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Dubai's new trend: Home is where the hotel is

‘Long-term stays’ in the hospitality sector is currently trending in Dubai



By Lekha Menon

Published: Fri 6 May 2022, 9:28 PM

When the pandemic struck in early 2020, Susan Furness, an alternative strategist and self-confessed digital nomad, was staying at Studio One hotel in Dubai. It was meant to be a short stay, just to get a project over the line. But the arrangement soon turned into a long one as Covid dug in its heels.

Anyone in her place would have perhaps flinched at the thought of staying in a hotel while the world was locked up but for Susan it was a blessing in disguise. Since 2017, she had anyway traded a ‘traditional’ or ‘classic’ home living to embrace a “vocational commitment to business and life”, by giving up her villa in Al Nakheel. But the long-term reality of Covid further changed her definition of home. “I was fast to embrace the #WFA (work from anywhere) rule and ‘nomad’id’ my way to Ras Al Khaimah where the big ocean, skies, sunset and mountains beckoned,” she laughs.

Anchored in RAK, she then negotiated for an extended stay in Studio One which has been functioning as her home in Dubai for over two years now. Currently, Susan enjoys the best of all words — the natural beauty of the northern emirate and the modern contemporary living of Dubai with all its amenities, great restaurants, hangout joints and the option of using the premises for both a rendezvous with friends or a serious work meeting. “I feel safe, secure and cared for. I am so supported by the high-tech infrastructure that I am able produce some of my best work without ever leaving home,” she says, adding that in her “AC life” (After Corona), she is unlikely to take on home responsibilities ever again.

A hospitable trend that hits home

Frankly, I identify with and envy Susan. Home, for me, means ‘routine’ — a space to be messy, host friends, cook, clean and be yourself. But a hotel, on the other hand, defines a welcome break from that routine. An orderly and disciplined (also expensive) space to be pampered with room service and a spa, and all mundane chores of everyday living, including dreadful laundry, taken care of.

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Now, imagine the break becoming your everyday reality! That’s what the hotel apartment life is all about. A hospitality trend that was always in demand, the long-term stay has become considerably more popular over the last couple of years.

Hotel life has certainly lured me in since moving to Dubai a few months ago. The sheer comfort of having your cleaning, maintenance, bills, furniture and living space managed is preventing me from going house-hunting, negotiating with agents, drawing up budget sheets and shopping for furniture. ‘Should I be a hotel guest forever?’, bypassing the tediousness of chasing water, electricity, chiller and gas connections, is my ‘to shift or not to shift’ Hamletian dilemma these days!

Sure, the joy of giving a personal touch to your space is unmatched but, according to Susan, even a so-called sterile hotel room can be personalised. “I truly am a nomad which essentially means ‘surrender of things’. But I remain individual in my style. So, I always personalise my environment even if I am somewhere for 24 hours, be it by rearranging the angle of the furniture or placing a few of my favourite books around,” she says.

Claudio Cisana, a high-ranking exec with a luxury Italian brand, echoes these thoughts. Cisana, who stayed at the Sofitel Dubai Downtown for a few months, raves about the comfort of having all his needs met and attended to. “I felt at home though I was abroad. With a kitchen, private laundry machine, sofa and other small details, I was made to feel comfortable even though I was far from my family,” he says. I ask Cisana what his definition of home is. “A place that offers privacy, time and space to set life at one’s own pace, where one can chill in luxurious surroundings,” is his reply. Sounds like what a lavish hotel would have on its plate!

Why the industry loves it

According to experts, the pandemic has led to a rise in long-term stays. Initially it was because of enhanced hygiene and sanitation requirements which hotels are trusted for. But the uncertainty in the job market too played its part. With processionals on the edge about their careers, they were not really keen to get into yearly rental contracts which made the hotel apartment more practical. Finally, the overall drop in hospitality rates too motivated guests to choose hotels over villas and apartments.

Ruby Pande, director of rooms at Sofitel Dubai Downtown — that has its fair share of long-stay guests — calls them “true ambassadors of the hotel”. “They promote the business by influencing their friends and family to stay at the same property,” she says.

From a purely business standpoint, Ruby adds that long-term stays have the potential to act as a cushion by providing base occupancy. “The base occupancy of around 10-12 per cent saves the hotel from a sudden downtrend due to a disruption caused by political or economic instability, a pandemic or similar issues. Also, once a certain occupancy is achieved, hotels can increase rates for a better yield,” she explains.

Srbana Gavrilovic, head of Hotel Operations at Studio One, concurs as she lists out the benefits of long stays: it helps avoid gap in reservations, lowers housekeeping costs (since guests do not expect frequent housekeeping), and leads to greater use of hotel facilities such as meeting rooms, transport and meals. “Long-stay business offers much more resilience in uncertain times. Though the average daily rates or ADR is lower than for short stays, this can be compensated by higher long-term occupancy, more efficient operations and new opportunities for upselling and cross-selling guests,” says Srbana.

Luke Tremmel, hotel manager, Media One — that has special arrangements and offers for long-stay guests — terms it a risk-free and viable option. The numbers tell the story. “Long 
stays at our hotel exceeded 30 per cent of the business mix during the pandemic, accounting for nearly 2,000 room nights on a monthly 
basis,” says Luke.

While the primary users, as Ruby observes, are people who are in the process of relocating to a city and would like to stay in a hotel till they choose their own home, a large part of long-term guests are also professionals on short-term contracts who do not want to get into the hassle of signing tenancy agreements and bother about utilities, maintenance or furnishings. Then there were businessmen who wished to stay in a hotel for a congenial ambiance to work.

The pluses: a home away from home

Tehsin Shaikh, director at an import-export firm, who spends at least two months every quarter in a serviced apartment, is a case in point. With the tough job of establishing overseas business and taking care of finances, investments and revenue, for Tehsin it’s all about managing energy rather than managing time or comfort. “I feel we are in perfect rhythm and harmony if we find a routine outside of our homes. When our basic needs are met, we can be more productive. Hence when I travel, I choose the most feasible option — a hotel apartment. It’s so much better than investing in a place of one’s own.” Moreover, the global disruption and resultant unpredictability also makes him think twice about a home. “With all the uncertainty surrounding us, it’s not wise for me as of now to think of having a permanent place in a cosmopolitan city. The ‘floating population’ is the new normal,” he shrugs.

For this ‘floating population’, the emotional connection that one forms with a home, the personal touch given to a space and the comfort of friends and neighbours can be sacrificed at the altar of stress-free, no-strings-attached living. The comfort certainly does not come cheap and, as Tehsin points out, money may buy convenience but guests have to be prepared to shell out a tidy sum for every service which can “blow away your budget”. But for those who can afford it, the investment is worth every dirham.

Mzahem Al-Saloum, a senior analyst and programmes manager working with Sovereignty Contractors, and a veteran of long-stay arrangements, having spent a considerable amount of time in plush properties like Bab Al Qasr, The Address Boulevard and Sofitel Dubai Downtown, has an interesting definition of ‘home’. “As a Syrian who has stayed in seven countries and more than 10 cities around the world, home is where I feel safe, secure and comfortable. A place where I feel I am able to take care of my own situation and business and achieve my dreams. The geographical location does not matter,” he says.

An extremely private person who doesn’t socialise much, he also doesn’t miss noisy, chaotic neighbourhoods. “As long as I feel mentally safe, sleep comfortably, don’t have to think of silly stuff and don’t have the pressure of neighbours, it is home for me,” he says, maintaining that he prefers making his own community than having one foisted on him. “A hotel stay helps me build my own group of people. When I have my own community, I choose who will come into my house or who I hang out with. I don’t want to be forced to have a community or have neighbours behind me.”

Material comforts and the joy of not having unwanted neighbours aside, Mzahem has another reason to opt for long-term hotel stays — a plush hotel as your address gives you a special identity among business peers. “The prestige associated with big brands is definitely a factor,” he 
admits. “But I also had a family vibe with the properties I stayed at, which was great and helped during lockdown.”

The minuses: it can never be a ‘home’

The connection for long-term hotel guests comes in the form of a bond with the hotel staff who become a second family. “I still remember guests who took out time to drop me a condolence message when my father passed away or sent me a farewell message when I was moving on to Dubai,” says Ruby. “However there is a fine line between professional and personal dealings. As hotel professionals, we work for an organisation and we need to have the organisational interest and well-being as our top priority. Any fraternisation is not ethical neither is soliciting any favour from a long-stay guest,” she says.

And that perhaps spotlights the other side of the debate: that, for all the luxury and personalised attention a hotel offers, it cannot substitute the feeling of home.

Personally, I love the idea of coming back from a hard day’s work to a spic and span room with crisp, fresh linen and soft lights as opposed to the glorious mess I would be welcomed by otherwise when the housekeeper failed to turn up (which was often). Yet, the mess, the chaos and the fun of putting up a painting or embellishing your walls is what home is all about.

There is also the eternal question: can a long-term hotel stay ever offer the full freedom to do what you want, play your kind of music, host friends, laugh out loud and develop an emotional bond?

Claudio doesn’t feel it’s a big deal. “During my stay in the hotel, I definitely did prefer to have fun out of the room, also as a matter of respect for neighbours. I did what I would expect other guests would do — not play loud music in the room. And come on, it’s Dubai! You can go clubbing where and when you want!”

Tehsin disagrees. “It is advantageous to stay in hotels but there is the other side too. The loneliness that hits you after hectic schedules, the impossibility of having a work-life balance and the days when you miss your family.”

How to make it work

So, what do you do when you have to make your hotel a home and develop permanent connections in what will remain a temporary space? Can you be ‘hotel proud’ the way you would be ‘house proud’? Susan offers some simple tips: communicate, make eye contact and truly listen to one another. “I mean, if we are the environment, it’s only sterile if we are, right? And tangible functionality used with good energy manifests creativity, right? If it is not used or appreciated then any environment — even a bountiful garden or a jamming nightclub — can be alienating,” she says, offering four simple solutions to make a home out of a hotel room:

1. To bring light and lightness, at least five times a day stop to breathe in good energy and breath out anxiety.

2. Always look up and connect just before you pass someone — from about five steps away, or that moment the elevator doors open.

3. If you see the same person three times without speaking, on the fourth occasion say ‘Hi’.

4. If you see the person(s) hanging around waiting for something and by chance you are too, whip up a conversation.

Simple, easy-to-follow tips indeed. Human connections and room service…what’s not to like?

lekhamenon77@gmail.com

Lekha is a journalist, editor and communications 
professional based 
in Dubai


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