Zognbi said that the sheer number of visitors predicted – up to 15 million annually by 2010 – meant that the trend would be towards dilution of the previous emphasis on high-end travel.
“We might not get the same high rates as we currently enjoy, but the upside is that Dubai will attract a broader range of visitors, a strategy that is ultimately more sustainable in the long term,” he said.
Le Meridien, which currently operates six properties in Dubai, is opening its latest property – Grosvenor House West Marina Beach by Le Meridien – this summer, adding a further dimension to its range of accommodation.
Grosvenor House is the first multi-use lifestyle property of its kind in the burgeoning “new Dubai”, mixing 217 sea-facing rooms, and 205 furnished apartments, both long- and short-stay, looking over the marina.
“Grosvenor House is coming into the market at the right time, when occupancies and rates are peaking. With this name and the property’s lifestyle ethos, we expect to expand this as a niche brand around the Gulf,” revealed Zoghbi.
“Other capital cities might be the right target market for the Grosvenor House name, and we may also look at expanding our apartment inventory in these destinations too.”
With Gulf hotels acknowledged as the most profitable in Le Meridien’s global network, the group is set to expand again after a period of consolidation, in part due to uncertainty surrounding its financial future.
Zoghbi said: “Diversification of economies in the Gulf means that the hotel sector is poised for growth. While tourism is a key driver, corporate travel is also on the rise.
“Governments are investing in infrastructure development and meetings traffic is also mushrooming as Dubai in particular grows as a regional business hub.”
He confirmed that another 600 rooms are to be added to Le Meridien Dubai, and an additional resort hotel is planned next to the Dubai International Marine Club.
“We are also looking at two or three other deals, but have no current plans to establish an offshore presence in Dubai given our strong inventory on the beach, in the city and now on the Dubai Marina too.”
Elsewhere, Zoghbi said Le Meridien was interested in opening hotels in Bahrain, Oman and Qatar, citing official emphasis on the tourism sector in all three destinations, as well as in the UAE outside of Dubai.
“Given the selling point of winter sunshine, any coastal site in the Gulf has potential, but, first of all, governments have to develop infrastructure to ensure easy access as well as an environment conducive to leisure activities. Tourists always have a choice and they are not married to this region or our hotels – we have to woo them,” he emphasised.
One way to ensure loyalty to the Gulf as a destination is the development of vacation homes and long-stay apartments, and Zoghbi predicted these types of residential options would ‘lock’ visitors in to the region, again enhancing its long-term viability as a leisure option and corporate hub.
Meanwhile, strengthening its position in a distinct market, Le Meridien will open a 1,320 room hotel in Makkah next year, the largest all-suite property in the holy city, plus a new 200-room hotel in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh.
Expansion also continues in Kuwait, with a 92-room hotel set to open in 2006 aimed at the corporate market as well as an 80-room boutique style property in Salmiya, next to the emirate’s biggest shopping mall.
Monday, May 2- 2005 @ 13:41 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.