Dubais hotel boom has designer labels

Written by New York Times | Dubai | Updated: Jul 31 2014, 06:55am hrs
The air-conditioning vents in the Palazzo Versace hotel here zigzag like the Versace design. Every piece of the giant, colorful mosaics that decorate the bathtubs is handmade and imported from Italy. Staff uniforms will be designed by the House of Versace.

With new luxury, five-star hotels opening in Dubai each month, some operators are hoping that brand loyalty and a dose of fashion will set them apart in this crowded hospitality market.

Each room has a different color theme theres lilac, blue, white, green done elegantly, said Raza Jafar, chief executive of Enshaa, a real estate company in the United Arab Emirates that is developing this Palazzo Versace hotel. And the mosaics are by Fantini Mosaici, the Italian company that has done up Gianni Versaces own homes, as well as major projects for Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton and even the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Several five-star hotels have opened in many of Dubais tourist hubs this year. A drive along the Palm Jumeirah, a man-made archipelago in the shape of a palm off the coast, reveals newly paved paths leading to the luxurious entrances of the Waldorf-Astoria, Sofitel Dubai the Palm, Anantara Dubai the Palm and billboards for a coming W Hotel.

International operators control about 68 percent of the 93,000 hotel rooms available in the United Arab Emirates and a majority are in the five-star category, according to research by the consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle. By 2016, more than 28,000 rooms will be added, mainly at the highest price point, where room rates are around $1,200 a night or as much as $10,000 for a suite.

As tourism and business expands in the region, hotels continue to fill. Occupancy levels in the first quarter of this year remained above 80 percent, on par with New York City and London.

Dubai has one of the highest concentrations of five-star hotels of any major city in the world and one of the highest occupancy rates for hotel rooms, said Chiheb Ben-Mahmoud, executive vice president and head of hotels and hospitality, Middle East and Africa at Jones Lang LaSalle. Dubai is seen as trendy and dynamic, which is why designer hotels are now in line.

Designer hotels are aiming to take a piece of the growing pie with luxury products, spa offerings and a keen attention to detail.

A Roberto Cavalli-branded hotel is in the pipeline, while the Palazzo Versace hotel is scheduled to open in the spring of 2015. The Armani hotel in the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, opened in 2010 through a collaboration between Giorgio Armani and a local developer, Emaar Properties.

Like other hotels in the five-star segment, designer hotels have identified Dubai as an important market as the city strengthens its role as a business and leisure hub, Ben-Mahmoud said. But these fashion-branded hotels will only work as solid propositions, not a gimmick.

Attempts to build designer-oriented hotels dont always work. Elisabetta Gucci, daughter of Paolo Gucci, a former design chief at the fashion label, scrapped plans to open a boutique hotel in Dubai in 2010. The Gucci Group sued Gucci, a furniture and interior designer whose work has no connection to the fashion house, to keep the name from being associated with hotels. Ultimately, the 87-suite hotel was cancelled.