It’s a year of rapid change for JA Resorts & Hotels, one of Dubai’s longest-serving homegrown hospitality brands. Fresh blood in the leadership team is catapulting the company into the future with a new vision and mission, a reinvigoration of the brand, new properties, and renovations. Mahak Mannan catches up with Anthony Ross, CEO of the hospitality company on their expansion plans.
JA Resorts & Hotels was born in 1981, taking its name from the original Jebel Ali (JA) Beach hotel and the portfolio now features eight distinct properties across the UAE and Indian Ocean. This number is expected to significantly go up in the coming years as the company looks to expand its portfolio within countries in Africa and South Asia, according to the CEO.
“From our inception, we have grown to two hotels in the Indian ocean and JBR, the intent going forward is to expand around the Indian Ocean, and by that I mean the wider Indian Ocean spanning from the East coast of Africa through to Asia,” Ross says.
“Our secondary focus is in a couple of key cities within Europe, and a rather
large country in Asia. We are very excited about what is in the pipeline for JA. We are looking at a couple of management opportunities and joint ventures. Acquisitions along the Indian Ocean is on the cards as well.”
The company has made a number of senior leadership appointments in the past few months to drive its expansion plans. Ross’ new additions to the team include Dany Karam, former general manager at BBDO, to lead the brand and communications division. Karam’s aim is to bring the brand firmly into the future, focus on creativity and transform the brand marketing division into in an in-house agency team while Thomas Grundner, vice president of sales & marketing, is already known regionally for driving change, having spent time transforming the sales & marketing function for Jumeirah, Meydan, and Millennium before joining JA Resorts & Hotels.
Even the human resources function is turning on its head, with vice president of human resources Robert Mikaelian creating a new programme called the JA Way, whereby associates are told to ditch their name tags and embrace their individuality.
The addition of vice president of food & beverage, Rob Cunningham, an Australian national with extensive experience will aim to bring a fresh focus on F&B concepts, which are set to include several collaborations with chefs of Michelin star acclaim.
“We work in an independent way where we manage our hospitality business, so we have opportunities for acquisitions come to us which are passed to our parent company. As such we are looking to grow our management business too, and whether we manage the assets of Dutco, or other companies, we have the capability here at JA with the talented professionals we have on board to enable us to expand,” the CEO adds.
The company’s expansion plans are not confined to the Middle East region, according to Ross.
“We are looking at Kenya, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Uganda, Mauritius, and of course the UAE and Oman. We have not had a proactive approach to Saudi Arabia yet, but are looking into it,” he says.
“The world has become flatter, wherein the big brands have become so big that if you are the owner of a property you will be serviced by the deputy assistant regional VP, who will also be on a career path and might be transferred. This means every six months there would be a new person to build the relationship with and going up the organisation to have decisions made can be a task. With brands like ours, you deal with me, the CEO and senior management team directly.
“With the technology on hand today, we have access to some strong distribution channels and have also joined a consortium of hotels called GHA, which pulls the database of small to medium size hotel companies together for loyalty programs, which is very important to compete with the mega brands.”
For its expansion plans, JA is not confining itself to a specific market segment, explains Ross.
“We are looking at a number of different market segments, we already have a few upscale resorts in the Maldives and will potentially have more hotels in the same bracket. We are in discussion to create a luxury spin-off too. JA is an upper upscale brand and if we have a couple of luxury hotels together, we may create a spin off. Upper midscale is an area that we are
In terms of F&B, JA will be opening 12 new restaurants within Dubai, this year.
“We want to penetrate the local community and add value in our F&B outlets to make sure that we are a known entity in Dubai,” Ross says.
One of the things that JA will be looking into for its new F&B concepts is pricing, which includes a new New York Pizza place in Ja Ocean View Hotel.
“We want to create a neighbourhood place where we don’t go out with thoughtless hotel prices and keep the venue’s empty, we want it to be a place where guests would dine at least two to three times a week, and come back for the environment, quality, and pricing,” he says.
JA plans to manage all its new F&B venues themselves instead of outsourcing them, however they are working with a number of endorsing brands and chefs to create menu’s, source chefs, and build on their value.
Apart from expansion and the addition of news F&B Concepts, JA will also be looking at renovating its Beach Hotel property.
As the 1,000,000 sqm JA The Resort in Jebel Ali prepares to add a third hotel to the area, JA Beach Hotel will undergo an extensive makeover which includes an enhanced facade with new, all-glass balconies for the rooms and suites, the bedrooms will be given a new look for 2019, with modern wood tile flooring, new beds, and furniture in a fresh colour scheme of soft greys, neutrals, and relaxing royal blue, and all food and beverage outlets will be refurbished with new concepts.
Additionally, the CoolZone Kid’s Club will be relocated and doubled in size, offering a 450 msq area, divided into different zones for children aged 4-12 years.
Adjacent to the new kids’ club facility, there will also be a new wet recreation area with an interactive Splash Pad. The four-month renovation process will take place from May to August 2019 and the hotel will reopen on 1 September 2019.
Commenting on the current hospitality market within the region, Ross says: “We were able to improve our market position in 2018 as compared to 2017 and continue to do so this year. JA is focusing on what sets us apart from the competition, creating a niche for our self with all the differen experiences that we offer. We are one of the largest resorts in the country that offers golf, shooting, a beach, and so much more at one location.”
“The industry is heading in a good direction. The supply and demand cycle, and the challenges it comes with, forces you to look at the products you are offering, value propositions, and aspects that will set you apart from competition. We are not complaining about the market situation, it is what it is.
“Many years back, Australia went through a boom and bust, that is when people got creative about the way they build their business. Dubai is reaching that level now, if you are innovative and provide good value for money, you can be successful,” he says.
“The average rates have come down, so we have to look at the cost structure. How can I drive more occupancy? Where can I generate more revenue from?”
“The question that everybody should be asking in the current market is, How can I be better? That is when you know that you are heading towards the conception of a mature market.”