Iconic Emirates Palace faces stiff competition


The Rocco Forte, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Westin, Park Hyatt and St Regis resorts have joined the Abu Dhabi hotel market, adding more than 1,700 rooms and more than 30 restaurants. Hotel occupancy this year is still down from its peak in the boom years, and room rates have also fallen further in Abu Dhabi.

Bugra Berberoglu, who took over in July as general manager of Emirates Palace, which is run by the Kempinski hotel company, knows all too well that the new properties are after his business, as growth in room supply outpaces growth in the demand for rooms, at least in the short term.

“I have opened hotels, and the first thing you do is to go out there [for business from competitors],” says Mr Berberoglu.

In order to put up a fight for customers, Mr Berberoglu wants to introduce more elements to the hotel, which has 302 rooms and 92 suites.

“We’re looking into revamping our food and beverage, considering that there are about 30 outlets open in Abu Dhabi. We are also working on two to three more outlets,” he says. “We’re rejuvenating ourselves in terms of service, in terms of the offerings, entertainment.

“What we’re working on for next year is to have a monthly event calendar. We want to have something going on in [Emirates Palace] every month, be it a ballet or a magician performance.”

Plans have just been finalised for the development of the hotel’s marina area, which will include a yacht club, ballroom, fitness centre and dining outlets. The marina development is to start in February, and the entire project should be completed in about two years, says Mr Berberoglu.

He says that in addition to increasing the competition Emirates Palace faces, the new crop of hotels will help to attract more tourists to Abu Dhabi.

“They’re all great names. It’s unbelievable. I’m very pleased that this competition is coming out,” he says. “It’s good for Abu Dhabi becoming a tourism destination. We can argue [whether] it’s OK to open all of these hotels at the same time, but it’s the right thing to do.”

The hotelier has joined Emirates Palace at what is arguably the most difficult time for five-star hotels in Abu Dhabi. But Mr Berberoglu seems fiercely ambitious, and the hospitality industry is in his blood. He grew up in his family’s hotel on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast and has worked in even more challenging environments.

“I worked hard,” says Mr Berberoglu, who got his latest job after working in various roles over the past seven years at the European luxury hotel group Kempinski. “I opened two properties with Kempinski, in Chad and Djibouti, and they were in very challenging and great locations. Then I took the helm of Levant region. I guess from there on I was earmarked to run this property.”

Despite the challenges he faces, Mr Berberoglu is aware that he is the envy of many hoteliers around the world.

“This is a dream property to run,” he says. “This hotel cost $3.2 billion [Dh11.75bn]. This is the most expensive hotel per room ever built. There’s nothing quite like the Emirates Palace.”