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7 May, 2001

Dusit Becomes First Thai Hotel in the Middle East

DUBAI: While Asia-Pacific national tourism organisations are scrambling to set up marketing and promotional offices in the Arabian Gulf to tap the strong potential for outbound business, Thailand last week got its own de facto office: A distinctive ‘wai’-shaped building in arguably the most important commercial city of the entire Gulf.

The rushed opening of the 174-room Dusit Dubai hotel just a few days before the May 1-4 Arabian Travel Mart is set to give a major impetus to travel from Dubai to Thailand and Southeast Asia by providing prospective independent visitors and business travellers with a one-stop source of information and booking for the Dusit properties in Thailand.

Though the hotel, owned by the United Arab Emirates royal family and managed by the Dusit, is primarily designed to bring visitors into Dubai, its landmark structure along Dubai’s most important and fastest-growing commercial thoroughfare provides a powerful name-recall for the thousands of affluent car-owners who may be planning their next holiday trip, business trip or conference in Southeast Asia.

The first such Dusit hotel in the Middle East, it also has 147 fully furnished apartments and 84 unfurnished apartments in the same greenish-blue glass-encased building. Dubai and Muscat are also the only two cities in the Middle East to which THAI International presently flies.

The opening itself was accompanied by a high-powered marketing campaign designed to get the ‘Dusit’ brand before the public eye. It was declared the ‘official’ hotel of the Arabian Travel Mart, hosted the opening Press conference, featured as the front-page lead story in the first issue of the Mart’s daily newspaper, and was the venue for the inauguration of an Amazing Thailand function by Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Pradech Phayakvichien.

It also sponsored the mart’s media centre where the hundreds of journalists were treated to Thai desserts and snacks by Thai staff, and confronted by Dusit Dubai screen-savers on the computer screens each time they sat down to file stories or download email.

Unlike most of the other Dubai hotels which have Indians or Filipinos as front-line staff, nearly all the point-of-contact employees at the Dusit Dubai are Thais, along with a sprinkling of Arabs and other Asians. About 160 Thais are employed in total, by far the largest group in the hotel itself and the largest group employed at any single commercial entity in Dubai.

The only other Thais in the Dubai hospitality sector are working with two other Thai restaurants at the Sheraton and Bostana hotels. These restaurants now have competition from the Dusit Dubai’s Benjarong, which claims to be the first speciality restaurant to bring Royal Thai Cuisine to Dubai, and Siam, the Thai-themed bar.

The performance of the Thai staff is going to be critical to the delivery of the hotel’s marketing promise: Hospitality that is traditionally Thai. While the Indians and Filipinos are generally favoured by Dubai hotels because of their fluent English, they also have image problems. Many of them employed in other industries have faced trouble with the law.

The Thai staff have undergone considerable cultural orientation to acquaint themselves with the nuances of working in an Islamic country, even though Dubai is perhaps the most liberal city of all. One Thai staffer is already reported to have spent a night in jail after being seen walking a street in a clear state of intoxication.

Depending on their job-function, the Thais are making salaries that start at about 800 to 850 dirhams a month (about 6,500 baht). This amount could nearly double thanks to generous tips from the locals. Almost the entire amount is sent back home as their housing and meals are all taken care of.

They work six days a week on nine-hour shifts, including a lunch-break, and are provided transportation from their dormitory accommodation about 15 minutes drive away. At the dormitory, they have access to tennis courts, fitness centre and other recreational amenities.

Informal chats with some of the staff indicated a broad section of reactions, depending on their individual personalities. One of them said life was difficult, especially due to curbs on alcohol consumption, but that he was rising to the challenge, especially the chance to improve his English and mix with other nationalities and cultures.

Another said he hated it but had no choice except to accept the job after losing his first choice – working on a cruise ship in North America. The approaching summer months are going to make life even more ‘hot.’

Another female staffer was more stoic; she’s looking forward to going home on vacation, she said, even though that is still many months away. “I don’t worry. Time will pass quickly,” she said. Asked if she could go earlier, she replied: “I could, but I would have to buy my own air-ticket.”

They all said they missed home.

The living and working environment for the Thai staff is on par with those of rank-and-file staff at any other Dubai hotel. Like in any job, those who are willing to work hard and make the sacrifice associated with climbing the ladder will make it. Quite a few have chosen not to and returned home.

For Thailand, there is a great opportunity to capitalise on the presence of the hotel to export Thai products and services, and popularise traditions such as Thai massage and herbal therapies. Other Asian hotels are also coming up; the Shangri-La is to open a property next year right across the road from the Dusit. India’s Taj Palace has also signed up for its first hotel in Dubai to open next year.

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