Hotel Dystopia: one day in Dubai

23rd August 2015

Being its resident for some twenty hours, I had time to ruminate on why exactly the Dubai Copthorne Hotel, managed and run almost entirely on behalf of Emirates Airlines, was so very unwell.

The stress enveloping the establishment was evident from the outset. As I waited in line at Reception, two squabbles were in progress at the counter ahead of me. My long night was about to become longer. ‘Reception warfare’ had broken out.

I did some work for a global luxury hotel group some years back, and have always retained this: Reception is the lightening rod of a guest’s hotel experience. Here, the consumer is at his or her most stressed, arriving with all the vitriol of the world on their shoulders. It is Reception’s unique and critical role to pacify, mollify and generally make love to its new arrival. A good start at Reception sets up a great experience.

The Copthorne Hotel in Dubai was having a sorry start indeed.

I was in no mood for mirth myself.  Emirates had just ‘unloaded’ me (they used the term, to my face) from my Dublin connection because their Cape Town, on which I arrived, had been 90 minutes delayed. I managed to get to the gate in time, but my luggage did not.

In the airline industry, a man becomes toxic when separated from his checked luggage.

What is a brand like Emirates to do when its hub passengers are stranded? If its passengers become beached in the gargantuan neon hangar-in-the-desert that is the symbol of the airline, what are they to do?

Brands are defined by moments of truth: those peaks and troughs which punctuate their relationship with consumers. After all, it is only in making an insurance claim that one truly thinks about the insurance company to whom you have given your money for the previous ten years.

Problems are solemn moments of intimacy between brands and people; they carry opportunity and threat in equal measure.

The unhappiness in the Copthorne Dubai piled up. I was billeted with a miniature plastic toothbrush and plastic shaving blade. The blade was vaguely familiar to me from 1970s Gillette ads – a period when the brand believed its essence was plastic disposability, not masculine perfection.

The Copthorne’s lunch was punctuated by cheapness – provided in a beehive cafeteria where the food slopped in all directions, children screamed and staff muddled about with an air of detached arrogance, so untypical of mid east hospitality.

All the time, a grotty and uncomfortable shuttle bus would spew out newly stranded passengers into the hotel’s soulless foyer. Anxiety was written on the eyes of most every guest.  The ramifications of missing a flight, and losing a day, demanded great attention.

A three minute ‘free’ call was allotted to each passenger to make all arrangements; after that they were in their own. I witnessed several moments of grave distress as phone calls home were summarily cut off once the 180 seconds had elapsed.

The first metaphor that arrived to my mind was that of a prison: we were couped up in this tired and institutionalised purgatory against our will: Copthorne Maximum Security. And then it occurred to me that most prisons contain residents who have actually done something which merits their stay.

We, the guests of the Copthorne Dubai, had done nothing whatsoever. This wasn’t prison – it was a fully-fledged miscarriage of justice. These harried hotel staff were our oppressors, caught in a system devised to bludgeon the soul.

As the hours crept slowly by, I imagined the boardroom meetings held by The Copthorne Hotel management team (Millennium Hotels) in which they decided to go into an alliance with Emirates.

‘What a great opportunity! And the guest numbers are guaranteed, so sales are for sure’.

I can see them mulling over that chance for a little extra growth. The chance to be linked with a global brand such as Emirates. I can see the dilating pupils as they ruminated the positive halo of such an alliance.

Never realising that their brand would govern a dystopian world of utter misery; that the only moment of truth would be of dismal incarceration; and that many if its guests would never, ever forgive the Copthorne Hotel for agreeing to be Emirates’ bitch.


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