Dubai's hospitality boom: Sofitel The Palm's Christophe Schnyder discusses surging tourism and future challenges
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Dubai’s hospitality boom: Sofitel The Palm’s Christophe Schnyder discusses surging tourism and future challenges

Dubai’s hospitality boom: Sofitel The Palm’s Christophe Schnyder discusses surging tourism and future challenges

The industry veteran discusses Dubai’s hospitality sector growth, competition, and sustainability efforts in a dynamic tourism market

Marisha Singh
Sofitel The Palm

Christophe Schnyder, MD, Sofitel The Palm, a 546-key Accor Group property, speaks to Gulf Business about Dubai’s maturing hospitality landscape.

An industry veteran, who has spent over two decades in the region, Schnyder shares insights about the emirate’s thriving hospitality sector, its resilience, and ongoing transition to sustainable practices.

Image credit: Supplied

Q. The hospitality industry is a key pillar of Dubai’s economy. How do you look at the growth post the pandemic years? 

Christophe Snyder: The growth is undeniable. We’ve had an incredibly strong first quarter in 2024, even surpassing what we thought was the peak in 2023. This growth is not just from established markets but also new ones like Scandinavia, where we’ve seen significant interest after targeted sales efforts.

Direct engagement with travel agents in these markets has been crucial, and we continue to expand our presence globally.

Furthermore, Dubai never ceases to amaze me. Even during challenging times like the 2008-09 financial crisis or the Covid-19 pandemic, the growth and resilience of Dubai are astonishing. 

The city’s continuous innovation and development keep it in the global spotlight, making it an exciting time to be in the hospitality profession here.

Q: Dubai now has more hotel rooms than Las Vegas. How does this impact your strategy with so many new competitors in the market?

Christophe Snyder: The rapid expansion of Dubai’s hospitality sector has indeed brought about a competitive landscape, reminiscent of global tourism hubs like Las Vegas.

With the city surpassing Las Vegas in the number of hotel rooms, it’s clear that Dubai is setting new benchmarks in the hospitality industry. This surge in hotel capacity reflects the city’s ambition to cater to a diverse and growing influx of tourists and business travellers.

At Sofitel The Palm, we view this increased competition as an opportunity rather than a challenge. The influx of new hotels like the Marriott, Hilton, Atlantis The Royal, and Taj, each bringing thousands of new rooms to the market, means that guests have more choices than ever before. These new properties often come with the latest amenities and aggressive marketing strategies, naturally attracting attention and drawing in guests eager to experience the novelty.

However, our strategy focuses on leveraging the strengths of being a well-established property. Opened in 2013, Sofitel The Palm has built a loyal customer base who appreciate the unique atmosphere and personalised service we offer. While new hotels may attract guests with their fresh appeal, many of these guests eventually return to us, valuing the familiarity and the high standards they have come to expect from Sofitel The Palm.

Q: Speaking of loyalty, how is Sofitel The Palm integrating technology to enhance customer retention?

Christophe Snyder: Accor’s loyalty programme, ALL, introduced two years ago, has made earning and redeeming points much simpler and more rewarding. 

This programme supports our efforts to maintain guest loyalty. 

Additionally, we rely on Accor’s global presence to attract new and returning guests, providing benefits that encourage booking through their app and fostering brand loyalty.

Q: With Dubai planning to make Al Maktoum Airport a major hub, how do you anticipate this will impact footfall at Sofitel The Palm?

Christophe Snyder: The development of Al Maktoum International Airport into a major global aviation hub is set to have a significant impact on the hospitality sector in Dubai, including Sofitel The Palm. The airport, with its ambitious goal to accommodate up to 250 million travelers annually, is poised to transform the dynamics of travel and tourism in the region.

For Sofitel The Palm, the increased connectivity and accessibility that Al Maktoum Airport will provide, are incredibly exciting. Here’s how we anticipate it will influence our business:

Increased influx of tourists: The expansion of Al Maktoum Airport will undoubtedly lead to a surge in tourist arrivals. As one of the largest and most modern airports in the world, it will attract more flights from various parts of the globe. This influx will bring a diverse range of travellers, from leisure tourists to business delegates, all seeking accommodation in Dubai. Given our location and reputation, we expect to capture a significant portion of this increased tourist traffic.

Enhanced accessibility: With Al Maktoum Airport serving as a major entry point, reaching Sofitel The Palm will become even more convenient for international travellers. The airport’s strategic location and efficient transport links will make it easier for guests to travel to our resort, whether they are here for a short stay or an extended holiday.

Opportunities for growth: The growth in passenger numbers presents opportunities to expand our offerings and attract new market segments. We anticipate an increase in transit passengers looking for luxurious and comfortable stays during their layovers, as well as travellers who might extend their stopovers to explore Dubai. Sofitel The Palm can cater to these needs with our range of facilities and services.

Q: You’ve witnessed Dubai’s peaks and troughs. How has the human resource landscape evolved?

Christophe Snyder: The 2020 pandemic led to significant downsizing, and rebuilding our team post-pandemic was challenging, especially with events like Expo 2020 attracting staff away.

Additionally, the influx of new hotels, in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, has created a dynamic job market, making it common for staff to move between properties frequently. Retaining talent is an ongoing challenge, and we focus on engagement and career development to keep our team committed.

Q: The UAE aims to achieve Net Zero by 2050. How is Sofitel adapting its operations to meet this goal?

Christophe Snyder: At Sofitel The Palm, we’ve implemented a comprehensive recycling programme. This foundational step was crucial, but we have expanded our efforts significantly over the years.

As part of Accor, one of the world’s leading hospitality groups, we align with the Planet 21 programme, which focuses on sustainable development and environmental stewardship. This initiative has guided us in eliminating single-use plastics from our property. For instance, we’ve replaced plastic water bottles with a water bottling station on-site, allowing us to provide guests with filtered, bottled water in reusable glass containers. This investment was substantial, but it’s been instrumental in reducing our environmental footprint.

Our property was designed with sustainability in mind. We have over 530 square metres of solar panels that provide up to 50 per cent of our hot water, particularly in sunnier seasons. This system, installed during the initial construction, now offers significant energy savings and reduces our reliance on non-renewable energy sources.

We’ve also upgraded to LED lighting throughout the property and optimised our HVAC systems to be more energy-efficient. By utilising grey water for our extensive landscaping needs, we’ve significantly cut down on fresh water usage. These measures not only lower our operational costs but also contribute to our overall sustainability goals.

Our commitment to sustainability has been recognised with several accolades, including the Green Globe Gold certification and the Dubai Sustainable Tourism Stamp.

Additionally, we’ve implemented programmes where guests can choose to reuse their linens and towels, reducing water and energy usage. Many travellers today are looking for eco-friendly accommodations, and we’ve noticed that our guests appreciate and support these initiatives.

The positive feedback from our guests and the operational benefits we achieve underscore the importance of these initiatives. As we move forward, we remain dedicated to contributing to the UAE’s Net Zero by 2050 target and setting an example in the industry.

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