Comment: Community spirit

How can hotels compete in a crowded leisure market?

Opinion, Comment & analysis

Later this month, the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) is set to hold its first Pecha Kucha event on the theme ‘The Hotel of the Future’. Using the popular Japanese presentation format, in which speakers present their ideas using 20 images, with 20 seconds per image and automated rotation, leading architects, interior designers and technology leaders will share their thoughts on this topic during AHIC’s opening reception.

In conversations with industry colleagues ahead of the event, as we attempted to predict what might unfurl, one idea was raised which struck a chord with me: Rather than looking inwards at what hotels offer to guests, why don’t we look outwards at how neighbourhoods respond to their local hotel? Are communities interacting with hotels? If they are, what is engaging them? If they are not, is there anything that can be done to change this?

Let’s take Dubai as an example. If I recall my first few years as a resident in this city, not a weekend would pass without my stepping foot into a hotel, whether for dining, entertainment, or spa. That wasn’t an occupational hazard, either; everyone I knew frequented hotels for leisure. We thought nothing of taking a taxi up a long driveway and stepping into a marble lobby as the start-point for a casual night out with friends, enjoying a rather grand entrance to a pizzeria or beach lounge.

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Today, this trend has almost completely reversed. There are now so many non-hotel dining and entertainment hubs to choose from — Jumeirah Lakes Towers, DIFC, City Walk, Box Park, The Beach at JBR, Club Vista Mare on Palm Jumeirah, to name some of them — that meeting friends at a hotel has become a rarity. The opening up of licensing laws has helped this, but the shift is not limited to dining options.

There are now more leisure attractions, from Zero Gravity and Aventura Nature Adventure Park to IMG Worlds of Adventure and Dubai Parks and Resorts, not to mention vastly improved public beach facilities, parks, standalone spas and salons, gyms and health clubs, and yoga and wellness studios. Add to this concert and sporting venues, community clubs and luxury residence facilities, and the ‘need’ to visit a hotel reduces further.

In this new reality, what reason does a Dubai resident have to go to a Dubai hotel? A business meeting, perhaps, a fancy new restaurant, free valet or, if we’re lucky, a luxury staycation? It’s a visit that certainly isn’t part of daily life anymore.

But in an increasingly competitive market, with more rooms added almost every month, shouldn’t hotels be doing more to tap into the local market and boost non-rooms revenue? Should GMs be personalities, influencers perhaps, in their neighbourhood? Could CSR programmes in hotels connect better with local communities?

There are some examples of this, but they are few and far between. Madinat Jumeirah is famous for its turtle sanctuary and turtle release; Jumeirah Emirates Towers and Media One have their vertical marathons; and several hotel brands, such as Sheraton and Westin, embrace the spirit of Ramadan with iftar boxes for taxi drivers. Art exhibitions at hotels are becoming more common, and there are occasional one-off health or life coaching talks happening.

These are great, but individual restaurants and leisure facilities are also engaging in similar activities. Competition for visibility and footfall is high and if the resident base is an important market, then it’s time for hotels to increase their contribution to the community.

About the Author: Louise Oakley is an independent editorial consultant specialising in the hospitality industry and the director of PR at In2 Consulting. Email:

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