Stock - Simon Leigh, Managing Director at Premier Inn Hotels - MENA
Premier Inn currently has 11 properties in the region, and will be keenly awaiting the start of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar for another round of heavy growth Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/ Gulf News

Dubai: The UK’s Premier Inn hotel chain plans to scale up its presence across more Gulf markets and build on the gains attained in the UAE and Qatar.

“We would like to look at other areas in the GCC as well, which I think will certainly become very interesting over the next few years,” said Simon Leigh, Managing Director at Premier Inn Hotels - MENA. “We’ve grown organically in the Middle East to 11 hotels now. We should be able to do much more within the markets we operate at the moment like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.”

With the Expo drawing to a close, Premier Inn, which focuses on budget-friendly hospitality choices, will be chasing the next big opportunity - the FIFA World Cup that will kick off in Qatar later this year. “It has been said that hotel rooms in Doha will be sold through official FIFA channels - so getting a room will be reasonably challenging,” said Leigh. “There’s no reason why people wouldn’t choose to stay in Dubai and catch flights to go see the games. They will get a mix of both.”

Not too impacted

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict is not a source of concern for Premier Inn. “We are less dependent upon Russia as a source market, but if you go to the 5-star hotels, they would probably be feeling the pinch a bit harder than we are,” said Leigh. “We have a fair amount of travelling from the UK and from within the GCC.”

Russia has grown to become the second-largest source market for Dubai’s travel and tourism sector in 2021, climbing from eighth place in last year’s rankings, according to a recent Colliers report.

Ramadan demand

Many hotels are offering attractive discounts and Iftar deals to cater to the staycation demand ahead of the Eid holidays. “In the UK, there was a massive play on staycation and I know it’s been a similar situation in Dubai,” said Leigh. Going forward “you have got to make your proposition really attractive because people will have the ability to travel elsewhere.”

Tourist destinations are opening up as flight connectivity gets restored amidst mounting evidence that the ‘Omicron’ COVID-19 variant only causes mild symptoms. Most European countries have done away with travel restrictions and India, which had a ‘bubble’ agreement regime in place throughout the last two years, also resumed international flights.

Good timing

Premier Inn - which is owned by the UK’s Whitbread corporation - has timed the opening of its latest hotel in Dubai well enough. The Premier Inn Barsha Heights saw a 100 per cent occupancy on the day of its opening and expects occupancy to maintain in the high 60 per cent range in the initial weeks. “That is good going considering that we haven’t got the marketing engine fired up yet,” said Leigh.

A 10-minute drive from Dubai Marina, the choice of location was a no-brainer. The hotel is also located close to the Mall of the Emirates, a favourite haunt of residents and tourists alike. “It has 219 rooms and from a pricing perspective there’s no reason why occupancy shouldn’t remain high on an ongoing basis,” said Leigh. “There’s a great opportunity to generate revenue not just through rooms, but also F&B.”

Expo brought talent
When Dubai’s hotels were met with a demand surge in late 2021, they faced severe staff shortages. Leigh said the hotel job market is 'competitive' and that the Expo event, which came to a close on March 31, had brought in the best global talent.

“Our strategy is to invest back in our people, retain great talent and make sure that we do not lose them,” said Simon Leigh. “The Expo attracted a lot of really great talent, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens next.”