Emaar Hospitality Group chief executive Marc Dardenne explains the creative process behind new five-star global lifestyle brand The Address Hotels and Resorts to Hotelier Middle East.
What is the idea behind the name?
It was the most difficult bit about it, to find the right name. Before starting with the name there was a lot of research that went into this project - we did a lot of customer research and tried to find a white space within the market. We always wanted to position the hotels at a five-star level, there was never a question of four-star or six-star.
We wanted a name that would fit in New York as well as Singapore, Dubai and Paris.
We looked at the competitive statistics and tried to find an area that you would call a white space, where there were no competitors. After this research, we really looked at this white space and really developed a nucleus of a brand that fit there. After lots of brainstorming and lots of customer research the name was really the last part of the process.
How would you define this ‘white space' that you found?
The concept that you are looking at is lifestyle and the lifestyle is clearly five-star. What we really wanted to do is create a contemporary hotel brand that delivers outstanding service similar to Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton, but still have the atmosphere and the energy of a W [by Starwood] and the outstanding food and beverage of a higher brand. The combination of those with a great product and obviously a great location really defines the brand.
Clearly one is location, which is the address. The other is the product, without being over-designed, and the third is the service aspect.
That really defines the brand in very simplistic ways.
What we tried to do was look at the hotels that we had under construction. They were all of contemporary designs so we knew that the name had to be a fairly trendy and contemporary name.
The second part was that our goal was always to become a global company. We never said that we would be only a Dubai company and that we would need an Arabic name. We wanted to have a name that would fit in New York as well as Singapore, Shanghai, Dubai and Paris. Then we quickly realised that all our hotels were really in prime locations. The lifestyle aspect was clearly the aspiration that people want to be there. So we came to the name of The Address, which really clearly defines the brand because of the location - The Address, it is where you want to be, it's inspiration, it's lifestyle and clearly when you are in a good address you expect good service, so the name clearly reflects our branding architecture.
The company will have two hotels very close to each other once The Address Dubai Mall opens - is this going to be an issue?
I don't think so, because all of our hotels are very distinctively different.
You have The Address - Dubai Mall, which is directly linked to the Dubai Mall. It is obviously a key address being next to the biggest mall in the world. The Address Downtown Burj Dubai is our flagship property.
When you look at our branding, we have the different brand extensions, one being the flagship, which is really probably 10% of our properties - the freestanding truly luxurious hotel. Then we have the urban resort which is the Dubai Mall or Dubai Marina hotels. Again they are urban hotels with a resort atmosphere. Then we have the true resort hotels, which are the hotels positioned on the beach mostly, which are the true resorts. Then we have potentially 10% of our hotels, which will be retreats. These are ultra-luxury, 40-60 room boutique style accommodation in places like the Maldives and remote areas.
So we have the flagship, the urban resort, the resort and then you have the retreat.
What are going to be the little details that set The Address brand apartfrom the competition?
What we did was very simple. We took the latest Conde Nast survey of top travellers, which revealed what made the difference in resorts and business hotels. There were really 10 main points.
One was hassle free check-in and check-out. We theoretically don't need the front desk in our hotels as you are already pre-checked in. You can check in at the airport, or in the limousine and you really should be able to be moved directly to your room without the hassle at the front desk. We do have a front desk but it is not a barrier, more as a guidance desk.
Then we looked at the bed experience. We are clearly not the first to put the emphasis on the bed experience but we made sure that we had outstanding bedding. We looked at the bathrooms and made sure that we had great showers and great shower pressure and made sure that people had a great bathroom experience. We looked at the bathroom amenities which is one of the decision making points for customers. We have in all of our suites and clubs Aqua De Parma, which is a top brand in terms of amenities. Even in rest rooms we have very recognised brands. People don't want to see ‘The Address Shampoo' they want to see a brand and trust a brand.
We also have a free wireless environment. It doesn't matter if you are on business or on vacation, you want to be connected nowadays. I think it is very odd to start charging customers 20 AED (US $5.40) or having scratch cards.
Another aspect is the outstanding quality of the coffee machines in the rooms. When you get up in the morning you don't want to have to wait for room service, you want your coffee then and there. You are in your bathrobe, you don't want to open the door.
Our brand is benefit focused and we want to make sure that any service is available to our customers on a 24 hour basis. If you want to have breakfast at 3pm or 6 pm because of the time differences then so be it. If you want to work out in the morning at 3am because your flight came in at 1am and you can't sleep, then you can.
The concept we have created for our suites is the 24 hour check-in. So really you are renting your room for 24 hours. Sometimes you check in at 2am and you are told that you have to check out at 12 noon the same day. So really you pay for 10 hours for what becomes a very expensive room. Theoretically you are forced to take another night if you want to have a shower at 6pm which is not very fair on the customers. So what we are saying is that if you check in at 10pm then you can keep your room until 10pm the next day.
If you want to extend your stay then you can even extend a second night, check out at 6am and we only charge you an extra 6-7 hours. I think that is much fairer to the customer. Really we have put ourselves in the shoes of the customer rather than just thinking as a hotelier and saying ‘no, no you need to check out because we need to clean your room and get more people in the beds in the afternoon'. That is the type of approach that we want to take for everything that we do.
You spoke earlier about developing a global brand, but will there be regional differences?
Our brand is not cookie cutter. We have kept the brand not overly strict - so if we say we are contemporary in design we are not saying we are an Armani hotel or Bvlgari hotel or Versace hotel.
The Address Downtown Burj Dubai look is a contemporary look and Dubai Mall will be different but very similar, the design will be contemporary. That is why The Palace hotel will not be an Address, it will be managed by The Address. Obviously The Palace is a very traditional Arabic hotel so we didn't brand it as an Address hotel, The Address hotels will always have a contemporary design.
In terms of the brand standards, you can expect the same standards at any Address hotel. When it comes to F&B it will be driven by the local preferences, for example in New York you might have a very hip steak house with a jazz bar. In Shanghai you may have the trendy Chinese restaurant. What is important is the music aspect and lifestyle aspect and the trendiness of the place. There will be local touches, even more so in the true resorts - for example if you have a hotel in Bali, you will feel as though you are in Bali.
What should we expect from the next 12 months?
We have our next hotel opening, The Address Dubai Mall, opening in March 2009. This will be shortly followed by The Address Dubai Marina.
Then clearly we are looking at the international developments in the pipeline. Coming up we have two hotels in Morocco which are on design now. We have two hotels in Istanbul on both sides of the Bosporus, we have Egypt with two hotels and we are currently looking at Saudi Arabia. We are looking at Pakistan and potentially Indonesia. We are also potentially looking at some properties in the US but this is not confirmed. Our aspirations are to be a global brand with 60 to 80 hotels in the next 10 years.
Will the brand consider taking over existing properties?
Absolutely, we are very much open to that. To start a brand you have to build something that people can relate to, so now we have the opportunity to invite potential owners to this hotel and they can experience it. So far the feedback has been very positive.
Now that they have experienced it, seen the building, seen the level of service and experienced the F&B, we have gotten a lot of interest now about us managing hotels.
Clearly this is one way we will look at going forward.For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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