Is this the new frontier for Dubai's hotel sector?
Studio One's Damir Boshnjak makes a case for Studio city and why it is on the cusp of being the next hotel hub
Two important factors in attracting guests to a hotel are its design and its offering. The recently opened Studio One Hotel ticks both these boxes.
Another important factor is a hotel’s location. Situated in Dubai’s Studio City, the hotel seemingly has avoided the well-tested business mantra of ‘location, location, location’. However, has Ròya International, the company that manages the hotel, positioned the four-star property at the new frontier for Dubai’s hotel sector?
The free zone of Studio City has been around since 2005 yet unlike Media City, also a free zone which was first developed in 2000, the workforce numbers still remain relatively low with, according to Colliers International’s head of hotels (MENA) Christopher Lund, 2,500 plus for Studio City and 25,000 for Media City.
Lund describes Media City as being “a location close to multiple demand modes, which explains why Media City currently has more hotels and serviced apartments than Studio City,” he says.
However, this was not always the case. As Dubai began spreading south, free zones such as Internet City began to appear, then Media City and Knowledge Village followed.
Initially, there were a limited number of buildings housing, but a few companies, thus limiting footfall yet Ròya International decided that Media City would be the location for the Media One Hotel.
Since then, urbanisation of the area has increased, and Media City, Internet City and Knowledge Village have all expanded, quickly followed by Dubai Marina, a residential hub for young professionals.
In comparison, Studio City is located seemingly off the beaten track, just west of Dubai’s E311 highway.
Similarly, rewind 10 years when Media One Hotel first opened, it was also ‘off the beaten track’. However, Studio One’s manager (and former director of operations at Media One Hotel) 32-year-old Macedonian national Damir Boshnjak points out that there is a lot going on in Studio City.
“There are companies, studios and boutique studios coming up. We hope it will be as big as Media City,” he says. But the 2,500 plus workforce numbers accumulated over a 14 year period, which Lund revealed do not point to a great deal of footfall. However, Boshnjak points out that within a 10-to-15km radius there are up to 80,000 people. [that can be tapped into].”
Apart from a number of residential compounds such as Arabian Ranches, Boshnjak pointed out that Al Qudra cycling track is just across the street from the hotel.
“There are lots of sporting events that attract international participants. Not only that, he says, but “from a corporate perspective, we have companies and studios then we have the science park which is a big potential for us. From MotorCity all the way to Production City and Jebel Ali even, look at the demographics of companies that book hotels [for their clients and visitors],” he says.
Boshnjak compares this potential footfall to the lack of hospitality establishments in the surrounding areas of Studio City. “There is only a Park Inn by Radisson in Motor City, a studio M in Science Park and a couple of independent restaurants,” he says. Adding that open for just a month, up to 30% of staying guests at the property have been from the corporate sector.
Colliers’ research reveals there are approximately 2,600 hospitality keys spread across Media City, Internet City and Knowledge Village. Lund points out that Studio City currently has 141 keys.
Philippe Vercruysse, senior consultant at TRI, said it was still a bit ambitious to characterise Studio City as being the new frontier for hotels in Dubai.
“Although Studio City benefits from a number of surrounding developments and a significant residential population in surrounding communities, the location is distant from the city’s main attractions and demand generators,” he said.
It is a point that to all intents and purposes that Boshnjak agrees with. “It is not near the beach. We are not near the usual suspects,” he says, “but we are strategically in the middle.
From a leisure perspective, we have Miracle Garden, Global Village, Hamdan Sports Complex and IMG Worlds of Adventures,” he says.
Food & beverage proposition
The hotel will have six outlets in total, including The Irish Village, Main, Mister Miaggis, El Chapos, Boho by Meating Room, and Larte. Currently, Larte and Main are the only two outlets open, with the remainder opening in two months, according to Boshnjak.
He describes the property’s offering as “the best of Dubai’s home-grown food and beverage.”
TRI’s Vercruysse believes the product [Studio One] is “well thought out [and] targets a variety of consumer profiles. Millennials are more experience driven travellers and are more mobile.
“Given the hotel’s distant location from Dubai’s most popular attractions and demand generators, Studio One is adopting the right strategy by creating a destination in its own right with innovative ancillary facilities and a strong food and beverage proposition,” he says.
He points out the hotel’s strong catchment areas of JVC, MotorCity, Arabian Ranches and Sports City, are likely to drive demand for these food and beverage brands which he says have already acquired a strong reputation in Dubai.
Boshnjak says the revenue driver [for the hotel] is twofold. “It is both rooms and food and beverage. Both back each other up and bring footfall to each other. Clients that come to the restaurants, come to the destination and we envisage it as them seeing the destination, the hotel.
“If people come stay in the hotel they see the food and beverage. It’s cross selling,” he says. Currently the hotel is creating awareness through a marketing campaign that involves an ‘open offer’ that Boshnjak says is targeting a young demographic for both the accommodation and the food and beverage outlets.
Guests can pay AED 300 (US$81.8) a night and redeem the same amount in the hotel’s restaurants. “It appeals to a young crowd who want to come in the room and have some time by the pool, eat three meals and drink. It’s a real staycation in Dubai and has picked up quite well,” says Boshnjak.
The property itself has 141 rooms. However, only 26 rooms are currently open for now (at the time of writing), which is the hotel’s soft opening period.
There are five categories of rooms. These include The Room, Room with a View that overlooks the courtyard, the Arabian Ranches golf course and has distant views of Burj Khalifa, Boshnjak points out.
There are long-stay studios too, with a kitchenette as well as one bedroom apartments. Boshnjak says the remaining accommodation will open in a few months.
Boshnjak describes the operational aspects of the property and how it wants to differentiate.
“We want to make the team part of the decision process. The ordinary hotel departments usually found in the front of house do not exist at Studio One.
“We have a team of hosts. Even I am a host,” he says. “It starts with me and trickles down to everyone. We all pitch in wherever it is needed.”
The hotel’s mission is ‘Your Way’. “We don’t want to tailor-make the stay for the guests; we want them to make it for themselves. This starts with us employees who we call stars.”
The movie-theme continues with ‘Take One’, which is a self-service pantry. Guests can help themselves and take any additional items that they need such as ironing boards, extra water.
Boshnjak points out that this enables guests to interact with staff as little as possible, if that is what they want.
However, the full team is there for those guests who prefer a more traditional hotel service.
The property includes a coin operated launderette. However, the minibars in guest rooms are empty.
Instead, in the lobby there is a ‘grab and go’ outlet called Take Two, the name again following the hotel’s movie theme.
“Guests are able to fill their own minibar with the items that they actually want,” says Boshnjak. Just like a minibar, the items are still charged to a guest’s bill.
The process is labour-saving and therefore cost-effective in that the minibar does not have to be continually checked and refilled by staff members.
In terms of challenges for the hotel, Boshnjak admits that the biggest one is to get the property fully opened.
“We also need to create awareness through marketing campaigns, he says. However, the one thing that I want is for that the one question of ‘where is Studio City’ to become ‘oh is that the place where Studio One Hotel is’.
To do this, the hotel has employed a “strong marketing” team tapping into different channels through online and print. “We are different,” he says. “We are not just another hotel opening in Dubai.”