The hotel hopes to cash in on the millions of people expected to visit for World Expo 2020—and is not afraid of the new VAT in the city
Originally designed as an office tower, the Renaissance Downtown fits right into Dubai—towering, glitzy, and striking. At the hotel’s grand opening in December, ‘Hollaback Girl’ Gwen Stefani performed an intimate gig to direct views of the Downtown area and the Water Canal. BlackBook was part of the select audience at the 298-key property. The hotel opens at a ripe time—with less than 1,000 days to go for the World Expo 2020, multiple opportunities in real estate, tourism and hospitality are opening up. The mega-event, to take place over six months, is expected to see a flood of 25 million people attend, a majority of which will need accommodation.
According to recently released BNC Network figures, more than Dh350 billion worth of contracts would be awarded prior to Expo 2020. Richard Zeolla, general manager of Renaissance Downtown Hotel, Dubai, speaks to BlackBook about the Dubai hospitality market, challenges in the industry and introduction of the VAT.
Why was this a good time to open another business hotel in Dubai?
I don’t think any time is a perfect time. Being two years before 2020 is definitely an advantage, but the disadvantage is that there are several properties coming in now. However, we have a chance to establish the brand before the bigger push comes in 2020. That’s being said. It’s a competitive market.
How is the Dubai market doing in terms of hospitality?
I do see extremely stiff competition. We’ve even had visitors from other hotel chains before we opened our doors, sizing us up, understanding our game plan. Every brand’s aim is to differentiate themselves from the hotels down the street or across the block. But I enjoy having strong competition around—it teaches you to be careful and not to become complacent. We have to continue to innovate. Our revenue from food and beverages is going to be extremely significant. We have celebrity chef-led restaurants to boast of, including David Myers’ French menu at Bleu Blanc and nouveau Japanese restaurant Morimoto.
Who is your target audience?
We are targeting business travellers, but also those interested in off-beat activities. If you have one extra day or some free time, what stories can you go home with about Dubai? We help you to do that with our Navigator’s Desk, which starts with finding the right people. For the true social discoverer, the hotel’s Navigators will help guests experience the neighbourhood’s soul by highlighting hidden gems and handpicked local discoveries.
What are the challenges in the hospitality industry and what are your strategies?
First and foremost, to get our name out on the market and make a big splash. Dubai is a crowded market and everyone here is experimenting. The strategy is to get noticed, consistent and offer value. In terms of restaurants, the biggest challenge is to make sure you have priced appropriately to create a loyal base that visits at least once a month.
The décor seems to be a highlight of the hotel. What’s the story?
The elements you observe are grounded in Dubai—a sandy colour palette, a dynamic art installation of Dubai’s cityscape at arrival, Pablo Picasso’s famed camel sketch reimagined into a 3D iron rod sculpture in each room. The materials used are raw wood, concrete tiled floors and glass mosaics. Another highlight is that of the room size. The smallest room is a spacious 54 sq meters. The property has 65 suites, each with views of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Water Canal or the city’s downtown district.
Tell us about the hotel chain’s global partnership with Universal Music Group…
Our concert with Gwen Stefani was the 5th or 6th concert globally in this partnership. Such partnerships are a way to reach people, and tie the brands with art and fashion. Stefani’s career has grown massively in terms of music and style. So for Renaissance, ‘Music + Fashion’ makes sense.
How does the introduction of VAT in Dubai affect the hospitality market?
The absence of VAT made the UAE unique. That’s being said, the level of taxation around the world exists mostly everywhere. It’s a reality that we pay for building a city. The budgets in the GCC has been really stretched and need to be broadened. Dubai gives you attractions, parks, adventures, the fastest metro and the longest tower. And a lot more is on its way. So, I don’t think tourists will be put off by the VAT. The tax is just a cost of doing a business.