Dubai formally launched a new hotel classification system yesterday, which is expected to trigger a rush of improvements as owners bid to meet the new standards
The new system includes a "budget" rating for hotels alongside the traditional one to five-star ratings. In addition, hotels can also be placed under new categories including desert, heritage, business and beach.
These changes are designed to help improve the transparency for tourists of the quality and type of hotels available, as Dubai aims to almost double the number of hotel guests it accommodates to 20 million a year by 2020, up from 10.16 million last year.
"Our current system of classification dates back to 1998 and requires updating due to the vast growth of the hotel and hospitality sector in Dubai in the past 15 years," said Majid Al Marri, the director of hotel classification at Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), which developed the system.
"Following the soft launch of the new classification system this time last year, we have benchmarked it against grading schemes from markets in major destinations regionally and around the world."
It comes amid a flood of investment into new hotel construction across the city fuelled by the massive increase of passengers transiting through the city's airport and rising tourism. Average room rates grew by more than 14 per cent in March compared to a year earlier to top US$257 according to data from STR Global.
The classification system has been in the works for the past few years and it was "soft launched" a year ago, but a law has been passed to enforce the new regulations.
Still, Mr Al Marri stressed that hotels would not be assessed immediately under the new guidelines and they would have a one-year period of grace to make changes needed.
The tourism authority had warned in its draft guidelines last year that some hotels could be downgraded under the new system.
"Dubai has been working with the new system for about two years now, so there has been a lot of buy-in by the hotels and the industry in general," said John Podaras, a hotel consultant based in Dubai.
He said that hotels were more likely to have to invest if they wanted to meet the new designators and categories, such as being labelled as a resort or heritage hotel.
The DTCM studied systems used in Abu Dhabi as well as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Thailand and Switzerland before drawing up its guidelines. It also looked at systems used by organisations such as the American Automobile Association and Michelin.
Habib Khan, the general manager of Arabian Courtyard, which operates three heritage hotels and the traditional Barjeel Al Arab Restaurant, all in Dubai, said that having a heritage category would be very good for his business.
"It will be very helpful because right now I cannot afford to do international marketing," he said.