France’s renowned glory

With competition rife, global destinations need to offer visitors more for their money. No place does it better than Paris.

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By  Rashid AW Galadari Published  November 26, 2006

|~||~||~|With competition rife, global destinations need to offer visitors more for their money. No place does it better than Paris. A thought piece, that’s what the Editor asked of me, “Just a thought piece every two weeks Rashid, about anything you like.” Anything? Quite an expansive subject ‘anything’, I could go down the GQ/Maxim route, and talk about style, substance, superficiality, or I could keep it very focused and businesslike, all numbers and charts. But I was asked for my thoughts, and as Paris has been my temporary home since I was last in these pages, my thoughts at this point are very français. My residence for the last ten days has been The Four Seasons Hotel, or le George V, as it is better known. Owned by Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, it has been dutifully restored, and has undergone a wonderful transformation to become - in my humble opinion - the best hotel Paris has to offer. It is worth noting at this point that this is the only city in the world with a superior ARR (average room rate) to Dubai; and is the coveted holder of the world’s highest annual occupancy rates for its hotels. Driving around Paris, my chauffeur proudly points out the historical significance of various buildings and areas - Montmartre, Place Vendôme, l’Opéra – and with good reason. Paris has seen many wars, witnessed revolutions, and given birth to countless great thinkers and leaders. The city that gave us the Louvre, the Champs Elysees, and the Arc de Triomphe is well noted for its antiquities. Luxury, therefore, is a key component of what it means to be French. This got me thinking – what defines a luxurious building? In Paris, or London, or in any of the major European cities, an instant barometer is the ‘bee's wax’ factor – how old is the building? Is it listed? Have 17th century monarchs died in its rooms? Does it have more candles than light fittings or more pianos than stereos? Here in Dubai, we take a different view. How tall is the building? What is the total investment in the building? How many millionaires stay there? Do the windows/cookers/AC systems talk to you when you walk into a room? Talk to someone who is happily living in Dubai, and they speak with the same passion as my Parisian driver. The proud recounting of how just ten years ago, Sheikh Zayed Road was virtually a desert; how soon Dubai will house the tallest building in the world, and about how the late Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Mohammed sculpted that sand around them into the growing metropolis it is today. Which one of the two has more of a right to be proud? What factors play a role in determining their relative success? Does historical importance supersede access to modern conveniences? From a business point of view, the answer is not simple. The paradox is clear. On one hand you have the Parisian buildings; with their listed, Louis XVI façades, and completely rebuilt, minimalist modern interiors. On the other hand, you have in Dubai some of the finest hotels, with their glittering steel and glass shells, and hearts made of wood, gold and crystal. It is a tad nouveau riche to want all the state-of-the-art trimmings, but also fundamentally a question of economics: The demand for rooms in Paris is so high that operators do not have to provide all the trimmings – there’s no need to have that Bang & Olufsen flat screen on the wall. Dubai, on the other hand, has fewer ‘traditional’ tourist draws, but has appealed to a large portion of upscale travellers on the basis of what is offered inside hotels, in addition to the climate, retail offering and geography. Anyone who has been to Paris will have visited the Eiffel Tower, but if you get the chance, maybe next time you should try the Louis Vuitton Museum. Some say the exhibits trace the heights of fashion through the years; others would question the notion of paying such exorbitant amounts for something to carry oddments and clothing around in. Granted, these are two extreme views, but then if you were to ask a Parisian, which was the more beautiful; The Louvre or La Defense, most would say the former. But who has reason on their side? I agree that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, but I would add that if you are allowed to draw on a fresh sheet of paper, then why go back to the old drawing board? From an operator’s point of view, the global market is demanding more and more for its money. This could spell trouble if ‘incumbents’ in cities like Paris don’t treat new destinations as a threat. For consumers, the days of poor five star hotels in major cities should be a history welcomed by all. - Rashid AW Galadari is the chairman of Galadari Investment Office (GIO).||**||

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