Preferred locations

Marc Dardenne, vice president area general manager, Middle East, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, discusses a new hotel in Dubai and plans for regional expansion

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By  Sarah Campbell Published  May 9, 2005

|~|Marc-Dardenne-L.jpg|~||~|Ritz-Carlton broke ground on a second property in Dubai at the end of April. The luxury hotel chain is set to develop a 330-room business property in the heart of the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), an onshore capital market designated as a financial free zone located parallel to Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road.

The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC will boast 121 serviced apartments, a selection of restaurants and bars, a speciality restaurant, cigar bar and lobby lounge. The new property, scheduled to open at the end of 2007, will also provide extensive meeting facilities.

“This is quite an exciting project. Obviously in Dubai we have been established for a very long time with a boutique hotel resort. Now we have the best of both worlds. We have a great location on Jumeirah and will have a great location in the financial centre, so I think the two properties will complement each other,” says Marc Dardenne, area vice president, Middle East, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.

“The new hotel will have 330 rooms, in addition there will be 121 serviced apartments. It is quite a complex! The new hotel in DIFC will be quite dramatic. That is our goal, to have the leading business hotel in Dubai,” Dardenne adds.

The new property will be a true business hotel, according to Dardenne, and will complement the company’s existing hotel, The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai. “They are totally different products; one is a resort and one is totally a business hotel. We will look for synergies between the hotels with purchasing and human resources etc. But we will see that at a later stage,” he says.

The new property joins a portfolio of luxury resorts across the Middle East, including a business hotel in Doha and a mixed market hotel in Bahrain, which targets both the leisure and corporate sectors.

Ritz-Carlton is looking to extend its regional reach, and not just in terms of new property development. Dardenne says the region is also a vital outbound market for the company. The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai hosted a delegation of company representatives from Ritz-Carlton hotels in New York, Washington, Barcelona, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur at the end of March, all looking to attract the regional traveller.

“We have recognised the Middle East market as an important market, not only for hotel locations, but also as an outbound market for the company. When the delegation came over we did some sales calls to try and get to the outbound market. So really, as a company, we have realised that the Middle East is important and we want to have a strong presence,” Dardenne stresses.

Further Middle East expansion is still on the cards: Cairo, Kuwait and Oman are all locations under consideration for the chain.

“The preferred location we want to look at is definitely Cairo, especially as we have a hotel in Sharm. Kuwait could also be a location. We did look at Beirut, but it is not our highest priority at the moment because of what is happening. And we did have a project in Oman, which is now dormant, but that could still be a good location,” Dardenne reveals.

“But if you ask where we would like to be as soon as possible it would be Cairo and Kuwait, because they seem like good markets. Cairo would be a mixed hotel, business and leisure, as we would like to have a Nile location.”

A Cairo hotel would see Ritz-Carlton entering the market behind global competitor Four Seasons. The two chains are set to go head to head in Doha now that the Four Seasons Hotel Doha has just opened, and will compete for market share in Dubai when Four Seasons opens at Dubai Festival City in 2006.

“Four Seasons have strong backing, with Prince Al Waleed. This has really helped them in their expansion,” Dardenne admits.

“Clearly Four Seasons is our global competitor, but I always say that I welcome Four Seasons to come into the market. For example, they have just opened in Doha and we are very much aware of what they are planning and what they are going to do. We don’t take it easy, but I welcome Four Seasons to come into the market because in Doha we didn’t really have any comparison. We had one hotel and then all the other hotels were really not anything in comparison to us. Finally we are a player. There was always an issue with the rate, because we were much more expensive. Now we can measure this against the Four Seasons,” Dardenne says.

“With regards to us coming to Cairo, all the big players are in Cairo. Whereas other Four Seasons locations like Damascus and Amman are not high on our priority list.

“We think Four Seasons is a great company and they know what they are doing, they are just different from what we are doing. It is just great to see more high-end players coming into the market.”

In general, Ritz-Carlton has larger sized hotels whereas Four Seasons hotels are smaller, boutique hotels. However, they are still very similar in terms of service, market position and customer profile. And they are both very strong in terms of brand recognition.

“The key to success is to create brand loyalty,” says Dardenne. “That’s why we don’t have loyalty programmes. Other hotels do have rewards programmes, where customer loyalty is basically bought by giving them points. We believe we can get great loyalty by giving great service.

“Guests sometimes choose the location not because of the location, but because there is a Ritz-Carlton there. That is what we want to create. Now, would a Ritz-Carlton guest never stay in a Four Seasons or vice versa? No, I think that can happen,” Dardenne admits.

“Everyone is looking for value for money. At the moment [The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai] is running at an average rate of US $450. That is an average, some guests are paying US $600, US $700, or US $1,000 a night and you have to really create value for them. If they walk away and say ‘This was an expensive stay, but we just loved it and will come back’ then we have achieved what we want to do.

“Our hotels differ only from a physical point of view. The Doha property is pretty colourful, whereas here [Dubai] we have an Arabic touch. What makes it the same is the ladies and gentlemen, the company philosophy. People come and the moment they get in contact with an employee they feel genuinely cared for and they realise ‘Ahh this is The Ritz-Carlton’. The hotel is just a shell, what really makes it a Ritz-Carlton is the ladies and gentlemen.

“You can have a beautiful hotel with gold on the ceiling, but if you don’t get the right people, then it spoils the hotel. I have never received a guest comment card that says ‘I love your marble and I come back here because of your marble in the lobby’. But they all say ‘I had a wonderful experience because of Johnny in the lobby lounge and Patrick in the bar’. They come back because of the service.

“You need to have a certain standard, but what truly makes a difference is the service. Sometimes I see in hotels that are very lavish, the employees feel they are better than the guests. If you go to a hotel and don’t feel you belong there, then that is not right.”

The ladies and gentlemen of The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC will begin welcoming guests to the property at the end of 2007. The hotel will bring in a number of employees from its sister hotels in the region to assist with the pre-opening, and to ensure that the Ritz-Carlton experience remains continuous across the Middle East.
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