Celebrating an icon: Burj Al Arab Jumeirah turns 20

Jumeirah Group CEO José Silva speaks to Hotelier Middle East about the property that remains a beacon for regional and global hospitality standard

Burj Al Arab Jumeirah
Burj Al Arab Jumeirah

A global landmark that is instantly recogniseable and inextricably linked with Dubai, Burj Al Arab Jumeirah has made and maintained its mark as a symbol of luxury hospitality since it opened on December 1 1999.

As the hotel celebrates its 20th anniversary, Jumeirah Group CEO José Silva takes us through some memorable moments and reveals what we can expect going forward.

Jose Silva

Two decades on,  Burj Al Arab Jumeirah remains an iconic property. Why do you think that is?
The concept for Burj Al Arab Jumeirah came from HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. His Highness commissioned a building that would help to inspire the nation and put Dubai on the world map. I think that visionary aim was absolutely achieved, which is why it remains the iconic property it is today. The hotel is seen as one of the leading modern landmarks of the world, alongside renowned structures like the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House. Burj Al Arab Jumeirah remains unparalleled in terms of gastronomy, service and of course architecture.  As one of the most desirable destinations on the planet, it has also helped Dubai’s tourism industry develop, with Dubai now holding the title of 4th most visited city in the world.

How has being located in Dubai added to the success of the property?
Dubai has a reputation for innovative architecture and gastronomic excellence, which aligns with the strengths of Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, which in turn has contributed to the success of the property. Dubai is a global city with an enviable infrastructure, including what I believe to be the world’s best airline, Emirates, which connects the city to millions of passengers all across the globe.  Add to this a fantastic retail offering, beautiful beaches, year-round sunshine and a reputation for world firsts. All of these factors of course contribute to a thriving tourism sector which positively impacts the hotel. Over the next year we will be welcoming many guests who will be visiting the city for Expo 2020, which is just 20 minutes away from the Burj Al Arab.

How have you managed to maintain 7-star service standards?
The story behind Burj Al Arab Jumeirah being known as a 7-star hotel is actually quite an interesting one. The phrase was coined by a journalist who came to stay at the hotel when we first opened in 1999 and declared that the Burj Al Arab was the “first 7-star property”. It was then word of mouth which spread our reputation as a 7-star property. By ensuring excellence at every level within the hotel along with personalised service, and defining, rather than following luxury trends, we have managed to maintain that reputation, through the word-of-mouth of experience of every guest who walks through our doors.

What are some important milestones the hotel has achieved in the last 20 years?
Over the years, there has been many significant achievements with perhaps one of the most recent being the addition of The Terrace with in 2016. The Terrace is a fantastic example of creative marine design, ingenious engineering and guest-friendly planning, and was built offshore in Finland and transported to Dubai by sea. The 10,000 square metre outdoor luxury leisure facility now seamlessly stretches 100 metres out into the sea and is home to Scape Restaurant & Bar, two stunning pools including an infinity pool overlooking the Arabian Gulf, dedicated butler-serviced cabanas, and a beach area with luxury day and sunbeds for both in-house and external guests to enjoy. 2016 was also the year that Gold On 27 opened its doors, known for its decadent gold interiors and award-winning cocktail.
The culinary achievements of the hotel are also worth noting, as year after year our talented team of chefs work hard to elevate the gastronomy experiences of our guests. In 2019, Chef Francky Semblat and Chef Kim Joinie-Maurin joined, bringing a combined 5 Michelin stars.

Furthermore, our helipad, suspended 211 metres above ground, has hosted groundbreaking stunts and world news, such as the iconic tennis match played between Roger Federer and Andre Agassi in 2005.

The incredible floor-to-ceiling views across Dubai from our 18th floor spa have remained a favourite place for guests over the past 20 years and is now one of the most Instagrammed locations within the property.

Floor to ceiling windows at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah

The hospitality landscape has changed since the property first opened. How have you ensured that the hotel stays relevant?
Whilst we’ve always offered a bespoke, personalised service at the highest level, we also recognise that trends are shifting and it’s more important to be attuned to the modern luxury traveller. The future is about giving choices to our guests and hoteliers need to be constantly innovating to keep experiences fresh and up to date.

With the rise of mid-market and value-driven concepts is there still a growing demand for luxury properties?
Absolutely, the luxury hospitality sector is more significant than ever before. The growth of ultra-high net worth individuals over the past two decades shows the demand for ultra-luxury properties such as Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. For seasoned travellers, a stay at Burj Al Arab is always on their bucket list. We also have a high ratio of repeat guests to the hotel. Burj Al Arab Jumeirah is one of the most popular social media tags in Dubai, which I think reflects the aspirational quality that the property continues to have for all travellers.

How do you feel the hotel is performing this year?
Burj Al Arab Jumeirah’s performance remains strong, and Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts continues to lead the market in terms of market share and average daily rates. We expect this trend to continue into 2020. 

What are your expectations for next year?
The focus for Dubai for next year is Expo 2020, which expects to welcome 25 million visits between October 2020 and April 2021, equivalent to welcoming the population of Australia through its gates in only six months. About 70% of visitors are expected to come from outside the UAE which is a great opportunity for the hospitality industry. We expect to see a positive impact on the business and are very prepared to welcome these guests, who will no doubt enjoy the gastronomic excellence at the hotel and unparalleled service.

Are there any new or upcoming projects or launches within the hotel?
Much of the focus remains on experience, which is reflected in our guests continued love of the property. Gastronomic excellence as at the core of the property and chef Francky Semblat constantly updates his menu at Al Muntaha based on product seasonality and creative inspirations. Chef Sahar Al Awadhi, our female Emirati pastry chef and the first in the region, has just added an exquisite selection of Middle Eastern-inspired pastries to the menu at Sahn Eddar. We will also soon provide a Tea Sommelier expertise to afternoon tea guests, further elevating and refining the experience.

The Terrace infinity pool

How will you commemorate the 20th anniversary?
This year, for the first time, Burj Al Arab Jumeirah will be welcoming external guests to celebrate New Year’s Eve at the hotel. With a number of dining experiences to choose from, serving bespoke six course menus, guests can enjoy the finest in gastronomy before toasting 2020 on The Terrace with prime views of the world-famous fireworks display and unique entertainment to make the night most memorable, focused on our offering of inclusive exclusivity.

What do you predict for the next 20 years of the Burj Al Arab?
Burj Al Arab Jumeirah will continue to evolve and lead the way in the global luxury market. Like all globally iconic architecture, we will no doubt continue to see increased popularity for both in house and day guests alike. It will continue to inspire the new generation of Jumeirah properties, such as the Jumeirah Nanjing which was designed by the awarded Pritzker Prize Architect Zaha Hadid and beyond. Burj Al Arab Jumeirah has always aimed to make the impossible, possible and I think we’ve achieved that in the past 20 years, and will only continue to do that for decades to come.

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