Of all the remarkable buildings to grace the Dubai skyline, perhaps the Bur Al Arab is the most astonishing.
Burj Al Arab (which in English translates as Tower of the Arabs), is a luxury hotel standing at 321 metres high, making it the fourth tallest hotel in the world.
However, it is the visual impression of the building – one that strikingly resembles the sail of a ship that gives the Burj Al Arab its distinctive place in Dubai’s ever-growing landscape.
The hotel sits on a man-made island and contains 202 bedroom suites which occupy 28 double-story floors and forms part of the Dubai-based Jumeirah Group, part of Dubai Holdings.
The building was designed by architect Tom Wright of WS Atkins, with the same company managing the design and construction, which began in earnest in 1994. From the very beginning Burj Al Arab was planned and designed to become the icon of Dubai, resembling the sail of a dhow, a type of Arabian vessel.
Along with WS Atkins, Fletcher Construction from New Zealand was the lead joint venture partner in the initial stages of pre-construction and construction, while the hotel was built by South African construction contractor Murray & Roberts and Al Habtoor Engineering.
In total, the project to build the Burj Al Arab involved 3,000 companies and contractors, 250 designers and 3,500 workmen on site at any given time. It took 2 years to reclaim the island in the shore waters of the Arabian Gulf and another 3 to build the hotel.
The building officially opened in December 1999, with current General Manager Heinrich Morio taking the leadership role in 2008, as he recalls:
“I have been with Burj Al Arab since 2008 having joined Jumeirah Group in 2004 as the General Manager of Operations, and in 2006 I was appointed as the General Manager of Jumeirah Beach Hotel, where I stayed for 2 years.
“Burj Al Arab truly is a one-of-a-kind place, with unique architecture, location, interior design and people – and a name synonymous with opulence and unparalleled service. It personifies the very essence of the word “luxury”.
“It rises out of its own man-made island, 280 metres away from the coastline, linked to the mainland only by a gently curved causeway.
“For the comfort and convenience of guests, each floor has a dedicated reception area, with check-in conducted in the privacy of the individual suite. The hotel also boasts one of the highest staff-to-suite ratios (8:1). This is where the concept of an extremely personal service stems from. It is the dedication and excellent performance of our 1,600 colleagues that make this place so special. We have over 200 butlers available to cater for every guest’s needs 24/7.”
The feeling of exclusive luxury is borne out of course by the suites themselves; Burj Al Arab boasts 142 One Bedroom Deluxe Suites; 28 Two Bedroom Deluxe Suites; 18 Panoramic Suites; 4 Club Suites; 6 Diplomatic Suites; 2 Presidential Suites and 2 Royal Suites.
“The Royal Suites offer the ultimate luxury. They are located on each side of the 25th floor and are the epitome of sheer opulence. The palatial interiors with rich colour schemes and exclusive amenities, such as a four-poster rotating canopy bed, a private cinema and a Majlis area for entertaining guests, offer a truly Arabic experience,” states Morio.
Whilst Morio and his team are very proud of the service standards at the hotel, the Jumeirah Burj Al Arab has frequently – and inaccurately been described as the only 7 star hotel in the world:
“There is no such rating as 7 stars – the worldwide classification for hotel ratings does not go beyond 5 stars. Burj Al Arab is a 5 star deluxe hotel, which is the highest rating available,” Morio asserts.
“Saying that, we feel honoured to be unofficially referred to as a 7 star hotel, as this means that we are constantly delivering on our promise of luxurious and personalised service based on our hallmark and guiding principles,” he continues.
The hotel plays host to business and leisure customers and Morio says that each guest is provided with specific offerings to suit their needs:
“We ensure that we tailor our offerings and launch variety of campaigns that are suitable for business travellers, couples and families alike. We are fortunate enough to have great facilities for business travellers, i.e. our boardrooms and meeting rooms on the 27th floor and the Al Falak ballroom for bigger gala events; we have outdoor pools, a private beach and the Wild Wadi Waterpark in close proximity to us and Sindbad Kids’ club that are ideal for families.
“We also capitalize on the introduction of the new Emirates Airlines routes and notice an increase in visitors coming from the countries where the route has been launched, such as Russia or Brazil. We also have many visitors from the GCC region, Japan, China, Nigeria (an emerging market) and the UK and the US.
“Burj Al Arab offers some of the most technologically advanced meeting and conference facilities in the region. High profile corporate clients will find any of the five purpose-built boardrooms equipped with the latest communication and presentation facilities, ideal for meetings and corporate events.
“For larger conferences, the superior and uniquely designed circular ballroom creates a stunning stage thanks to the abundance of natural day light and dazzling crystal chandelier that illuminates the venue for evening events.
“State-of-the-art technology, including a built-in PA system, audio-visual equipment, translation booths and wireless connection are available to ensure world-class settings to host high profile meetings and corporate or private functions. In addition, every suite has a business desk with iMacs, scanner, complimentary broadband wireless internet connection and private facsimile.”
At the very heart of meeting customer expectations is a drive to provide a highly personalised service and a unique experience for each guest. Attention to detail includes around the clock service, unusual interior and exterior design, the location itself and remarkable architecture – all of which makes for a very different level of hospitality.
“We make our guests feel at home and the number of the repeat guests proves that we are doing things right. Our valued guests have trust in us that we will deliver an excellent service each and every time,” Morio summarises.
Of course delivering those expectations is the task of Burj Al Arab’s almost 2,000-strong workforce, assembled from all corners of the globe. Morio indicates that Jumeirah provides extensive staff training:
“Providing our colleagues with a high quality, extensive training is of utmost importance to us. We have a dedicated Learning and Development Department responsible for our colleagues’ training.
“Every new joiner participates in our Welcome Programme encompassing an overview of the individual departments in the hotel. The colleagues learn about Jumeirah Group’s Hallmarks and Guiding Principles, they have a chance to meet the Heads of Departments, interact and get to know their place of work really well.
“In addition, we offer a number of trainings for higher management staff in their respective areas. As we have a lot of colleagues for whom English is not the first language, we also offer English language classes at all levels. We also make the most of the training provided in the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management, which is part of the Jumeirah Group. The Academy offers a range of courses that help our colleagues to grow further in their careers.”
Innovation has become de rigeur, with guests expecting the hotel to adopt the latest technology, as Morio outlines:
“They expect high-end and enhanced technology in the hotels, round-the-clock service and internet access. We always look at enhancing our guests’ experience and we believe that these days everyone likes to be connected to their friends, family or business partners at all times. This is why we offer free wi-fi throughout our hotel. We have also recently introduced iMacs in all our suites to keep up with the latest technology.
“We will shortly be launching bespoke 24-carat gold iPads at Burj Al Arab that will be offered to our guest upon check-in.
“Jumeirah Group’s core essence is “stay different” which means offering each and every guest imaginative and exhilarating experiences in a culturally connected environment offering thoughtful and generous service. By following these hallmarks, we are capable of differentiating ourselves from our competition and maintain a high level of business,” he continues.
For such an iconic site, one would imagine that public awareness makes marketing a simple task. However it should be remembered that Dubai’s growth has raised the stakes considerably, with new hotels appearing regularly.
One significant step that Jumeirah Group has taken is the partnership route. In April the Group announced its sponsorship of the celebrated luxury sports car manufacturer, Aston Martin, at the 41st Nürburgring 24-hour race.
This year marks the centenary of Aston Martin and the sponsorship coincided with the opening of Jumeirah’s 21st hotel.
Later in the year, throughout Aston Martin’s Centenary Week, Jumeirah will again partner with the coveted sports car manufacturer as a celebratory convoy of vehicles drives through Europe in July, concluding its journey in London, where drivers and passengers will enjoy hospitality from Jumeirah’s quintessentially British hotels; the Jumeirah Carlton Tower, Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel and Grosvenor House Apartments by Jumeirah Living.
Meanwhile, at the Jumeirah Burj Al Arab, Morio remains optimistic and focussed on an exciting future:
“We will continue our efforts to develop and grow our business in the key markets: China, Russia, GCC, the UK and the US. We enjoy running a healthy business and are pleased with the increase (with respect to revenue) from the source markets, such as Saudi Arabia, Japan, Nigeria, Brazil and China. Looking at last year, the wedding business doubled when compared with 2011 and there has been a major increase in revenue from MICE groups. We have also achieved the highest room profitability in 2012 and we achieved the highest JD Power CSI score in 2012.
“Our main goal in the future is to maintain our current business, increase our FIT (Frequent Individual Traveller) through dedicated direct communication, as well as build some joint partnerships with luxury brands and selected publications to attract High Net Worth Individuals and increase our retail segment performance.
“BAA wants to also play an important role to show how the hotel could make a huge difference in catering services for the MICE clients.
“For many travellers, Burj Al Arab is still a must-visit destination and we are hoping that this trend is here to stay. We are planning to capitalize on the introduction of the new Emirates Airlines routes; further strengthen our partnership with contracted partners and look into creating new business opportunities through dedicated Burj Al Arab sales and press trips.”