GM Interview: Jumeirah Zabeel Saray

Stephan Schupbach reveals why he will keep striving for the best

Stephan Schupbach, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray.
Stephan Schupbach, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray.
Schupbach says the F&B performance has been unbelievable.
Schupbach says the F&B performance has been unbelievable.
The 38 residences are popular among the GCC market.
The 38 residences are popular among the GCC market.

Since opening in 2011, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray has become one of Dubai’s most talked-about hotels. General manager Stephan Schupbach tells Louise Oakley why he will never stop striving to achieve the best at the property

A host of luxury hotels are set to open on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah in the coming months. Located on the east crescent, Sofitel The Palm is already in soft opening, Anantara Dubai The Palm is set to open on September 15 and Waldorf Astoria is targeting a Q1 launch.

For advice on what to expect from operating in this unique destination, they would be wise to turn their attention to the west side of the crescent and the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, managed by GM Stephan Schupbach for the past three years and now cemented in the minds of many as one of Dubai’s best luxury hotels.

It hasn’t been an easy journey though, recalls Schupbach, who has worked tirelessly to establish not just his property, but the entire island, as a must-visit destination. Winning over the local market was the first, crucial hurdle.

“As you remember that was one of our biggest concerns, being based on the Palm as opposed to the main land,” says Schupbach, referring to Hotelier’s first visit back in January 2011 when the hotel was in soft-opening — following a rather short pre-opening after the last-minute appointment of Jumeirah as operator in July 2010.

“I think what has been very successful is that the local market has really taken the time to come to the Palm and actually feel like they’ve been away,” reflects Schupbach. “Within Dubai, they have found a sanctuary and I think that’s what we proved on the Palm. So I think of the footfall we have seen year to date [mid-June], we are running 94% occupancy and about a quarter is local business.

“Through the last three years what has been positive is we have been accepted within the market, we have established the brand of Jumeirah Zabeel Saray. sometimes you have to do a lot of investment in marketing, but we’ve found people are the investment — when people come here we look after them and they spread the word.”

Schupbach has made the effort to be “really generous” with guests, trying to avoid the “number crunching and greed” he fears Dubai is again trending towards.

“It’s always good to have a healthy balance of value for money and service proposition at all times, in the good and the bad; that really has worked out very, very well for us, that we positioned ourselves from a price perception and service level very well in the market.”

Dining destination
The varied F&B and nightlife offer at the hotel is another element that has played a vital role in attracting different markets. As well as restaurants such as the Lebanese Al Nafoura and popular Indian, Amala, the hotel features two of Dubai’s largest nightlife destinations — MusicHall and the recently opened Supperclub — which Schupbach says complement each other rather than compete.

“I met with MusicHall in 2008, when I was at Madinat Jumeirah, they wanted to establish themselves but we didn’t have the right venue; here we have the Moulin Rouge feel with the big stage. They attract a certain clientele, which is mainly Middle Eastern, Lebanese; that’s 90% of the clientele it attracts.

Supperclub is a European concept, which ventured out to some key other destinations like London and Bangkok. They have the music, the dining, the show, so again, it’s a completely different clientele that will be attracted to MusicHall or the hotel [itself].”

To date, Schupbach says F&B performance has been “unbelievable”. “We’re looking at footfall and the numbers, annually we do about 700,000 footfall just into our food and beverage, so that’s a lot of traffic”.

And there is still more to come. A Rib Room British steakhouse, similar to the one at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, is planned for the executive lounge on the first floor — a vast space already equipped with full kitchen, bar and booths ideal for a steakhouse concept. The club’s executive facility will move to the smaller C Club, currently a cigar lounge.

The hotel’s retail component is also being extended, with three more shops to open.

“Retail is very important component that you offer as part of your hotel resort destination. I think we have established ourselves quite well here; we have three more shops to open, some shops which will open in the next three months, and our existing partners that are here for three years are renewing, so again it’s a good sign that the business is good.”

Evolution and innovation
Schupbach’s final piece of advice for the new Palm GMs — who he says already meet regularly to discuss the idiosyncrasies of operating away from the mainland — is to have a long-term strategy, analyse performance quarterly and be willing to make changes and additions as the market requires.

“We have a five-year plan,” he asserts. “We evaluate quarterly, annually, what performs well, what is accepted well, our customer feedback in the market. We’re building a children’s club outside; we know we had limited family attractions within the resort and I think that was needed, so we are bringing a nice waterpark with slides and all that, so that should be operational by the end of this year”

The aim is to better cater to the hotel’s family guests, even though this isn’t its core market.

“Some hotels want 80% families, I always said from the beginning we don’t want to have that much family but you do need families and you need to see how you can compete and with whom you can compete.

We will never be able to compete with an Atlantis or Madinat Jumeirah because they have their own huge waterparks or whatever else, but we have something small where we can park the children and say ‘have a good day and you as an adult enjoy your day spent at the resort’.”

He adds that it won’t just benefit guests but will also attract residents to use the hotel’s facilities, such as brunch or the spa, while they enrol their children in the club.

Schupbach is also looking at changing some of the room configurations in order to give more space to families that perhaps don’t want to pay for two rooms but still bring small children.

“Not every family can afford to have two rooms or a connecting room so how can we get a better experience if we have a family of four staying in just one room? An option would be to have actually a sofa bed built in so rather than adding an extra piece to the existing furniture, like a roll away bed, simply have a master bed for the adults and then you have a sofa which just pulls out, which is not uncommon but we don’t have that here today.

[We’re looking at] bigger rooms; we have landscaping on the roofs, which is quite nice but it’s not really used so we could create some garden suites, which is new and different, so we have engaged with some companies and are looking at the entire infrastructure and building, the opportunities.

“The plan is to do model rooms next year and then apply some changes in the years 2015 and 2016 to our current model, but you have to start planning now, so that’s the key,” asserts Schupbach.

Stat attack
- 115,931m² Size of resort
- 405 Rooms, including 42 suites
- 94% Occupancy June 2013 year-to-date
- 700,000 Annual footfall into F&B outlets
- 2016 Changes to be implemented to room model
- 38 Residences, all booked out during our visit in June
- 70 Areas and treatment rooms at Talise Spa

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