Dubai ripe for boutique hotels, reveal experts

Dubai has all the makings for a strong boutique hotel market. With talk of the rise of the mid-market segment, is there really a place for boutique hotels in Dubai?

The panellists said boutique is in.
The panellists said boutique is in.

Dubai is now ready to explore the boutique hotel sector with some areas of the emirate ripe for this niche, according to the experts.

Experts at a panel at The Vision Conference, which formed part of The Hotel Show, spoke about the potential of boutique hotels in Dubai.

The panel included: Philippe Harb, chief operating officer, One to One Hotels & Resorts; Rabih Feghali, director business development, Roya International; Stephen Gee, hotel development director, Zaya Hospitality; Moses Barnabas, general manager, XVA Art Hotel; Khaled Saab of Hues Hotels & Resorts; and Anna Gemrud Morner, general manager, Stora Hotellet - Umeå Sjömanshus & U&Me - New Hotel Culture.

Based in Sweden, Morner was the only panellist not to have an operating property in the UAE, but has recently started a boutique concept in Sweden called U&ME hotels. “At over 170 rooms we don’t fit the ‘boutique category’ by any stretch. However, we offer a value-for-money proposition, and guests can add on various packages they like.”

Morner explained the corporate feel of a hotel is done away with in her property, and has been replaced by a more personal touch. “Staff are trained to be connected to the brand, to share our history in the hospitality industry that dates back more than 100 years. Even the rooms are not too fancy - all amenities are included in a 20m2 area.”

Harb said there is a massive potential for boutique hotels, and added that “brands need to be young and vibrant, defining factors need to be in place to differentiate a boutique hotel from a mid-market one”.

The cost of building a hotel in Dubai can be a challenge, right from sourcing land to building and operating.

Harb continued: “Some of the hotels in the city’s more historic areas of Bur Dubai and Deira have the potential to be refurbished and rebranded in to boutique hotels. That way they save on costs of buying land and building a new structure.:

Feghali agreed: “It’s easy to start a boutique hotel provided the owner believes and trusts in the concept. They cannot have a pure business agenda.”

“There are a lot of avenues within the city,” said Barnabas. “These hotels need to have a soul and a story to tell. In that sense, no two boutique hotels can be the same.”

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