By Sara Hamdan
Turkey's Rixos Hotel Group is the latest arrival on the Middle East's competitive luxury hotel scene.
Turkey's Rixos Hotel Group is the latest arrival on the Middle East's hotel scene. Chairman Fettah Tamince tells Sara Hamdan why he is developing his first project on Dubai's Palm Jumeirah, and why he believes a little bit of local flavour goes a long way in distinguishing luxury hotels from the competition.
Fettah Tamince is reclining in a cafe at Dubai's One & Only Royal Mirage and looking across the water to the site of his first hotel on the Palm Jumeirah - also the group's first in the Gulf.
What more is there beyond marble floors and golden keys? We believe it's the service.
The resort, titled the Rixos Ottoman Palace, will have 409 deluxe rooms and suites. In keeping with Tamince's standards for luxury, it will offer guests the option of transport by yacht, helicopter or chauffeured private cars, with a butler service at hand to ensure smooth operations.
The resort is one of three main developments planned for the Middle East as Tamince's aims to expand his hotel chain, which achieved revenues of about US$2.5bn last year.
Another resort currently under construction is located in the heart of Ukraine. Kiev is fast becoming the cultural and economic centre of Eastern Europe, which is the basis for Tamince's choice of location.
This was also the incentive for building a hotel in Vienna with an architectural style that complements the culture capital's surroundings.
Tamince explains that the hotels are customised to cater to the guests that the group expects to host in each country, making the events and services in each property unique in its offerings.
Each hotel, old and new, caters to an international client base while retaining aspects of the culture of the country it is constructed in, with a few Turkish influences in the hotel's service and décor to reflect the group's background.
With nine operational hotels already located throughout Central Asia and Europe, Tamince is now shifting his sights to the Middle East to create what he believes is a hotel that will be a destination in itself.
"When I was travelling through the East," says Tamince. "I asked someone in Russia if she had ever been to Turkey, and she said 'only to Rixos' - she didn't even remember the name of the Turkish town she visited, but she remembers the hotel as a destination. That's what we want."
Named after a prosperous Ottoman king, the Rixos hotel concept was initially launched in 2000 in Antalya, Turkey.
The Rixos Hotel Group was masterminded by Tamince, who had a vision of creating lavish business and tourist resorts with customised activities.
You simply cannot compete on bigger rooms or more luxury because there will always be someone there to one-up you.
The end result gives the impression of a small city rather than a large hotel, including grandiose Turkish Hammam spas, shopping arenas, movie theatres and a variety of ethnic restaurants - all topped off with a buzzing nightlife.
Five of the Rixos hotels are scattered around the Turkish coast, one of which takes up 187,000 sq m along the shores of Bodrum island.
The success of the hotel group in Turkey encouraged Tamince to venture abroad, and the chain now includes resorts in Croatia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine with plans to bulldoze into the Gulf's hospitality sector this year.
He emphasises that his choice of destinations was anything but "accidental".
"Almaty will become the most important city in Central Asia. Kazakhstan is next to two very important economies - China and Russia - and there are unlimited natural resources," explains Tamince.
He says that the sheer geographical size of Kazakhstan makes it a key market and an interesting venue for a luxurious resort.
Most of the visitors to the Rixos Hotels in Turkey come from Central Asia and Eastern Europe, so to Tamince, the next logical step is to bring Rixos closer to them.
Now he has set his sights on Dubai, having secured a plot on the Palm Jumeirah. The construction plans have already been cemented, as this first venture will be designed and built by ZSML Construction.
This firm is a joint venture between local entity Zabeel Investments and SML Construction - a sister company of Rixos Hotels. Following completion of the first resort in 2008, Tamince aims to branch out into Abu Dhabi by the end of next year.
He is formalising plans for a resort to be built in Budaiya, Bahrain this year as well.
Though he is looking forward to taking part in the booming hospitality industry in the Middle East, he recognises that his hotel group faces fierce competition and that it will not be an easy task to enter the hospitality market.
Comfortably seated in a lobby café at the One & Only - which may be one of the Rixos Hotel Group's main competitors in Dubai - Tamince gives a salute with a steaming cup of Turkish coffee, to punctuate his claim that Rixos Hotel will also become a well-known luxury brand around the world.
"We think Turkish hospitality is known worldwide which is very important, and that will be our personal touch in an international atmosphere for the hotel," explains Tamince.
He says the key to success in delivering an international resort with an authentic Turkish angle to the business will be in the hands of the hotel staff.
"We are a hotel group of high expectations," says Tamince. "We ask: what more is there to luxury beyond marble floors and golden keys? We believe it's in the service. We want to go beyond what our guests expect. That is what we are hoping for and what we have successfully done in the past."
He plans to raise the bar on expectations with a hotel run by a knowledgeable, experienced team to service clients from all cultures. He realises that finding the right people will be a challenge in itself, with so many hotels operating in Dubai and many more in the pipeline.
"We will have to see what is available here," says Tamince.
"It will definitely be a challenge to recruit the hotel staff we want, but it's really a micro plan of the country to promote the tourism industry so we believe the resources will be available when the time comes."
Tamince is convinced that the Gulf's hospitality sector is not in danger of running out of steam anytime soon despite the seemingly inexorable arrival of new luxury hospitality brands to the region.
The popularity of regional luxury resorts over the past five years is an indication that the Gulf's appetite for new high-end options has not waned as vacancy rates remain surprisingly low.
Tamince believes the rapid expansion of the luxury segment in Dubai is a reflection of the UAE government's efforts to promote tourism by adding more hotels and continuously improving infrastructure to attract tourists.
For the time being at least, Tamince says he's committed to the luxury segment of the market and has not yet been tempted to invest in the emerging low-cost and Sharia-compliant markets in the region.
Sharia-compliant hotels such as Tamani located in Dubai Marina have been gaining popularity with travellers seeking accommodation that respect their faith.
These hotels are defined as Sharia-compliant in that alcohol is prohibited, all the food served is 'halal' and a percentage of the hotel's profit is contributed to charity.
"There is definitely a need for Islamic-compliant hotels in the region because guests are clearly demanding it," says Tamince. "It's like the success of Islamic banking, people want it. I would definitely consider doing it, too."
Tamince finds that Dubai is a natural choice for the Rixos Group's newest luxury resort and is confident that his new spin on the resort concept will see off the growing competition.
"You simply cannot compete on bigger rooms or more luxury, because there will always be someone there to one-up you," explains Tamince.
"But if we position our hotel as a luxury destination in itself, that certainly puts us in a different category."