TBY talks to Sami Nasser, Vice-President of Operations at Sofitel Middle East, Egypt, & Indian Ocean, on Dubai as a brand, MICE tourism, and growth plans.
TBY Dubai has successfully branded itself as a top destination in the region for leisure and business travelers. What are the strengths of the Emirate in the region?
SAMI NASSER The most notable service industry in the UAE is its tourism business. The city of Dubai has been transformed from a small desert town into a towering metropolis. Tourism has become so important to this nation that it even accounts for over 30% of Dubai’s GDP. The Middle East has in many ways become one of the leaders in luxury hotel industry, and has always shown a strong desire to grow.
Where is the Sofitel brand planning to expand in the region and what motivates the choice of the targeted destinations?
Sofitel is firmly establishing its hotels in the region, thanks to Sofitel Abu Dhabi and Sofitel Dubai JBR. We are extremely confident in the expansion of our brand in the region. All keys cities in the Middle East are targeted, including in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan.
Dubai International Airport receives flights from more than 260 destinations. What trends among business and leisure travelers have you observed recently in terms of their origin?
Initial results show that the luxury travel industry follows the same trends as the luxury sector in general, although luxury travel is not commonly categorized within the luxury industry. Not only are luxury travel sectors distinguished by uniqueness, brand imagery, and high price levels—the main guiding principles of the luxury sector—but they are also impacted by the same trends. A clear distinction between ultra-luxury and affordable luxury has been observed, together with the development of personalized services, a move away from ostentation, the increasing importance of web-based media, and progressively more attention to green and ethical social principles. Above all, as with the luxury sector in general, the demand for luxury travel is expected to grow, especially in relation to emerging economies. Dubai has a reputation for being a center of luxury tourism, and competition in this bracket is very high.
What strategies has your hotel followed in redefining luxury and establishing strong brand recognition in a competitive market?
The perception of luxury is continuously evolving. Now we’re seeing a move away from ostentation toward authenticity in the travel experience, and a call for sustainability and environmental conservation as an integral part of the offerings for affluent travelers. On the distribution side, the greater use of online tools will have an effect on the sales process and on communications. A shift toward a more self-sufficient approach in travel planning is therefore expected, plus increased influence from social media in the decision-making process.
What has the hospitality sector’s experience been like after the offset of the global liquidity crisis?
After years of turmoil, the hospitality industry is on the mend. Although operating performance has begun to recover, operators, investors, owners, developers, and managers are approaching their segments with a new air of caution and fresh ideas. A global recovery in hotel operating fundamentals is now a fact. Although many global markets have been slow, demand has returned and boosted occupancy.
Dubai is also a hub for MICE tourism. Is this an important revenue generator for you and what further opportunities for development in this respect do you see?
Dubai is the regional hub for most of the regional and international corporations. MICE tourism is a crucial segment as it brings additional revenues to our hotels in terms of food and beverages and meetings. It forms approximately 15% of our overall business mix. For ongoing and further development, we participate in most of the international MICE exhibitions to promote our hotels along with the destination. IMEX in Frankfurt, EIBTM in Spain, as well as several MICE forums give us the opportunity to establish contact with worldwide MICE buyers.
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