Hotels in Mideast optimistic despite unrest


By Samia Badih

“Any company that has a presence in the Middle East would be concerned with the situation, but these are situations that are not in our hands,” said Omer Kaddouri, chief operating officer for Rotana, the Abu Dhabi-based hotel management company.

Abu Dhabi hotelsWhile the Middle East rides a wild political wave, leaders in the hospitality sector are optimistic about the GCC and Middle East region, saying it could still be a promising year for the hospitality market.

“Any company that has a presence in the Middle East would be concerned with the situation, but these are situations that are not in our hands,” said Omer Kaddouri, chief operating officer for Rotana, the Abu Dhabi-based hotel management company. Kaddouri said the company’s four hotels in Sharm Al Shaikh, Egypt, have been affected by the political situation in Egypt, “where occupancies for the past two months have been close to 10-15 per cent where they should be 95 per cent,” he said.

But it’s not only Egypt. “When the political election issues were in Beirut, our hotels were not reaching their budget by far — nor was anyone in Beirut,” he said. “In the early stages of the year we had the elections in Khartoum and the separation between the North and the South.”

“This is to be expected when you have hotels all over the place, especially in the Middle East which is a hot area today.”

At the same time, because of the problems in the countries surrounding the UAE, a lot of people have been transferring their business to the UAE, he said. “So Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been doing very well since January.”

Expansion plans

Rotana is opening seven new properties in 2011, reaching more than 12,500 rooms under its management across the Middle East and Africa, the company said yesterday at the Gulf Incentive Business Travel and Meetings exhibition in Abu Dhabi.

The total size of investment managed by Rotana in 2011 would be more than $800 million (Dh2.9 billion), the company said. By the end of the year, the group will have a total of 33 hotels under its management.

Of these new properties, five will be in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, in addition to one property in Qatar, its chief operating officer said.

In the Middle East, the company is already looking at opening three new hotels in Syria, two hotels in Jordan and one in Lebanon over the next one to three years.

Last year, Rotana opened its first hotel in Erbil, Iraq and is now looking at opening a new hotel in Baghdad in two years time, Kaddouri said.

There are other companies looking to get into the Iraqi market, one of whch is Millennium Hotels and Resorts.

“The country needs to stabilise and open up and as it is opening up companies are going to it and doing business,” said Michael Marshall, vice-president of sales and marketing for the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.

Saturated industry

Millennium is looking at opening “six or seven” hotels in Iraq over the next three years, Marshall said.

In the UAE, some analysts also argue that the Emirates’ hotel industry is saturated and can’t handle new hotels. However, many players think there’s always room for competition.

“I think it is tough, but you have to be aggressive and it doesn’t come to you you have to bring it,” said Peter Blackbur, CEO of Cristal Hotels and Resorts.

Cristal currently has two properties under construction in the UAE. One in Dubai which is planned to open in 18 months and another in Abu Dhabi which will open in June.

“Abu Dhabi is in a state of building its destination,” said Kaddouri. “The vision for Abu Dhabi in 2030 is that we are going to be an extremely well organised infrastructure and a well renowned country that is going to take on thousands and thousands of new tourists. So today there maybe too many hotels, but tomorrow it’s going to be right.

Ferrari World

Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is trying to go corporate. The largest indoor and the only Ferrari-themed park in the world has its eyes set on the corporate segment and hopes to attract business travellers.

“Where else can a company organise a training conference and then have delegates race against each other on a Ferrari driving simulator?” said Troy Lindquist, director of sales and marketing, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. “To inspire their teams to think big, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi offers companies a MICE destination that is unmatched in the Middle East.”

Fabian Laurent, director of sales at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi told Gulf News that Ferrari World had been designed to cater to business travellers from the beginning.

“We have nine function rooms that can accommodate up to 350 people,” he said, adding that booking the whole theme park can accommodate up to 4,000 people.

He said while their core business was entertainment and their first audience was families, they had the capability to tap into the corprate segment.

“We’re not relying on that segment, but it’s a good way for us to raise our business profile,” he said.

So far since its launch in November 2010, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi has hosted more than 50 events, Laurent added.