Interview: Philip Dickinson, Jumeirah

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Jumeirah group’s leisure sales director Dubai tells Rupert Murray about the hotel company’s plans and the importance of the UK market to Dubai

He built up a strong relationship with the UK trade while working for years at Sandals. Now, as leisure sales director for the Jumeirah Group, Philip Dickinson is keen to ensure the love affair between UK agents and Dubai continues, as high-spending holidaymakers in emerging markets such as China and Brazil start to flex their buying muscles.

The UK has been Dubai’s and Jumeirah’s strongest market. is this likely to continue?
The UK is still very important and a lot of strong repeat business has been built up over the years. There are other markets showing stronger growth, though, and these have the potential to help fill rooms on a more year-round basis rather than the region having to rely so heavily on one or two markets. We are making sure we are in at the right time in these new markets and have done good work in the likes of China, India and Russia to understand their needs. We need an even spread of customers to ensure we don’t have all our eggs in one basket.

So is the UK market less important now?
We will support the UK market in every way we can, and have done with offers such as free half-board. The strength of these other markets means competition for rooms is getting fiercer all the time. Agents should make it clear to their clients that they need to book early so they don’t miss out as more markets start taking the rooms. We have some very loyal customers and if they are not careful we will get to the point where they can’t get the room or villa they want.

Is Jumeirah’s relationship with the trade strong?
I’ve been making sure we work closely with tour operator partners – the likes of Hayes & Jarvis, Thomson Tailormade, Virgin and Kuoni. Agents are very proactive and we encourage them with strong incentives to give them the chance to experience the resort. Our door is always open to host fam trips and we work with key airlines to bring as many people down as possible to the hotels and resorts.

Are fam trips still important?
Fams are still an incredibly strong tool. People need to see the resorts to know what differentiates us from the rest. By visiting they pick up the details you might miss if you didn’t experience them yourself, especially when it comes to things like our Grand Resort in Dubai, which includes a number of properties working together to give guests at any of them the chance to experience the others.

Do you think high-income travellers prefer to use an agent?
From a confidence and recommendation standpoint, the high spenders will book through their favourite agents, without a doubt. There is definitely a return to agents and good agents are confident enough to get around price being the main driver all the time. They are not fearful about recommending a place that isn’t necessarily the cheapest in order to ensure their customers are satisfied. If people are time-poor and cash-rich but want to make sure they have a good experience, they will look for help.

How’s business?
The first three quarters of last year were tough. The business was there but it wasn’t as good as the glory days of 2007-08. It was probably on a par with the previous year, although we were expecting things to be better than 2009. But suddenly there was a surge in the last quarter and that hasn’t abated so far this year, with occupancy and daily rate both excellent. This shows that consumer confidence is growing.

Have bookings been coming in later as widely reported?
One of the things I am intent on changing is shorter lead-in times. We have been guilty of educating the consumer to believe good deals come late, so I am trying to turn the tables on that and do the deeper discounts earlier – these discounts will reduce the nearer we get to departure date.Also, flights get filled up by people who are flying through Dubai and we lose that traffic to other destinations.

Will it take long to shift early-booking habits?
We will stick to it, stay firm and hope the message gets across.Already 70 to 80% of the business is booked at least 90 days out anyway so it is that 20% that we need to re-educate.

How has Dubai changed since the economic crisis struck?
It is going through a period of stability and consolidation now and has the feel of a complete destination, not a work in progress, as some believed in previous years. It is a destination that caters very well for everybody now, and thankfully the Mice market is also beefing up again.

Is the cruise market important to you?
Yes it is. Ships are increasingly coming into Dubai and we want to capitalise on that. We are talking to the cruise lines about putting together packages for their guests pre and post-sail.

What’s new at Jumeirah?
We are opening up quite a few new hotels. In Dubai, the Zabeel Saray has just opened on The Palm, and properties are opening in the near future in Abu Dhabi, the Maldives, Frankfurt and Majorca.

What is different about Zabeel Saray from Jumeirah’s other Dubai properties? It is built in the style of an Ottoman palace and is our first property on The Palm, which means the view is back on to Dubai rather than the other way round. It has very high ceilings with paintings on the roof and there is a massive hammam spa with more than 50 treatment rooms. It also has its own theatre, cinema and 2