NEW OPENING: Centro Capital Centre by Rotana

The new Adnec hotel may scrimp on price, but doesn't scrimp on style

The brand aims to provide affordable accommodation offering comfort, functionality and style.
The brand aims to provide affordable accommodation offering comfort, functionality and style.
The roof-top pool.
The roof-top pool.
The new hotel features three F&B outlets: C.Taste, C.Deli and C. Mondo
The new hotel features three F&B outlets: C.Taste, C.Deli and C. Mondo

Entering the sleek and impressive lobby of Rotana’s newly-opened Centro Capital Centre in Abu Dhabi – all dark wood walls, mood lighting, concrete flooring, modern art and hip, groovy furnishings – it’s immediately clear that while Centro may be Rotana’s budget brand offering, aimed at cornering the region’s burgeoning mid-tier traveller, this hasn’t necessitated any scrimping on style.

The property is the fifth Centro by Rotana to open in the UAE (following Centro Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, Centro Barsha, Dubai, Centro Sharjah and Centro Al Manhal, Abu Dhabi); and it’s now the fastest-growing brand for Rotana with 25 more properties set to launch across the Middle East and Africa by 2014.

Omer Kaddouri, executive vice president & COO, Rotana explains the target market: “The three-star brand is very undersupplied in all the areas we operate in, so we’ve decided to move into a more mid-tier level as opposed to a four or five-star level.

“Centro is our fastest-growing brand and we think that will continue as demand for affordable accommodation offering comfort, functionality and style has never been stronger.”

It goes to show that first impressions can be deceiving – while Centro Capital Centre may look expensive on entering; it’s far from it. One area where the property is sticking firmly to the budget brief is on price – the hotel has launched with an opening room rate of just AED 225 (US $61) per night.

Style on a budget
So how has such a stylish look been achieved for a three-star brand? As with all Centro properties, top Dubai-based design firm LW Design has been brought on board.
Jesper Godsk, creative partner of the firm explains that in order to create the Centro style while sticking to a tight budget, LW Design had to be “very cost conscious” on the rooms.

“This means we can spend a bit more money on the front of house to give a more luxury feel when you walk in.”

Centro is officially a three-star brand; but Godsk trashes the notion that this rating means anything to today’s modern traveller — as these days a hotel’s TripAdvisor rating is likely to be far more important to potential guests.

“There’s always been a tendency to believe a lot in the star rating, but for today’s traveller the expectation is on the style, the attitude, the design, plus the rate and location.

“Today people expect something different, and now they can actually find it, without just going for a star-rating,” he adds. “That is why we started Centro, because we’ve seen a big, empty hole here.

In 2000 there were unbranded local hotels without any style reference and then there were the big hotels, and nothing in between.

Expectations have changed today so even on a lower budget you still expect more. If you’re not following on the trend of the global traveller you will lose out in the future that’s for sure.”

A tough market
But with hotel businesses in Abu Dhabi struggling when it comes to occupancies and RevPAR, and the market already saturated with rooms, Kaddouri makes no bones about the fact that this is an extremely testing time to open the property – not to mention that Rotana is currently building two further hotels at Capital Centre to open in 2013 and 2014.

But as he says, Rotana is “building for the future”. “It’s important we understand Abu Dhabi is a destination in process, and this will take some time. In terms of how is it looking over the next few years, it’s going to be very tough.

Any hotelier would tell you times in Abu Dhabi are extremely challenging and competitive and we understand that. Business is coming in but it’s not coming in regularly enough at the volume that we need.

“I’d say times in Abu Dhabi are going to be tough for the next two, three, maybe even four years by the time the market settles,” he continues. “But hopefully then we’ll start to see some improvements in terms of business. The future is bright but the next few years will be tough for all hotels and the strongest will survive.
Owners and investors are confident that building today will yield very good results for them.”

On a positive note, Kaddouri says the opening of Centro Capital Centre has been “one of the most successful ever” for Rotana — in its first two months the hotel averaged occupancies of 70%.

In his first general manager posting Dominique Richard-Herbert explains that his strategy has been to “go in aggressively”; with the “unbeatable” launch price of AED 225; plus a great deal of hard graft in the six-month lead-up to opening.

Consequently Centro opened to a large group booking from the Abu Dhabi Science Festival; as well as a number of group bookings over the Formula 1 period.

With its location right on the doorstep of the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) the biggest chunk of business will of course be off the back of events at the venue – when I visited it was packed with delegates attending the ADIPEC exhibition.

Making MICE sector work
But Richard-Herbert admits his biggest challenge will be to avoid being too reliant on ADNEC; and to find a way to fill rooms when there are no events going on — such as during the slow summer months when business in Abu Dhabi grinds to a halt.

“We know business slows down a bit here in the summer and ADNEC slows down a bit, so that will be one of the challenges as we look into 2013.

“Hotels with larger leisure facilities are able to attract tourists from Europe, or Russia to come during the summer with low rates. But our leisure facilities are not what someone who wants to come to a hotel and sit on a beach would expect.”

His priorities now are to work with Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) to develop the events sector into a year-round business. “I think all the hotels in Abu Dhabi are definitely talking to ADNEC on a regular basis to try to improve things and have more events.

“Abu Dhabi has a vision and the vision is to do this in x amount of years. Yes, times are tough now; but times are tough all across the world.

“Things are starting to pick up now and hopefully in two or three years, things will get a lot better and the tourism authority will also pick up and follow through with their vision.”

Ultimately, success of the events sector at ADNEC is intricately tied in to the success of the hotel agrees Kaddouri.

“The owner and the developer have opened this hotel anticipating a lot of business coming through from exhibitions.

“We need to see more. We are encouraging ADNEC to be a lot more active to bring more business to Abu Dhabi throughout the year, as opposed to during certain peak times.

“We are seeing increases [it’s just been announced for example that ADIPEC will take place annually rather than every two years from now on]. But we have invested here and we’re relying on ADNEC to be busy and to fill our hotel.

We help ADNEC, we talk, we give our feedback, we work together, but we really rely on ADNEC to be the proactive partner in this respect,” concludes Kaddouri.

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