Getting used to the new normal

Central Park, New York ... recent reports show a drop in hotel occupancy from October to March

I arrived in Dubai in 2004 and this year’s Arabian Travel Market was the 10th I attended. I missed the one in 2004, because I only arrived in August, and the one in 2006, because I was busy with a pre-opening project in a neighbouring GCC country. Still, 10 out of 12 isn’t bad. As ATMs go, I think I’ve pretty much seen it all. I’ve seen the boom years, when you could hardly move through the halls, and the bust years, when there were large gaps between the stands and the entire Irish rugby team could have danced jigs through the halls without inconveniencing anybody.

I’ve long since realised that the secret of successful ATM visits lies in not expecting to get anything done whatsoever and just go for the coffee. There’s always coffee, so you’ll never go home feeling you didn’t accomplish anything.

Coincidentally, I had a great ATM this year. I met a number of people I hadn’t seen in ages, managed to sign a few good contracts, and grab numerous cups of coffee along the way, but that’s not really the point of this month’s column…

What I want to talk about is the oddity that this year’s ATM appeared busier last year’s and yet wherever you went people were mumbling: "… wait until 2017 and things will pick up…", "… if you make it through the summer, you’ll be well placed for the increase in business in the autumn…", and "… Expo 2020 is bound to bring in a lot of new business…".

I don’t really see a need to wait until after the summer, or until 2017, or until Expo 2020, and I don’t quite understand people complaining about the current business climate. Have you noticed that the same people who complain about slow business are also the ones who predict sudden upswings at "some such" time in the future, e.g. after the summer, in 2017, or around Expo 2020? Many of these people also moaned last year and the year before last year. The only thing that changed is the date of the predicted upturn.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that business hasn’t been better in years gone by. 2004, 2005, 2006 – golden years. A little manic, perhaps, but golden. Like summers gone by, however, they’re not coming back. Ever. They’re gone. For good. Since then, I’ve opened a hotel, started a company, overseen the opening, rebranding, and refurbishments for a number of properties, and recently bought a company that’s now merging with the one I founded some years ago. All the while, I listened to some people complain how business isn’t what it used to be and how it will (magically) pick up in year X or after event Y. My grandfather always used to say, "Wouldn’t life be rather flat, if there wasn’t something to grumble at?", and he may well have a point, but the truth of the matter is that things will never be like they used to be before. The only constant is change and you’ve got two choices: Embrace the new normal or waste your time grumbling and reminiscing.

Grumbling and negativity waste time and cost energy, both, I think, are better invested in dealing with the "new normal" and making plans for the future. What do I mean by the "new normal"? Take hotel occupancies in Dubai, for example. Some people tell me they’re down. Others say, they’re holding, but ARR is down. Isn’t it time we stopped complaining and started adjusting? Average occupancies in excess of 90 per cent at top rates are unlikely to come back, so why wait for the impossible? The new normal is a hotel landscape featuring average occupancies in line with many other great cities around the world, e.g. London or New York. Do you hear of scores of hotels closing every year in such cities? Oddly enough, no.

Trust me, we’ll all be fine once we learn to embrace the new normal.

By Martin Kubler