Fast track to success is the story of Emirates Vacation Club (EVC), with a rapidly growing membership, a gleaming new apartment hotel, new sales centers, expanding staff and an impressive lineup of recent awards.
The private residence club, located in the heart of Dubai, shows what is possible when an exceptional product meets savvy marketing and an entrepreneurial spirit.
“We’ve created the fastest-growing vacation ownership product in the Middle East, if not all of Europe and Africa,” say Ashraf El Zarqa, chief operating officer for EVC. “I couldn’t be more proud of our team.
Since opening for sales in February 2010, EVC has grown from 30 to 450 staff associates. In that short span of time, ownership has soared to 5,000 households, including high-income couples, families and business travelers worldwide.
Height of Luxury
EVC burst on the Middle East shared ownership scene, selling four-week and smaller ownership increments in the Emirates Grand Hotel. This four-star property is housed in a 47-story tower in the heart of Dubai’s commercial district on prominent Sheikh Zayed Road. Owners and guests are within easy walking distance to the Dubai International Financial Center; Dubai Mall, the largest in the world; and Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. This central location puts them close to Dubai International Airport, Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre, and the golden sands of the Jumeirah Beach Park.
“Our hotel provides an oasis of calm in the center of this vibrant city,” El Zarqa explains. “Emirates Grand Hotel combines a unique location with incredible resort amenities. The result is a loyal, international clientele drawn to the luxury lifestyle.”
Inside the 430-room hotel, the lobby conjures modern elegance with its soaring ceilings and cream-colored marble floors. Public areas include three restaurants, a rooftop lounge and swimming pool, state-of-the-art fitness center with dedicated personal trainers, business center, meeting rooms, tennis court and garden.
But the property’s crown jewel is its award-winning Emirates Grand Spa. Located on the 45th floor, this 8,000-square-foot spa, created and designed by Angsana, treats members and guests to stunning views of the Arabian Gulf and Dubai cityscape. Emirates Grand Spa takes guests on a journey to inner wellbeing with its Arabesque-inspired aromatherapy and personalized holistic treatments. The sanctuary’s long list of treatments includes couple massages, body massages, facials, body exfoliation and Moroccan baths. Releasing tension could not be easier in the 13 ultra-plush treatment rooms, including two rain mist rooms. Separate male and female sections each feature a Moroccan bath, steam room, and private treatment and relaxation rooms.
Also inviting, three onsite restaurants and a lounge champion traditional recipes served with modern flair. Members and guests can admire the Dubai cityscape from the Turkish Rooftop Shisha Lounge on the 47th floor. This restaurant/lounge serves Arabic and international fare poolside or in an exquisitely decorated Turkish tent. For fine dining, Tal Al Amar Restaurant on the 46th floor offers authentic Lebanese cuisine. The Emirates Lobby and Garden Restaurant – serving coffee, fresh pastries and a lunch buffet – has a soothing outdoor garden. On the 43rd floor, the aptly named Panorama Restaurant serves up savory Arabic and international dishes with stunning city and seascape views.
Apartment-like guest rooms are richly appointed, each with a kitchen and dining area and some with separate living areas. Standard hotel services include daily housekeeping and 24-hour room service. For premium two-bedroom suites, extra perks – like complimentary butler service and one-way airport transfer via Rolls Royce – add to the luxury allure.
Sleek New Hotel
With the hotel in high demand, EVC opened its Emirates Grand Hotel Apartments in March 2015 on Sheikh Zayed Road, steps away from Emirates Grand Hotel.
Housed in a gleaming, 31-story tower, this full-service apartment hotel has a sleek design, with its lobby clad in rich brown and cream-colored marble and stone. There are 346 timeshare and condo-hotel apartments overlooking downtown Dubai and the Arabian Sea. The elegant rooms are decorated in soft neutrals with floor-to-ceiling windows intended to inspire rest and relaxation above the bustling city. Ranging from studio to one and two bedrooms, all units come with fully equipped kitchens and living areas, making Emirates Grand Apartments the perfect choice for family vacations and extended business trips. Other in-room comforts include elegant bathrooms lined with ceramic tile and stone, free Wi-Fi and flat-screen satellite televisions. Some apartments also come with large private balconies with spectacular city and water views.
Incredible panoramas are a focus of the hotel restaurant, which premiered in March 2015 on the 31st floor. Open for breakfast and dinner, the restaurant serves gourmet global cuisine. Emirates Grand Apartments’ other amenities include an indoor swimming pool with sweeping views, Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room. A state-of-the-art fitness center and tennis court are set to open the end of this year.
Emirates Grand Apartments timeshare and condo-hotel ownerships are both affiliated with Interval International. Weeks start at $15,000 (U.S. Dollars) for a 99-year usage product, the same term as for Emirates Grand Hotel.
Giving Members the World
Since its inception, EVC has sold a weeks-based product. While the standard offering is four floating weeks annually, the Club will sell fewer weeks as well. Additionally, all units can be rented on a nightly basis or used by members or exchangers.
In keeping with its commitment to give members nothing but the best, EVC is affiliated with Interval International, the leading vacation ownership exchange network in the world. The resulting Club Interval product adds tremendous flexibility, making it easy for EVC members to take inspired vacations, not only with Emirates, but also at nearly 3,000 resorts worldwide. Club Interval works double time to enrich members’ vacations as well as their daily lives. Members can trade their weeks for multiple shorter stays, or put them toward the purchase of a cruise, tour, golf or spa vacation. They also gain access to more than 90,000 premium discounts for use at restaurants and retail locations.
“Our membership represents 47 different nationalities,” El Zarqa notes. “So you can see that with luxury properties in a dynamic city like Dubai our target is the entire world. I have plans for the Far Eastern, Chinese, African and European markets. The United States is not on our radar quite yet, but may be within the next five years.”
Fast on the heels of the launch of its first sales center in the Emirates Grand Hotel, EVC opened two more sales centers in key spots in Dubai as well as in Lagos, Nigeria.
“We discovered during our first year that 25 percent of our clients were from Nigeria, so we made the decision to open an office there,” El Zarqa explains.
Despite such challenges as the country’s fluctuating currency rate, the Nigerian office is thriving. “We’ve met many wonderful families who love to travel,” El Zarqa says. “Having a customer service team there has had big benefits for our Nigerian owners and for EVC.”
Strategy for Growth
El Zarqa says EVC’s success derives from its three-prong approach that focuses on employee training, tour flow and customer service.
The Club has experienced managers and also invests heavily in employee training. Its emphasis on exceptional training and owner service have paid off handsomely. Since its inception, EVC has maintained the Interval International Premier Resort designation, the organization’s highest level of recognition, reserved for resorts that provide an exceptional vacation experience.
The success also comes from combining a world-class product with smart marketing.
“This is very much a numbers game,” El Zarqa explains. “Give me 10 clients, and I’ll give you two deals. Give me 200 clients, and I’ll give you 40 deals. It’s all in the marketing. You have to get the right leads to turn them into tours. By putting stands in the right places and partnering with the right companies, you get the right leads. Then, you’ll get a percentage of leads as tours and turn that into sales.”
Apex of Hospitality
For its achievements, EVC has achieved the highest recognition in the industry. The Club has won three Perspective Magazine Awards. This coveted global award honored EVC as the Best Timeshare Resort, Europe, Middle East & Africa, 2014 and 2015, and Best Timeshare Resort, Europe and Middle East, 2011. Recently, EVC also won Interval International’s Chairman’s Club Award. This honor recognizes the top 25 membership-producing developer companies worldwide, based on new memberships received by Interval International.
“We are thrilled to receive this prestigious recognition from Perspective Magazine and Interval International,” El Zarqa remarks. “These awards are a testament to the hard work and dedication of our staff, who go above and beyond every day to deliver great value and extraordinary vacation experiences.”
El Zarqa foresees exciting opportunities in the future for both EVC and Dubai. Among them, Dubai has been selected as the site of World Expo 2020 – a global, six-month event occurring every five years. This will be the first time that the World Expo will take place in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA).
Expo 2020 Dubai is expected to draw 25 million visitors, 70 per cent of them from overseas. The mega-event, set for Oct. 20, 2020 – April 10, 2021, will have as its theme, “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.” Visitors will discover fascinating pavilions and cultural events staged by hundreds of participating nations, businesses and international organizations.
“Hosting Expo 2020 is a remarkable achievement,” El Zarqa says. He attributes this success to the joint efforts of the Ministry of Tourism, his Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister and vice president of the United Arab Emirates and the constitutional monarch of Dubai.
Ashraf El Zarqa remembers back in 2009 coming to work at the Emirates Grand Hotel and being the only person in the 430-room property. Conducting meetings in the coffee shop next door, he set to work, hiring a management company, contracting vendors and building a timeshare team.
Today, as chief operating officer of Emirates Vacation Club (EVC), El Zarqa oversees a staff of 450 employees, serving 5,000 owners worldwide. He brings to EVC more than 30 years of business experience, most of it in the timeshare industry. Over the years, he has led numerous teams to achieve rapid and continuous growth.
El Zarqa joined EVC in 2009 to head up the brand launch in the Middle East. Today, he directs the Club’s innovative growth strategy, expanding the brand from its flagship Emirates Grand Hotel across other development projects now in the pipeline. His vision, drive and contagious enthusiasm instills in his team the energy and dedication needed to consistently exceed customer expectations and market demand.
Previously as head of sales at IFA Hotels & Resorts, El Zarqa supervised management training and multi-million-dollar sales and marketing programs. He led the marketing team in creating a first-of-its-kind global network. Under his direction, sales far exceeded their target. Earlier in his career, El Zarqa served as a national manager with Marriott Vacations Worldwide. He directed teams to expand the timeshare industry in France, Spain, United Kingdom, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates.