At the end of 2013, news came through that Dubai had won the bid to host the 2020 World Expo. This will put further strain on a hotel industry which has seen an explosion of new developments over the last decade and continues to struggle to keep up with demand as the world comes to the UAE.
At the forefront of hotel development in the region, is The First Group, a British-owned, Dubai-based international property developer, with huge experience when it comes to delivering projects on-time and to high standards.
“We have a focus on building exciting hotel projects that are operated by leading hotel brands, such as the world’s largest, Wyndham Hotel Group,” describes Rob Burns, Chief Operating Officer.
“We pride ourselves in having been one of the first to recognise the lucrative potential of property investment in Dubai and today, we have a large portfolio of both residential and commercial property across the UAE.
“Over the years, our extensive research and market knowledge led us to shift our emphasis from residential projects towards hotel development. We offer investors the chance to benefit from the ownership of individual hotel rooms and suites across some of the best locations in Dubai.”
The privately-owned business was co-founded by British businessmen, Danny Lubert and Gary Shepherd, who both have more than 30 years of senior management expertise and were able to draw on backgrounds in property, finance, acquisition, marketing and product development.
“It is fundamentally their ambition and excellent eye for emerging market potential that has enabled The First Group to excel and grow into the successful company that it is today. We also have a fantastic team of people who share a collective passion for excellence and it is thanks to their initial drive, professionalism and commitment that we continue to enjoy tremendous growth,” says Burns.
Today The First Group’s growth very much reflects the dynamism that prevails within the hotel sector in the UAE, with the company opening new offices and promotional venues worldwide. The company is headquartered in Dubai and a couple of years ago moved into a modern showroom on the 22nd floor of Tameem House in the Tecom business district. The business also has numerous promotional venues across the UAE, GCC, Africa and CIS, in addition to offices in Moscow, Almaty, Kazan, Astana, Abuja, Lagos and most recently, in Jeddah.
“We operate a large multinational team, who can converse in more than 15 languages, from English, Russian and French to Spanish, Farsi and Arabic. In terms of our market position, we are highly regarded as one of Dubai’s leaders in the property field and one of the emirate’s most widely recognised property developers, thanks to our long-standing relationship with Dubai and our continued drive to increase our brand awareness.”
Along the way, The First Group has picked up a large number of accolades, ranging from the Arabian Property Awards and Best Developer 2013 by the Russian Consulate General, to several CNBC International Property Awards.
Hotel projects are typically tower developments ranging from 450 to 750 hotel rooms or suites, spanning 34 floors or more and the company delivers a complete service, aiming to build long term relationships with clients, as Burns outlines:
“We offer a full property development service, from the very inception of a project right through to its completion and beyond. Over our years of operation, The First Group has developed strong partnerships with prestigious architects, contractors, interior designers and hotel operators to ensure that the iconic projects we envision become a reality.
“We have a highly skilled construction team that does an excellent job in managing our demanding time lines and meeting our exceptionally high standards. However, our work does not just end once a development is complete – we have a special division, TFG Asset Management, to oversee every aspect of the finished project and fully support our owners; from marketing and liaising with our hotel operators, to handling our investor’s returns and much more.”
Burns takes a great pride in the projects that The First Group has delivered and the company is currently working with the prestigious Wyndham hotel group:
“We are really excited to be bringing the very first Wyndham hotel developments to the UAE and these are certainly our flagship projects. Wyndham Hotel Group is the world’s largest and most diverse hotel company, with more than 7,000 hotel properties in 66 countries across 6 continents.
“Through our partnership, Wyndham will manage 3 of our upcoming hotels; one being our TRYP by Wyndham development in TECOM, which also marks a debut for Wyndham’s urban hotel brand, TRYP, in the UAE. The other 2 hotel projects Wyndham will operate, will be our 2 prestigious developments in Dubai Marina – Wyndham Dubai Marina, and our next project, The One Dubai Marina.
“We are very proud of how things are progressing at our Dubai Marina developments in particular – our first project there, Wyndham Dubai Marina, is a 497-room four star hotel property with stunning views across the marina and beyond. Additionally our soon to be launched project The One Dubai Marina by Wyndham has a superb location, right opposite the Dubai Marina Yacht Club and just a short walk from Dubai Marina Mall.
“Like Wyndham Dubai Marina, The One Dubai Marina will also benefit from the world’s largest hotelier – a factor which we feel will really help to maximize the returns for all our investors. We also have ongoing developments in premium locations in TECOM and Dubai Sports City,” he continues.
Corporate Social Responsibility has become a real buzz-word in today’s business world and for The First Group, this is embodied in the spirit of the company, as Burns underlines: “For us, it goes a little further than simply CSR and again reverts to our motto, a Foundation for Growth.
“We are proud to be able to use our brand’s standing and influence to help support a number of local and international charities, which all have a major focus on bettering the lives of underprivileged children in many parts of the world – essentially they are all about facilitating the growth of our future generations. Many of our team members have travelled to meet directly with some of these young people and seen firsthand the difference that our supported charities can make.”
Whilst the UAE did feel the effects of the global economic slow-down, Burns says that confidence has grown in recent years as a result of the regulatory framework and escrow account requirements in Dubai. He sees an exciting future ahead:
“Dubai has made huge headway since the financial crisis and we never cease to be impressed by its drive and development, in comparison to other much more established cities worldwide.
“There is a real sense of renewed optimism in Dubai, especially given the World Expo win, the success of Dubai World Central and the latest announcement of Mall of the World launch. There are so many exciting things to look forward to and spectacular developments to take place, and we can definitely say that things are really looking up for the city. The proof is really in the vital stats – 11 million people visited Dubai in 2013, 11 per cent more than the previous year, while hotel occupancy topped an average of more than 80 per cent.* We are really excited and honoured to be a part of it all and look forward to seeing how things will continue to go from strength to strength in the coming years, for both Dubai and The First Group. (SOURCE: Jones Lang La Salle, Dubai Hotel Intelligence Report, 2014)
“It is a fantastic time right now to be part of the property and hospitality sector, particularly here in Dubai, given the pace at which it has recovered from the global downturn. While many cities are still recovering, there is a real buzz surrounding the future of Dubai, particularly since the World Expo 2020 win.
“The future of The First Group is constantly evolving. We are always looking for ways to serve our clients better and we definitely plan to see a strong growth in our international presence over the coming years. We have already expanded into KSA and have plans to continue this growth across the GCC region. You can also expect more exciting announcements from us, with new developments and partnerships already in pipeline – it is definitely an exciting time and we look forward to what the future holds,” he concludes.