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“Our limitation is not always the city but to find the right owner to work with”

Shaf Butt, regional director of marketing for Dubai and MEASA for Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts, speaks to Reema Lokesh, on the brand and its connect with the India market

How do you visualise India’s luxury scene in the hospitality sector?

We are trying to target high end luxury and India is definitely one of the top key markets for that. During our stay we have come across so many successful homegrown luxury brands. The market is very important for us and is a part of our outbound business. The properties based in UAE, London, Maldives and even the one in Frankfurt and China are kind of large travel destinations for Indians, particularly for business. Apart from leisure, weddings are another segment we are keen to explore.

How would you define your roadmap in India in terms of growth and expansion strategy?

You know there is a current scope of Jumeirah coming into Indian market and also have their landmark hotel here. The discussions have started many years ago and are going further and we have got a really aggressive and extensive programme, besides which we we have got new leadership teams, and also a new development team who are already looking into tier I cities. I think our limitation is not always the city but to find the right brand to partner with and also the right owner to work with as well. So, at the moment, there’s nothing concrete in India. However, it is an opportunity that is under consideration. I will definitely have a tour around in this city of Mumbai and go back to my manager saying that we should have a hotel here. It is not just Mumbai, there are other cities such as the capital, Goa, Kerala and there are other key cities that we are looking at for city based hotels and I am hoping that something would come up really soon.

How do you visualise India with regards the Asia specific market?

I have been talking to some people and discovered that historically; India has been one of the top 10 focus markets. And recently if I take UAE and Dubai for example, the numbers are going high and according to the tourism board, there was close to 15 per cent increase in number from the year 2017 to the year 2018. So, we can say that the market is growing stronger and we are surprised to see the popularity of our hotels amongst Indians. They love our beach hotels, and talking about our weddings earlier, we have got some amazing locations wherein we also offer interesting and flexible packages for weddings and that is really appealing to the Indian market. I think Indians prefer our beach hotels in Dubai and UAE a lot and they keep coming again and again and we are expecting the number to rise up higher and India to become one of our key markets.

Jumeirah’s brand identity is strongly linked to the Middle East. Is there a conscious decision to promote it as a global brand?

I guess Jumeirah as a brand is very young and we have got only 24 hotels in our global portfolio. But we did a very good job in a very short period of time, in terms of some iconic hotels such as Burj Al Arab which happens to be in Dubai, however, we have got some very interesting openings in Asia, two hotels in China, we are also opening up in Bahrain and also got Jumeirah Bali opening very shortly. Further, we are going to be announcing our first hotel in Saudi Arabia, and have our flagship hotel in Oman in the pipeline. So, that way we will be expanding our global footprint and also look for opportunities to establish hotels in America and other parts of Asia.

Any considerations to grow via the third party agreement and franchising route?

It is definitely something we are going to look at but at the moment we are only focusing to own and manage hotels. I am not sure if we are in the position to start franchising at this point in time as other hotels but it will be something we can consider later on.

I remember seeing something around turtle conservation, which was very interesting. Sustainable tourism is non-negotiable. Comment.

Yes, most recently, we opened up a hotel in Abu Dhabi, which is an island resort which happens to be a big turtle rehabilitation hub. We also exercise recycling and there’s no plastic allowed in the properties. Additionally, we also collaborate with local companies to ensure sustainability and we are hoping to expand it even more to strengthen it in the long run.

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