospitality industry reacts to the expected sudden increase in demand for more staycations.