Interview: Jumeirah on new lifestyle brand Venu

Three years after scrapping plans for Venu Hotels, Jumeirah has revived the lifestyle concept

Matt Balcik, Jumeirah Group vice president operations and brand development.
Matt Balcik, Jumeirah Group vice president operations and brand development.

Three years after scrapping plans for Venu Hotels, Jumeirah has revived the lifestyle concept. Hotelier catches up with newly appointed vice president operations & brand development Matt Balcik to learn about the strategy for its rollout

Jumeirah Group first launched its contemporary lifestyle brand Venu Hotels in 2010. However, by May of 2011, the group’s CEO Gerald Lawless confirmed to Hotelier that plans to develop the brand had been put on hold, despite a first hotel being signed in Shanghai with Shanghai Zendai Himalayas Real Estate Co. Ltd.

Three years on, and the group has revived the brand and appointed Turkish-American Matt Balcik as vice president operations and brand development to head up the evolution of Venu Hotels in the Middle East and beyond.

Commenting on the strategy to reintroduce the concept, Balcik says: “I think at the time we wanted to focus on what we had already just to make sure we mastered that and we got that right.

“It’s also worth bearing in mind that from 2011 to 2012, the number of hotels under Jumeirah’s management doubled from 11 to 22. So this allowed the company to focus 100% on that core luxury brand, and those hotels are all up and running, and running profitably.

“That degree of confidence is back in the market and we feel that now is the right time to move forward with Venu. With all of the components — the world economy, what’s happening in Dubai, upcoming 2020, and our own growth plans — we feel 2014 is a much better plan than four years ago,” he adds.

The group has already signed the first Dubai property, in Meraas’ Bluewaters Island development, slated to open in two-and-a-half years. The hotel, which will be located near the Jumeirah Beach Residences, will feature between 250-300 rooms. And with plans now firmly back on track, Balcik has a very specific idea of what the Venu brand represents and the target market it hopes to attract.

“It’s a contemporary lifestyle brand that was designed for a millennial mindset. It’s a brand that was put together, not necessarily for the age-group, but the mindset; they are into that type of contemporary lifestyle. It offers design, it offers fashion, it offers music, it offers all of their passion points,” he enthuses.
With the F&B offering, all Venu properties will feature a minimum of two outlets — an all-day dining and a destination bar.

“It is a key part of the experience. Depending on the location and size of the property, the number of outlets will vary, but the minimum expectation will be a destination bar and all-day dining,” explains Balcik.

The question on every mind, however, is how Venu will distinguish itself from Jumeirah’s uber luxury identity.

“The product will be different, the design of the property will be different, the average rate, the cost will be different, the audience ... the way we operate the property, the target market, the look and feel of the properties will be a lot different from Jumeirah.

“So you think of Jumeirah as a luxury brand, versus Venu as contemporary lifestyle,” he explains.

Balcik says the service element will be critical to differentiate the new brand as well, with staff trained to recognise the unique needs of the millennial generation.

With an average rate of AED 1200-1500 (US $327-408), it’s clear that while Venu will target the millennial generation, the brand isn’t aiming to fill any gaps in the mid-scale segment.

“In a competitive landscape, we would consider ourselves somewhere between a W and an Aloft. We would sit right in between,” Balcik says, referring to Starwood’s contemporary luxury brand W Hotels, set to enter Dubai in 2016, and its mid-scale brand Aloft, under which one property already operates in Abu Dhabi.

At present, the team is working on the development of the brand identity and website for Venu Hotels, with the site expected to launch at some point in November.

“The brand is infused with the spirit of Dubai — not as an Arabian brand, but more infused with the spirit of that bold, ambitious, cosmopolitan nature. Almost like abstracting that and making it part of the international proposition,” he says.

And while the first Venu property will open in Dubai, Balcik reveals that offers are coming in thick and fast from other destinations — namely Asia Pacific — and the group is considering various destinations for future hotels.

“We have quite a few leads in the Middle East and we are also looking at several leads in Asia Pacific — China and Thailand would be the primary locations we are looking at.

“We might have opportunities in Mauritius too. Although it’s only been a month, but there’s a very robust, strong pipeline. The interest from the development community has been very promising,” he says, while confirming that no additional properties have been signed yet.

The group is also seeking out investors in these regions of interest, with overseas trips on the cards for Balcik to speak with prospective owners.

“We are going to Hong Kong mid-October, so Asia Pacific is a big part of our growth plan. And then let’s not forget Europe as well. So if there is the right opportunity in urban cities, gateway cities, then we will definitely entertain that possibility as well,” he asserts.

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