As new hotels have been built in the capital, international operators have poured into the market. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National
As new hotels have been built in the capital, international operators have poured into the market. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National

Warmer welcome from hotels in the capital

Guests checking into inferior hotels in Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago would have had few affordable alternatives if they suddenly discovered they were sharing their accommodation with bed bugs, or if noise from a nearby construction site gave them sleepless nights. Rooms were hard to come by and operators could charge top dollar, even for a room of poor quality.

That has all changed. As new hotels have been built in the capital, international operators have poured into the market, and with more hotels to come, many older properties will have to raise their game to survive, industry insiders say.

Within the next year, an array of luxury properties including the Jumeirah Etihad Towers, Park Hyatt and the Rocco Forte hotels, and budget chains including Ibis, Centro by Rotana, and Premier Inn will open hotels in the capital. These modern, low-cost branded properties - hotels managed by a major operator under a well-known brand - are likely to present stiff competition for ageing, unbranded lodgings.

"They have to make a decision," says Christophe Landais, the managing director of Accor Middle East, which has brands including Ibis and Novotel.

"Either they refurbish and they upgrade, if they can, or they just go. What we see in some countries sometimes when the hotels really have no standards is they just disappear."

Analysts say the cost of refurbishment varies widely depending on the scope of the work, but could typically be about US$50,000 (Dh183,650) per room.

The growth in the number of hotel rooms is outpacing the increase in the number of tourists coming into the emirate, putting pressure on lower-quality properties in the market.

"At the moment the inventory is a bit unbalanced, especially for Abu Dhabi," Mr Landais says. "It seems that we have much more supply and there is more to come as well, compared to the demand. I think that will take some years before it stabilises and we find the equilibrium between demand and supply."

He says older five-star properties will also have to make changes to keep up with the new players.

"They will have to invest to bring their standards to the same levels, or at least to get closer."

Abu Dhabi is keen to raise the standards of the accommodation as it aims to attract 2.3 million hotel guests next year, up from 1.81 million last year. Its strategy is to target the business traveller and high-spending tourist with attractions such as golf, sailing and museums.

In 2009, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) launched a strict new classification system to force hotels to raise their standards if they wanted to achieve a high star rating. That forced a couple of small properties out of the market.

"Changes in Abu Dhabi's accommodation portfolio will be ongoing, and it is common in most mature and maturing destinations that new properties increase competition for existing stock," says Lawrence Franklin, the director of strategy and policy at ADTA.

"This is especially the case if the new stock is seen by the consumer to be more glamorous, has brand cachet, is better equipped, better located or delivers better value. Not everyone is impacted in the same way, however, as many existing properties will maintain their distinctive competitive advantages. These can include an established reputation in the market, historically preferential locations, a loyal customer base, marketing expertise, knowledge of local networks and so on."

The City Seasons Al HamraHotel in Abu Dhabi is being refurbished because it would have been only a two-star hotel under the ADTA's classification system. It closed last month so restaurants and extensions could be added as part of a Dh90 million programme that will make it a four-star hotel.

But not all owners can afford to upgrade their properties.

"What to do with an ageing hotel is always a dilemma for an investor," says Chiheb ben Mahmoud, the senior vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels Middle East and Africa.

"In general rule, hotels have to undergo significant refurbishment after about 10 years of operations," Mr ben Mahmoud says. "This figure is highly variable, depending on the competitive environment, the design and initial equipment of the hotel, the overall prevailing trends in terms of design and technology.

"For hotels under management of international operators, property improvement plans are the subject of important assessment, negotiation and discussion. They are sometimes an opportunity of repositioning or rebranding."


Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed

Rating: 1.5/5

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

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Started: 2018
Based: Dubai
Founders: Omar Almheiri, Hamza Khan
Sector: co-working spaces
Investment stage: $2.1 million in a seed round with investors including 500 Global, The Space, DTEC Ventures and other angel investors
Number of employees: about 20


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Processor: 4nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, 64-bit octa-core

Memory: 12GB RAM

Storage: 256/512GB / 1TB

Platform: Android 14, One UI 6.1

Main camera: quad 200MP wide f/1.7 + 50MP periscope telephoto f/3.4 with 5x optical/10x optical quality zoom + 10MP telephoto 2.4 with 3x optical zoom + 12MP ultra-wide f/2.2; 100x Space Zoom; auto HDR, expert RAW

Video: 8K@24/30fps, 4K@30/60/120fps, full-HD@30/60/240fps, full-HD super slo-mo@960fps

Front camera: 12MP f/2.2

Battery: 5000mAh, fast wireless charging 2.0, Wireless PowerShare

Connectivity: 5G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC

I/O: USB-C; built-in Galaxy S Pen

Durability: IP68, up to 1.5m of freshwater up to 30 minutes; dust-resistant

SIM: Nano + nano / nano + eSIM / dual eSIM (varies in different markets)

Colours: Titanium black, titanium grey, titanium violet, titanium yellow

In the box: Galaxy S24 Ultra, USB-C-to-C cable

Price: Dh5,099 for 256GB, Dh5,599 for 512GB, Dh6,599 for 1TB


Jaguar F-Pace SVR

Engine: 5-litre supercharged V8​​​​​​​

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Power: 542bhp​​​​​​​

Torque: 680Nm​​​​​​​

Price: Dh465,071

The biog

Favourite food: Tabbouleh, greek salad and sushi

Favourite TV show: That 70s Show

Favourite animal: Ferrets, they are smart, sensitive, playful and loving

Favourite holiday destination: Seychelles, my resolution for 2020 is to visit as many spiritual retreats and animal shelters across the world as I can

Name of first pet: Eddy, a Persian cat that showed up at our home

Favourite dog breed: I love them all - if I had to pick Yorkshire terrier for small dogs and St Bernard's for big



Company name: Spare

Started: March 2018

Co-founders: Dalal Alrayes and Saurabh Shah

Based: UAE

Sector: FinTech

Investment: Own savings. Going for first round of fund-raising in March 2019

The Specs

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol
Power: 118hp
Torque: 149Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
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Started: 2018

Founders: Roman Axelrod, Valentyn Volkov

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Smart contact lenses, augmented/virtual reality

Funding: $40 million

Investor: Opportunity Venture (Asia)

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Retail gloom

Online grocer Ocado revealed retail sales fell 5.7 per cen in its first quarter as customers switched back to pre-pandemic shopping patterns.

It was a tough comparison from a year earlier, when the UK was in lockdown, but on a two-year basis its retail division, a joint venture with Marks&Spencer, rose 31.7 per cent over the quarter.

The group added that a 15 per cent drop in customer basket size offset an 11.6. per cent rise in the number of customer transactions.

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