An inside look at what goes into rebranding a hotel

As three UAE hotels undergo rebranding, we find out what goes on behind the scenes

Melia Desert Palm's Spa Couples Treatment Room. Courtesy Melia Hotels & Resorts
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It is hard to define exactly why certain hotels are so special. Our favourite places tend to have some intangible quality that makes us feel particularly well looked after. It is all those small things – an efficient checking-in system; extra soft towels; enough blueberries for the last guests at breakfast – that add up to a satisfying whole and have us rushing to book in again.

It is always fascinating, then, to see what happens when a hotel undergoes a rebrand. Can it retain the qualities that made it so successful in the first place? Or for that matter, banish the problems that were keeping potential guests away?

The UAE hotels being rebranded

Hyatt Abu Dhabi Capital Gate. Courtesy Hyatt Corporation
The 'leaning tower' Capital Gate building. Courtesy Hyatt Corporation

Three prominent hotels in the UAE are facing this test. The Hyatt Capital Gate, part of the building known as the “Leaning Tower of Abu Dhabi”, will reopen as the Andaz Capital Gate; the Yas Viceroy, which straddles the Formula One track in Abu Dhabi, will start operating as a W Hotel (part of Marriott International); while in Dubai, the Desert Palm, which is located on a 160-acre polo estate, became the Melia Desert Palm on July 1, following the first phase of a transition that was announced in April.

A handout photo of Yas Viceroy hotel in Abu Dhabi (Courtesy: Yas Viceroy)
Yas Viceroy hotel in Abu Dhabi Courtesy Yas Viceroy

In addition to this, the Marriott International has ceased all involvement with three hotels owned by the Al Habtoor Group in Dubai: The St Regis; W Dubai, Al Habtoor City; and The Westin Dubai, Al Habtoor City. All three are set to undergo extensive rebrands later in the year.

What is involved

But before any of us have the chance to check in – and check out the refurbishments – there is an awful lot of work to be done. A hotel rebrand goes way beyond a few new dressing gowns and a fresh box of pens.

“Instead of just making a cosmetic change such as a logo and new livery, which is really only seen on the surface, the key point is to identify what part of your business strategy will truly change, and build a new hotel identity around that target or belief system,” says Erik Stuebe, general manager of InterContinental Hotels Group.

Having spoken to those involved in all three of the hotel rebranding projects taking place in the UAE this summer, each of them confirmed that the chief ambition – and the real challenge – was to translate a series of entirely new ideas to guests, usually without making structural changes to the buildings themselves. “Every time we take on a hotel, we change the design but also the experience that comes with that design,” says Candice D’Cruz, vice president of luxury brand marketing and management at Marriott International, who is working on the new W Hotel and promises “bold statements”. A good example of this, she says, is the transformation of the pool area into a “wet deck”.

Candice D’Cruz. 
Candice D’Cruz. 

At the Andaz Capital Gate, meanwhile, the design of the hotel will, according to general manager Stuart Deeson, be "more artistic, vibrant and colourful, reflecting the personal style of Abu Dhabi". A permanent art ­collection will be introduced, displaying traditional Emirati crafts, such as sadu weaving.

For Camelia Binbrek, director of sales and marketing at Melia Desert Palm, it has been about switching from the luxury, boutique getaway style favoured by Per Aquum, the company that used to operate the Desert Palm, to "something up to date, edgy, and in tune with the guests we are targeting".

Camelia Binbrek
Camelia Binbrek

Melia Desert Palm, she says, "is about bringing a Spanish passion for hospitality". With that in mind, a new colour scheme has been introduced at the Desert Palm – teal and silver is out, making way for a palette of softer watercolours – while the meeting rooms will be replaced by shared workspaces.

Melia Desert Palm's Spa Couples Treatment Room. Courtesy Melia Hotels & Resorts
Melia Desert Palm's Spa Couples Treatment Room. Courtesy Melia Hotels & Resorts

“We would like to embody a cultural shift in how we define luxury and our approach to refining service to become more personable,” Binbrek adds. “We aim to provide a space where meetings are conducive and productive to a company’s time, hence should reflect a space which allows for thoughtful creativity and physical wellbeing.”

A massive job

The spa, rooms and suites have already been updated, while further changes are planned to the dining offerings later in the year. “It is a massive job,” says Binbrek. “Rebrands usually take a period of about six months to complete, but this particular one was announced only two months before the official launch date, which is a very, very short period of time.” As a result, this rebrand is being undertaken in two phases. Phase one was the switching of guest-facing collateral, such as key cards, as well as the improvement to the spa, suites and rooms. Phase two will tackle some of the bigger guest-­facing items, including umbrellas and bathrobes. Fortunately, the towels at the Desert Palm were never branded. “We were very lucky in that regard,” notes Binbrek.

The pace of change is more leisurely at Andaz Capital Gate. This particular rebrand was announced at the end of last year and is due to be completed by October. "Summer is typically a low season for demand, so we are able to complete most of the changes with minimal operational impact," Deeson says. This explains why the rebranding of the Yas Viceroy to a W Hotel began on July 1 and is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

The extraordinary numbers

But what happens to the myriad items, from the bars of soap to the key cards, that are marked with the previous brand? Do they all have to be replaced? D'Cruz says it is these items that allow guests to "'truly experience a brand'. All your senses need to be aligned to that brand. Touch and smell are key elements of that."

The numbers, it turns out, are quite extraordinary. Even at the Melia Desert Palm, which only has 39 rooms, management has had to order 2,000 key cards, 2,000 luggage tags and 1,000 pens. "We can't have pens lying around with the old logo on them," notes ­Binbrek. "The old key cards were produced by a different company as well, so those have had to be re-printed, which is quite a costly task."

Binbrek estimates that replacing these amenities will cost about US $100,000 (Dh367,000). But internal documents used by staff will continue to be used. "They are not seen by the guest, so we will use those until they run out."

Deeson, meanwhile, assures us that, although many items across the hotel’s 189 rooms will need to be replaced to represent the Andaz brand, there will be very little waste. “As we have been planning these changes for a while, we are able to order stocks of existing items to match the timing of the change,” he says.

The staff, too, will have to be retrained. "The hotel team is a key component of the Andaz brand experience," Deeson explains. "Extensive team training with a special focus on service delivery is ongoing, with a significant focus on guest interactions. Andaz hosts are encouraged to be sincere, natural and knowledgeable."  

Put like this, it all sounds so easy – but we'll only really find out how smoothly these rebrands have gone when guests start checking in again. The stakes are high. Get it wrong and you can be sure that it won't be long before yet another batch of towels – this time with a different logo altogether – is being rushed off the production line.


Read more:

Dubai's St Regis is now called Habtoor Palace

Al Habtoor relieves Marriott International of three Dubai hotel operations

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