The Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) organisation was founded in 1928 by a group of European hoteliers and over the past 80 years, it has grown from 38 members to 450, including four properties in Dubai. Although, it does not seek out new members, any hotel wishing to join must undergo an anonymous 1,500-point check before certification is approved. The organisation is also a one-stop-shop for customers and can arrange everything from a hotel to a car rental. As LHW celebrates its 80th anniversary, its regional director Hatem Chatter speaks to Emirates Business about what it takes to be one of the best hotels in the world.
How prestigious is it for a hotel to be in LHW?
It's extremely prestigious because it's certification that a hotel is of an extremely high standard. When you say a "leading hotel", it doesn't mean that it's just a hotel but that everything is covered from the service to the design of the hotel. We look at the smallest details, including the carpet and whether receptionists smile, which is a very, very difficult test, so when a hotel has succeeded, they can be really proud to say they are a Leading Hotel, which is one of its selling points.
Do you think Dubai is a world leader in luxury hotels?
Dubai has the potential to be the leader in luxury hotels, which is why we already have four members here. We also have a lot of demand for new projects, but it's a long process. The package of leading hotels in Dubai may increase and I think it will become a leading hotel destination.
Hotels are constantly being built in the UAE – do you think this growth is sustainable and will supply eventually outstrip demand?
Because there are a lot of hotels that are coming, maybe the supply will be more than the demand, so a lot of chains are thinking ahead and want to become a Leading Hotel, because when you have five hotels that are all brand new and luxurious, which hotel will you choose? Maybe it will be the one that has succeeded to become a member of LHW.
Have any of the hotels on the Palm Jumeirah enquired about joining?
We have had applications from hotels on the Palm but I'm not allowed to say which ones. Last year, we had about 1,400 applications worldwide, of which 80 were inspected and just over 40 made it to become a Leading Hotel. Sometimes we get an application and we do research and say no, so for a hotel to actually have an inspection means they have already come a long way on our checklist.
Where are the hotspots for people in the region this year?
Before 9/11 it used to be the United States but now it's Switzerland, Paris, Germany and Austria as people are scared to go to the United States. The Maldives is also booming and I have booking requests seven months in advance. I think people in the Middle East are becoming more adventurous.
How has the credit crunch affected members?
It hasn't affected us. January and February were good months, but March was slower. Easter was earlier this year, so that affected people's travel patterns.
Which is your favourite hotel?
There are 450 leading hotels so how can you choose one out of 450 unique properties because they are all so different. It depends on the individual's taste and reasons for travelling. If you travel for business you have different needs to when you go on holiday and when you go away as a couple rather than a family, so it's impossible to choose one.
Are holiday habits changing?
Yes, because people are taking shorter but more frequent holidays. Clients can afford a decent hotel but will save on flights. We call it fly cheap, stay chic. Family holidays are also changing because they don't only go with their children but take the grandparents too. It picked up after 9/11 because people felt a sense of being with their family, which is why hotels with big suites are very much in demand and they, and any hotel villas, tend to be booked first.
What is the luxury market doing to combat the labour shortage in the Middle East region?
Labour shortage is a big problem, so we have introduced Leading Hotel Schools of the World. But the shortage of good staff is a challenge and I don't foresee it will change especially with so many new hotels coming.
What do you think of the rise of budget hotels?
There is a market for budget hotels. As much as there is a market for luxury hotels, there are also those who have to travel on a budget. I welcome it and I think especially for Dubai it's important because you can't only have clients who can afford the luxury end of hotels but you also need budget hotels to cater for a different clientele. In Europe, they are very successful because you know what you get. You pay a small amount and you know you get a clean bed basically, but they are getting more sophisticated and more stylish and there is a value to having them.
Hatem Chatter, LHW Director of Sales
Working at its offices in Dubai, Chatter is responsible for promoting LHW's hotels and looking at new opportunities for members.
Prior to joining LHW, Chatter, originally from Tunisia, was regional director of sales for the Middle East at Rosewood Hotels for two years. He started his career with Jumeirah, first as business development executive for the GCC before joining the pre-opening team at Madinat Jumeirah.
In 2004, Chatter was promoted to Business Development Manager.