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Fri 1 Jun 2007 12:00 AM

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A new palace in the ‘old town’

The general manager of The Palace hotel in The Old Town tells us what to expect from his property.

Is the hotel's location going to be a big draw card for the property?

The Burj Dubai tower is going to become a new landmark for Dubai. You will have the Burj al Arab, the Palms, and the Burj Dubai tower. So in the middle of all that concrete and shaded glass there will be a lake, and in the middle of that there will be an island, which is trying to bring back the authentic atmosphere of the pan-Arabic world. That is why there is this construction, to create the culture that people are looking for. They want to come here and get something a little bit more authentic from the region.

We really believe that it will be an easy property to sell, because it is something that will really attract people from Europe, Asia, and even from around the region.

What was the reason for the traditional Arabic design of the hotel?

The idea behind the Old Town island was to create an Arabic citadel with residences. You will have a souk at the heart, with dining and restaurants, and then you will have the Palace. We are in a business environment, but we have a resort-style complex. What we want to offer our guests, who may be attending to business in Sheikh Zayed Road or over in Business Bay, is that at the end of the day they can come back to us and have a holiday. They can relax and take advantage of our spa and restaurants. We are not a tall tower, we are a low sprawling building with long corridors and all the lights contributing to the atmosphere where you can relax.

But we are also different from what people would consider a pure resort hotel, because we are not by the beach. We will have all the business close by, with the shopping mall nearby for example. So we don't really have any competitors [geographically close], because it is all business around us. Our location will be very attractive though, because we are right in front of the Burj Dubai tower, which is going to be the tallest in the world.

What F&B and spa facilities will the hotel have?

We are launching our spa concept, which is part of the Sofitel brand, here in the Middle East. It is 800m
2

, with separate rooms for the gentlemen and the ladies. We are trying also to adapt this spa to the region, to deliver services the way local people will expect it.

We have three F&B outlets.

Thiptara is a Royal Thai restaurant, we are trying to bring back the royal Thai cuisine, which would have been prepared for the royal family in Thailand. This will be our fine dining, with a fine position because the restaurant is located at the top of the lake with a view straight up to the tower.

Then we have our Argentine restaurant Asado, which is a type of cuisine that is not really common in Dubai. We are going to mix in the atmosphere of Buenos Aires with the tango, and the gauchos, and the live music and dancing - that's something I think will be very successful here in Dubai.

Then we have our all-day dining at Ewaan restaurant. We will be having themed evenings there with different types of food, and a live kitchen.

What sort of guests do you expect the hotel to attract?

We are targeting, and we believe we will be very successful, the local market, so we are talking Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain. For the GCC market we believe we will be attracting business guests and leisure guests at the same time. Really we are the type of property people are looking for. We will be so close to the Dubai Mall, so people coming to shop will have plenty of options as well as their options inside the hotel. In Dubai Mall there will be an ice-skating rink, a cinema, and F&B outlets, so there will be plenty for the whole family.

Then our secondary market we will be looking at Europe; the UK, Russia, Germany, France, and then you have smaller markets like Scandinavia.

We will also be looking at getting clients from emerging markets like China and India, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

We will be really working with individual clientele - we are not a hotel for holding big conventions. We are not targeting MICE, although we might have small rooms for a very limited number of people. We have 242 rooms, of which 80 are suites, so when we are talking about suites we are really talking about the

individual guests.

Then, our meeting facilities are limited - we have one ballroom with a capacity for seating up to 200 people. The nature of the hotel, and the type of service we provide, [means we are not suitable for groups].

Coming back to your point about the service in the hotel, are there going to be customer service staff available on each floor?

Here in Dubai it is not common to have this level of service available, although there are a few exclusive hotels that have something [slightly] different. But I would say that it brings back the service that has been provided in those mythical hotels in locations like Shanghai and Bangkok. It really brings back a kind of personalised service.

How do you think the hotel will be received by the market - have you had much interest so far?

The fact we were at the Arabian Travel Market in a separate stand, although we are a part of Sofitel, we were really looking to position ourselves a bit more. Of course, creating a reputation takes some time, but we are very confident we have the support we need to be able to do that.

Soon we will be launching our new brand, which will be Sofitel ‘Luxury Hotels' - we are being very straightforward that we are a luxury company.

Then we have our owning company Emaar, which is very powerful in the region and worldwide. They really care a lot about this particular project so we have had a lot of support from them.

We will be launching in the slower part of the year, just after the summer, and then there is the Ramadan period, so we will be able to get our staff comfortable and trained.

We are expecting [occupancy] of 60% by the end of the year. We are lucky we are in a good market, because the demand is still growing, and even though it is not going up as quickly as before, the average rate is still going up.

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