It is the morning that Dubai’s ruler HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum has announced plans to extend the emirate’s Business Bay canal to create a 2.8km waterway stretching across the city and Rupprecht Queitsch, general manager for the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai couldn’t be more pleased.
“It will actually be stopping right by our hotel,” he tells Arabian Business. “It’s going to be really nice along Safa Park… and we’re either at one end or one beginning,” he adds.
News of the $408m project — which has since been somewhat usurped by last week’s announcement that the city will also embark on a vast tourism and retail project called Mohammed Bin Rashid City — is yet another sign that Dubai has recovered its commercial ambitions after its crippling debt crisis three years ago.
Tourist arrivals in the emirate increased ten percent during the first half of the year while hotel revenues rose nineteen percent. Property prices are starting to rebound in some areas of the city and the region’s political instability continues to attract funds from investors seeking a safe haven.
One of those other signs that the city has started to thrive is the opening of the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai, a $490m two-tower hotel owned by Emirates Airline. The five-star hotel, which — once fully opened — will add 1,608 rooms to the city’s inventory, features 804 rooms as well as fourteen food and beverage outlets and the Middle East’s largest function room. While the hotel officially opened the doors on its first tower in October, Sheikh Mohammed last week ordered the start of the second phase of the hotel.
Unlike many of Dubai’s other luxury hotels, the JW Marriott Marquis, will play a key role in the emirate’s ambitious plans to become a top destination of choice for the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry.
The sector is already big business for cities such as New York, London and Paris (a recent study by the US Convention Industry Council found that the US meetings and events sector supports 1.7 million jobs in the US alone). But a lack of hotels and conferencing spaces large enough to cater to the vast number of delegates that international conferences attract means Dubai has lagged behind its competitors.
The opening of the JW Marriott Marquis is expected to significantly boost Dubai’s position in the industry, says Queitsch. “That’s the purpose of the hotel [to host] either corporate meetings, incentive meetings, any kind of meetings,” he says.
“Dubai currently is not in the world’s top destinations for conventions so we are building this up. We have a large convention coming in January for 700 rooms for five nights, which is business that typically would not have come to Dubai, so now we are competing with the likes of Lisbon, Madrid and Berlin,” he adds.
Dubai’s world-class infrastructure coupled with Emirates Airline’s growing network is likely to attract big-name pharmaceutical firms, banks and consultants who typically host annual conferences in a different city each year.
“The worldwide statistics that measure where you are as a convention destination [stipulate that] you have to have at least 300 rooms, they have to stay three nights, they have to be at least 75 percent international so they measure that and there is a top 20. Dubai is not touching that scale yet but…. to double, triple, quadruple that should be very easy because it has the infrastructure,” says Queitsch.
The ease of getting around the city together with its affordability makes it an ideal destination for international corporations, he adds. “Look at Paris… the airport is a mess; you struggle with traffic. In London the journey from the airport to the city [is time-consuming] so here the infrastructure is very good.”
“And then there is the programme. People don’t just want to come for business, they want to go out in the evening, go to the beach and play golf. This city is a dream for a convention planner,” he continues.
“It’s not the most expensive [city] in the world either if you compare prices here. Let’s say you charge $200-250 per room — maybe in high season $300 — that’s still less than New York, London or Paris. You might need to fly for a little bit longer depending on where you come from but the total package is still very similar to any other,” he adds.
Dubai’s MICE industry is already starting to show some signs of growth. This week the city will host the World Conference on International Telecommunications, which is expected to host around 1,000 delegates, and will next year stage several other large scale events including the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication Congress & Exhibition.
The MICE industry generally runs from January through to May but that doesn’t mean Queitsch and his team will be given any respite. During the quieter months, he plans to use the hotel’s vast food and beverage outlets and its spa to cater to regional tourists.
“If you break it down there is always something happening [in each industry] but all of them typically go to sleep for a little bit. June and July in Europe is vacation time so during that time we’ll concentrate on the GCC market. The hotel is still good for that as we have a pool and a super spa,” he explains.
Even with operations currently only at half capacity, it sounds like the JW Marriott Marquis is already making headway.
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