x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Modern hotel guests in the Emirates have higher expectations

Five-star hotels in the UAE must now cater to a new "luxury traveller" - younger, design-conscious and more adventurous and tech-savvy than ever before.

Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort’s newest addition, the Royal Pavilion Villas, is a collection of 10 one-bedroom villas in a secluded setting. Courtesy Anantara
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort’s newest addition, the Royal Pavilion Villas, is a collection of 10 one-bedroom villas in a secluded setting. Courtesy Anantara

Spring 2004: Sara, an engineering graduate from Istanbul, is attending a tech conference in Abu Dhabi. The 25-year-old is staying at a four-star hotel close to the conference venue: she browses the pages of her favourite magazine over breakfast, listening to music on her MP3 player.

Fast forward 10 years: Sara is back in Abu Dhabi to meet potential clients for her tech start-up, This time she’s staying at the city’s newest luxury hotel and having breakfast in her room with panoramic views of the city – a view definitely worth sharing with her friends via Facebook. A quick read of The Economist’s latest issue on her iPad, while listening to her favourite Spotify playlist, then off she goes to her first meeting.

While this scenario is fictive, it is realistic enough to describe the changes luxury hoteliers in the UAE have being experiencing among their guests over the past decade. As times change, people’s lifestyle and travel habits evolve, and so does the profile of guests staying at luxury hotels.

“Guests who can afford to stay at luxury hotels today are in a younger age bracket than before and have different expectations than previous generations,” says Christophe Schnyder, the general manager at Sofitel Dubai The Palm. “These new guests,” he adds, “expect a no-fuss service: quick, efficient, friendly, but not necessarily delivered by a butler wearing white gloves.”

Dozens of five-star hotels and resorts have opened in the UAE over the past decade, with several more coming online in the next couple of years. With increasing competition in the field, each property faces a daily challenge to meet – and, whenever possible, exceed –n guests’ expectations.

Mira Radic, director of guest services at Al Maha – a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, knows these challenges all too well: “Years back, guests would go to hotels to be pampered and attended to, or just to be ‘seen’. Nowadays, guests are more keen on the storytelling side of a hotel stay: having an experience and taking away memories.” A story that most guests will be telling their friends via social media.

With travellers looking for an experience to share photos of, photogenic hotels, those with unique architectural details or eye-catching interiors, have a clear advantage. Take, for instance, the Middle East’s first overwater villas at Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort & Spa. A geotag search on Instagram reveals that these villas are the resort’s most photographed feature since its opening in September 2013.

But a pretty hotel alone doesn’t necessarily make an interesting story. The rise of “experiential luxury travel” is evidence of a more adventurous and curious nature of today’s luxury travellers.

At this week’s Arabian Travel Market, which concludes tomorrow at the Dubai World Trade Centre, Patrick Both, the general manager of Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, presented the resort’s newest addition: Royal Pavilion Villas, a collection of 10 one-bedroom villas in a secluded setting. He highlighted how guests coming from both within and outside the UAE are looking for a variety of daily activities that not only allow them to experience bespoke luxury, but are also unique to the desert. Hence the demand for activities such as falconry, dune bashing, fat biking and land sailing.

“Guests want a true Arabian experience combining bespoke luxury activities typical of the region,” Mr Both adds.

The younger and more adventurous generation now staying at luxury hotels is also very tech-savvy and places great importance on a hotel’s technology when deciding where to stay.

“Ten years ago,” Ms Radic says, “a hard-wired internet connection in all guest rooms was seen as necessary if a hotel were to remain competitive. Today, hotels are expected to provide Wi-Fi throughout the entire property. Providing it free of charge gives the hotel a competitive edge.”

Yet a hotel’s technology goes beyond providing its guests with a reliable internet connection. Remember those old hotel room keys? These have now been replaced by electronic key cards in virtually all upscale hotels. Ms Radic predicts that even those cards will soon be replaced by smartphone biometric locks. Starwood’s app-based keyless check-in experiment at two of its Aloft properties is a recent step in that direction.

Ms Radic adds: “To enter the guest room, traditional keys were replaced by plastic key cards, which were then replaced by electronic key cards, which will in turn soon be replaced by smartphone biometric locks.”

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