Q&A: Continuous development

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Kerzner International has strong ties with Africa and operates three luxury brands, in the form of One&Only, Atlantis and Mazagan. There are currently two properties in Africa – the One&Only Cape Town and Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort in Morocco. Atlantis The Palm in Dubai will soon be joined by an Atlantis property in Sanya, China, and Gabriela Coelho, Director Group Sales, Business Development, recently joined Business Traveller Africa for a question and answer session.

Q: Why is there is such a strong tie between Dubai and Africa?
A:
Africa is in the spotlight for development. The continent does have some financial issues, but it also has many resources. Dubai is a strategic city. It enjoys a privileged geographical location with a strong airline connecting it to the world. Emirates has seven flights into south Africa, as well as flights to other African countries like Nigeria.

Q: Do you feel African countries could learn from the relationship between Dubai’s airline and government?
A:
Absolutely. The two are extremely harmonious. The same applies to Dubai’s tourism, commerce and marketing departments. These three are very powerful. They are a prime example of service and hospitality. Once you’ve flown with Emirates, you don’t want to fly with any other airline.

Q: What is the relationship between Atlantis The Palm and the Dubai government?
A:
A couple of years ago, Sol Kerzner sold the Atlantis to the Dubai government. It was retained by the Investment Corporation of Dubai, but we are still managed by Kerzner.

Q: What are your thoughts on the overall Dubai hotel scene?
A:
Development is non-stop, and it’s motivation for us to reinvent ourselves. The Atlantis has recently launched the Royal Atlantis, a new property adjacent to the existing hotel. It will add 850 rooms to the industry in 2017.

Q: How will it be different for the Atlantis?
A:
The Atlantis is an underwater-themed hotel, based on the myth of the lost city of Atlantis. The Royal Atlantis will not be themed; it will be more discreet and minimalist – a completely different style but still complementary of the original.

Q: Is there an appetite for luxury accommodation?
A:
We have no doubt that there is potential and demand. Today Dubai has the busiest airport in the world, processing about 70 million passengers annually, many of them stopovers. Two thirds of the world’s population is no more than eight hours away. By 2020, the government expects to have 20 million people visit the country.  

Q:How has the MICE sector grown in Dubai’s hotel space?
A:
The achievements have been impressive. Last year the city received the biggest incentive group – a Chinese group of 14,000 people. The city has infrastructure, superstructure, accessibility and services, all of which are in line with MICE expectations.

Q: Are you seeing much MICE business from Africa?
A:
Yes, definitely, particularly from South Africa. Confirmed MICE bookings year-on-year are up by 30%.

Q: Are there any other African countries that have shown an interest in Dubai?
A:
Angola and Swaziland both have very good political and trading relationships with the UAE. Egypt is also an important market for Dubai, both in and outbound. The main targets, however, are South Africa and Nigeria.

Q: Have the needs of the business traveller changed in the last few years?
A:
It’s not that the needs have changed, but we now understand the needs of different people. Dubai receives people from an array of different cultures and backgrounds. You are not only a business person, you bring your roots, background and traditions when you travel. As we have labour from over 100 countries, we have people who understand most cultures. This makes us more prepared to receive business travellers from around the world. We have, in our properties, people from those origins and backgrounds, cultures and traditions and who speak the same language.

Q: What percentage of your guests are business travellers, versus leisure travellers?
A:
Our hotel is a leisure resort, but it was purposefully built to cater for the MICE sector. We are predominately a leisure provider – 90% of our business. MICE accounts for the remaining 10%. We are not located near the financial centre of the city, so the corporate transient is not part of our reality.

Q: How do you please guests at a luxury hotel?
A:
Service levels are always important. We are an industry of people – when we understand the customer and anticipate their needs, we will exceed their expectations.

Q: What has changed in the approach to booking luxury accommodation post the 2008 global downturn?
A:
It was the perception that luxury bookings were down. It was not that corporations didn’t have funds, certain industries were doing well, but there was a fear of how it would look to spend money on luxuries when people were losing their jobs and being evicted from their homes. Procurement is now strong in various segments. The scrutiny and the bidding process is much more visible and concrete than it was prior to 2008.