Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi recently played host to TAFI 2018. Desmond Hatton, General Manager, Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi, dishes on what the Thai brand is doing to emerge as the most sought-after MICE venue in the UAE.
What makes Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi an ideal conference and events venue in the city?
Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi boasts of a state-of-the-art meeting and events space measuring 3700+ sqm with a large pre-function area and a unique ‘Sky Dome’ feature. The hotel is strategically located in the city’s key business district and is in proximity to the international airport. Owing to the easy accessibility for conference delegates, the hotel has carved a niche for itself in the MICE space. Albeit having a spacious main lobby, the hotel has a dedicated entrance to cater to big conferences, events, and exhibitions.
How important is the outbound travel segment from India to the UAE? How is your hotel brand leveraging the potential from the Indian market?
Outbound travel from India is incredibly important for the UAE, especially the destination Abu Dhabi. The brand Dusit Thani is making all efforts to get its fair share through a much targeted promotional strategy. Working closely with the Department of Culture & Tourism (DCT) is integral to the property’s marketing approach. Being the hotel partner for TAFI Convention 2018 is a step in the right direction that speaks volume about the hotel’s synergy with the local tourism authorities. In addition to it, the property is on the verge of launching an Indian cuisine restaurant, Namak by celebrity chef Kunal Kapur. Times are indeed exciting at Dusit Thai Abu Dhabi.
2018 has been a tough year for the hotel industry in the UAE. Several new properties came up in the Emirates. How promising is 2019?
The year has been a mixed bag of misses and hits for the hotel industry in general. The recent opening of Louvre Museum did give a positive start to the destination in 2018. The city witnessed a surge in tourist arrivals in the first quarter. Overall, limited demand and increased hotel inventory did take a toll on the city’s average occupancy and rates in the current year. Nevertheless, 2019 looks relatively buoyant. With the unveiling of the Warner Brothers, rigorous efforts of the local tourism board and reduction in local taxes, the region’s hotel industry is poised to bounce back. As Special Olympics is lined up in 2019, the city is expected to attract 10,000+ participants which will definitely stimulate the market.
What are the key trends in leisure travel from India to the UAE?
The airline connectivity to the UAE from India has improved significantly in recent times. The emergence of LCC airlines (Low-Cost Carriers) bound for UAE from Indian shores has made it easier for travel agents to formulate attractive holiday packages. For instance, Indian origin LCCs such as SpiceJet, Indigo, GoAir, and Air India Express has tremendously facilitated the leisure travel. Another trend relates to stupendous growth in the last minute bookings. The spurt of last minute booking websites has made it seamless for travelers to book their preferred holiday deal at the eleventh hour. The advent of digitalization has made the whole exercise of holiday planning months ahead a complete passé nowadays.
Have you noticed any interesting trends in corporate travel from India to the UAE?
The shared economy is here to stay and is becoming a norm in the corporate travel industry of the UAE. Companies are now smarter when it comes to slashing corporate travel costs. To optimize expenses, the corporations of the world have started using Uber and Airbnb extensively. Another interesting trend is the blurring of lines between Business and Leisure, resulting in this phenomenon of “Bleisure Trips”. Corporate travelers are making the most of their trips to explore the local area, experience the culture and even invite family along to join them. Companies embrace this approach as it is a saving of money on both business and leisure travel, and, at the same time, help business travelers to relax and enjoy on their trips.
How promising is the MICE segment for the UAE from your perspective?
Technology has redefined the MICE segment to a great extent in the UAE. Use of wearable technology gadgets has revolutionalized the way delegates communicates onsite during a conference. Smart watches, RFID delegate tags (Radio Frequency IDs), customized conference digital wallets and e-participation toolkits have made it easier for the meeting organizers to schedule events. MICE is now recognized as a niche segment in Abu Dhabi. This has even resulted in the opening of a dedicated government office (i.e. Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau) that promotes the Emirates’ capital as an ideal MICE destination on the global map.
How well-positioned is the UAE to make its mark as the most sought-after MICE destination?
The regional MICE business has reportedly been witnessing a growth rate of 5.5% annually in meeting attendance since 2000, led notably by the UAE market, followed by Saudi Arabia and Oman. Dubai is host to almost 27% of all events staged in the region. Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, generates USD 700 million from its MICE sector and is forecasted to grow at an annual rate of 7% to reach USD 1.4 billion by 2020. (Source: Yas Island MICE Conference, 2017).
The UAE is one of the safest destinations in the world and has set a great example in that direction. Geographically too it enjoys a strategic location between the East and West with over 2/3 of the world’s population living within 8 hours flight from Dubai and 1/3 lives within 4 hours. The developments in terms of infrastructure in the UAE, connectivity, and facilities taking shape for Dubai Expo 2020 will further boost its global and regional positioning as a MICE destination.
What are the challenges that your brand is facing at the moment?
Limited demand and an ever-increasing inventory of hotels have always been a challenge which has led to rates correction in the Abu Dhabi market. With lower rates, the hotels in the five star and luxury segment have tremendous pressure to sustain quality standards and continue to deliver exceptional guest experiences. Another challenge has been the area of the guest loyalty program. In the wake of recent mergers and acquisitions in the global hotel industry, especially Starwood & Marriott, other hotel groups have to brace for stiff competition against the consolidated and much larger loyalty programs.
What kind of problems have you successfully tackled?
Given the challenge of ever-changing technology in MICE particularly, Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi has embarked on an ambitious audio-visual upgrades project across the onsite meeting and conference rooms. The project involved installation of interactive touch screen smart boards and large size professional LED screens (4K clarity; measuring 98”) in the small meeting rooms while placement of big digital screens is planned for Onyx ballroom in the second phase. This new technology has enabled business delegates to seamlessly carry out their meetings at the hotel.
Could you shed light on a few loyalty programs that you have?
Dusit Thani Hotels & Resorts has a unique guest loyalty program called “Dusit Gold”. In fact, the hotel prefers to call it a “guest recognition” program, something that means much more than just a guest loyalty program. Designed to reward and enrich every guest stay at any of the Dusit’s finest participating hotels and resorts worldwide, the Dusit Gold program places utmost importance to personalization and recognition the moment a guest walks through the hotel doors. Discover more about the program on DusitGold.com.
How are you interfacing with customers via digital?
The hotel has a cutting-edge strategy in place when it comes to tapping all essential digital mediums. Social media channels are closely monitored and capitalized upon to reach out to a targeted audience. Also, the hotel manages its own database of over 60K+ and keeps existing and potential guests updated about latest happenings and developments. Implementation of LED screen project in the meeting rooms, adds another feather in the digital space enabling guests to connect faster and in a more effective way.
What kind of partnerships/tie-up do you already have or are looking at?
Being part of an international group, the hotel enjoys active partnerships with leading airlines, banks and financial institutions. Collaborations struck with leading players in the OTAs and e-distribution space also help the hotel to optimize leads and channelize revenue through multiple platforms. In 2019, the hotel intends to work more closely with Department of Tourism & Culture to seize relevant opportunities and promote both destination and the hotel in the run to Expo 2020, which will certainly have a spillover benefiting Abu Dhabi market.
What strategies are you implementing to position brand ‘Dusit’ as the preferred property for guests?
With the support of the head office, the hotel is putting its best foot forward in promoting the brand “Dusit” not only in the UAE but also in the GCC region and beyond. The sales and marketing strategy of the hotel is tailored at driving quality PR and awareness, coupled up with promotional collaborations with the local tourism board i.e. Department of Culture & Tourism (DCT). The online and offline marketing strategy of the hotel via regular press visits, editorial features, social media, participation in trade fairs among other activities, reflect the “group’s global approach while leveraging its Asian roots.”