Getting it spot on with the opening date

Thai chain Centara is set to ride the Expo wave for its first Dubai property

12:35 April 11, 2018

Dubai: As far as getting its timing right, the folks at Centara Hotels and Resorts couldn’t have done any better.

Its first hotel property in Dubai — on a prime beachside stretch in Deira Islands — gets into business mode just ahead of the Expo 2020’s opening date in October of that year.

“We have a specific date in mind and that’s strictly because of the Expo,” said Markland Blaiklock, Deputy CEO of Centara Hotels and Resorts. “It will soft open along with the start of the Expo in October 2020 and be fully operational in December. There are no two ways about that.

“My understanding is that the first launches on Deira Islands will include the next largest mall in Dubai and the biggest night market at two kilometres long. And then there will be two resorts, ours being one of them.

“Since the opening coincides with the Expo, it will create its own demand for the property. If we deem we can fill the initial opening period with Expo-generated demand, we will not need as aggressive a marketing campaign. A campaign highlighting the hotel and location will kick in only towards the end of the Expo.” (The Expo runs for six months.)

A new wave of global hotel chains are set to drop anchor in the next couple of years, in part drawn by the possibilities the six-month Expo will offer and whatever opportunities follow it.

Four-star family resorts

For Centara, it will mean an opportunity to build up a Gulf-wide presence after making its debut with a city hotel up in Oman. In Dubai, it entered into a joint venture with Nakheel for the Deira Islands hotel project, with Centara’s share being 40 per cent. The plan is to cooperate on a further two hotels on the island destination.

“We wanted to come in specifically with a four-star property in Dubai,” said Blaiklock. “The five-star and luxury category is already prolific in Dubai. But in the four-star family resorts, it’s not so crowded.

“That’s where we are coming in and at a brand new destination in Dubai, in the form of the Deira Islands. Being a beach resort, it will be more European in terms of its target audience.

“Based on the JV structure with Nakheel, we will develop two more hotels, both connected to different ends of the mall. One will be residences and suites (totalling 200) and the other a hotel with 250 rooms. Eventually, we plan to have over a 1,000 rooms on Deira Islands.”

Centara is gradually working its way into new geographies and outside of the Far East. It has deemed the need to be in three “centres of activity” — the South Asian territory, the Indian Ocean island destinations and Middle East and North Africa. There are tentative plans to make a move into Europe, but “that ideally needs to be through an acquisition”.

“It would be the same strategy in Japan — it would be quite difficult to enter with purely a managed undertaking.”

Factbox: Even Cuba is not too distant for Centara

Centara could soon be occupying a prime piece of beachfront in Cuba, in line with its plans to expand beyond the Far East.

“We are working on a technical advisory basis on a new project there ... and it could be that closer to completion we will win the management contract as well,” said Markland Blaiklock.

“The joint venture with Nakheel was our first. We are not exactly an asset-lite company — I would say we are asset-right. Today we are in five countries, including the home market of Thailand. And we have a pipeline that will take us into multiple territories.”