While much of the world is accustomed to spartan budget hotels, the Middle East is new to the game. But these cheap options have already been a big hit, says Viability director and Hotelier columnist Guy Wilkinson
Over the last decade, the first branded budget hotels have begun to appear and gain popularity in the Gulf, with the largest concentration of them being in Dubai.
I refer of course to such nominally two- and three-star brands as Ibis, the pioneer in this sector that opened its first property at Dubai World Trade Centre in 2003, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Inn, Centro by Rotana and Dubai’s own Citymax.
To be clear, I do not refer to mid-market brands that frequently get lumped in with the budget brands, although I do understand that it’s confusing in a region where previously, hotel branding was more or less restricted to five-star hotels — and therefore anything less was assumed to be a budget brand.
The model for traditional non-branded hotel development in the Gulf is that hotels are essentially equipped with the amenities that will make money for the owner. Thus, especially in markets where bars can only be found in hotels, there is no contradiction in having a hotel full of cheap rooms, as well as multiple restaurants and bars, a health club, a swimming pool, etc.
By contrast, the modern theory of hotel brand differentiation is that the cheaper the rooms, the fewer amenities and services must be available to guests. Essentially, the full-service template is that of a five-star hotel, with plush, amply proportioned rooms and everything from smart restaurants to grand ballrooms and 24-hour room service.
To create more affordable brands that fit neatly beneath this template, without undermining it, the corresponding brand concepts must each have successively less to offer.
Hence the development of euphemistic labels like ‘limited service’ or ‘essential service’ hotels, that imply you have made a wise decision in choosing the best interests of your wallet over your own comfort. At the bottom end of this pecking order are extremely basic brands like Accor’s F1 brand where rooms have bunk beds, bathrooms are communal and the reception (also breakfast bar) is manned for just three hours a day.
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