Fit for a King: Taj Dubai opening special
The Taj Dubai opening has garnered a lot of attention – Hotelier takes an in-depth look at the Indian brand's hot new property
With the opening of a new hotel in the downtown area, Taj Hotels is looking to make its mark on Dubai and establish a foundation for growth across the city and the wider region
More than a decade after it first landed in Dubai, with the conversion of a Deira hotel into the Taj Palace, India’s Taj Hotels has finally put a real stamp on the emirate, with a brand new property in the city’s downtown area: Taj Dubai.
With its grand opening in April, the hotel has been a long time in the making, and responsible for delivering the operator’s vision is Jason Harding, doubling up his role as general manager of the property as well as that of area director.
“When you walk around and talk to colleagues, you really understand what Taj stands for. When the guys first reached out, I didn’t really know too much about Taj,” explains Harding. “The more I started to understand what Taj stood for, what they were looking to do in the region, it started to make it more appealing.
“This is one of a number we want to do in the UAE, so to be on board from the start was immensely appealing.”
Ahead of the opening of the property, management was expecting 30% of business to come from leisure guests, with the remaining 70% from corporate accounts, groups and events. In terms of nationalities, 25% of guests are expected to come from the GCC, another 20% from the brand’s India heartland, and around 15% from Europe, mainly out of the UK and Germany.
“We think the leisure market will be driven because of the destination and the corporate market because of the locality to the corporate accounts we’ll be working with,” says Harding.
The hotel is going to market with an opening rate of AED 900++ (US $245) as an introductory offer, although it will eventually settle into its standard rate of AED 1200++ (US $327).
Harding is pragmatic about the significant competition his property is surrounded by. Sheikh Zayed Road has a plethora of established hotels; Emaar has been making its mark on Downtown Dubai; and Business Bay, with new hotels cropping up rapidly, provides a formidable comp set group.
“From our perspective, yes we’ll compete on a product level but where we really see the main difference where Taj can add is on the service element,” he insists. “This is a hotel company that’s been established for over 100 years from very solid roots.
“That’s what we want to bring. If we compete on a product-to-product basis, there are some great products on the market. Where we think we’ll have the edge is with service.”
That service is being delivered by a workforce of 202 staff, which is to be bolstered by another 122 still to join. A measured approach to bringing the hotel to full capacity (both in terms of staffing and room inventory) with the upcoming fallow summer period in mind. Leading them is an executive committee, made up of a mix of experienced Taj leaders and managers, all of whom have experience in Dubai.
Harding himself joined the project in August 2014, shortly after relinquishing his role as general manager of Armani Hotel Dubai, as well as area director for the operator. While his intention was to train for an Ironman triathlon competition and work on a charity project in Vietnam, the chance to join one of the most prestigious names in hospitality proved far too tempting.
“These opportunities never come along when you want them and Taj reached out when I was in my notice period and I started to talk to them about this opportunity as well as what was going on in the region.
“Actually when you think about it, it’s difficult to understand why there isn’t more presence for Taj in the region, with its relationship with India; India is Dubai’s oldest trade partner, the amount of Indians that have a relationship with Taj; why haven’t we got more hotels here? Again quite often when you get involved in these projects it’s quite difficult to visualise.
With this one, you can see it quite clearly: why haven’t we got a project on the Palm already open? Why haven’t we got more hotels across the Taj portfolio whether that be a Vivanta, a gateway property, a Taj luxury hotel?”
Those questions about the operator’s other brands are more than just a hint towards what may be in store. Indeed, Harding openly talks about the company’s fierce ambitions for the Middle East, and Dubai in particular.
While in the years since it took over what became the Taj Palace Hotel in Deira, it did embark on plans for further hotels in the emirate, these were decidedly scuppered by the onset of the global financial crises towards the end of the last decade.
“At the moment we are talking to investors on the Palm. We’ve got an investor in JLT that we’re talking with. We’ve got one on Sheikh Zayed Road we are talking to,” he says. [Since our interview with Harding, Taj has announced a partnership with CG Hospitality Holdings to bring the Vivanta brand to the city in the JLT area].
Harding adds: “Our new managing director Rakesh Sarna has been very specific about the development of the company and he’s identified the Middle East and Asia, and the gateway cities in those regions, that we need to target.
We’ll look to Abu Dhabi; we think that’s a slightly crowded space and perhaps we have to look at the demand coming to that area with the hotels already established. We think there’s opportunity there, in Oman, potential opportunity in somewhere like RAK.
“Qatar, depending on what part of Qatar and when. Obviously with the World Cup, there is a huge attraction and there’s a lot of investment going on there. A lot of these developments are based on the opportunity that you can stimulate for yourself.”
Having previously been area general manager with Armani Hotels, Harding is all too aware of the responsibilities of combining a property and company-wide role, yet he sees the extra responsibility as an opportunity for both himself and his team in Business Bay.
“I had that in the last role, and for me that’s the exciting part of it,” he enthuses. “We’ve brought up a very solid team here, so one of the attractions for team members that joined us, is that we do have growth.
“We have growth for them as individuals and we have growth for the company. And if any of us are looking to join a company, those are the things we are looking for.”
103 LUXURY ROOMS, 44-58M²
100 LUXURY BURJ VIEW ROOMS, 44-58M²
21 LUXURY FAMILY ROOMS, 44-58M²
41 TAJ CLUB ROOMS, 49-67M²
12 JUNIOR SUITES, 65-82M²
17 LUXURY SUITES, 115-155M²
1 MAHARAJA SUITE, 225M²
1 PRESIDENTIAL SUITE, 680M²
F&B AT A GLANCE
The hotel’s all-day dining outlet doubles up as a Peruvian restaurant and is housed within a glass and metal conservatory. Diners can enjoy drinks on an outdoor terrace, which features olive trees.
The Eloquent Elephant
The casual gastro pub has striking visual features, including light fittings in jars around the venue, as well as black and brass accents and vintage decorations. The outlet, which is on the ground floor, has its own dedicated entrance from outside, and offers international cuisine.
The restaurant offers fine Indian cuisine and features a central open kitchen, where guests can see food prepared in the tandoor oven or the ‘sigri’ grill. With views of the Burj Khalifa, the restaurant also features low-level seating and bold artwork.
Located on the hotel’s mezzanine floor, Byzantium Lounge is open throughout the day, with offerings from high tea in the afternoon to cocktails late into the evening. The bar features art deco-style gold and black peacock lacquer panels, while plush upholstered chairs create a relaxed environment.