GCC braces for spectacular openings

Jabal AkhdarAnantara is building the Jabal Akhdar mountain resort outside Muscat l Image Credit: Supplied

The hospitality scene in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is quite jazzed up these days. With the World Expo in Dubai and Fifa World Cup in Qatar happening in a few years, tourism arrivals strongly growing and the region maintaining a competitive edge in terms of high-end and luxury tourism, hotel developers and operators are now trying to outmanoeuvre each other with new launches.

The UAE alone received 12.3 million international visitors last year, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, up from 9.9 million in 2013, of which a large majority stayed in Dubai. This makes the country the most visited in the Middle East if haj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia are not counted. For 2020, when the Dubai Expo opens, the government forecasts 20 million visitors during the event.

In anticipation of the massive tourist inflow, Dubai will increase its hotel capacity by 28,000 rooms by 2018, on top of the current 65,000 rooms, according to a report by real estate company JLL.

Among the latest spectacular openings in Dubai was the InterContinental Dubai Marina. “Dubai‘s tourism market is expanding at a rapid pace, so it is important to ensure our luxury properties can accommodate varying needs,” says Pascal Gauvin, Chief Operating Officer, India, Middle East and Africa, at InterContinental Hotel Group. “We are confident that InterContinental Dubai Marina will become one of the city’s favourite spots attracting residents in the Middle East and visitors from around the globe.”

There are new hotel formats for many tastes. One example is the Suba Hotel Dubai, which opened last year in Deira as Dubai’s first four-star “boutique smart hotel” with advanced technology facilities. The hotel won the Best Smart Hotel Award 2015 in June.

“With the World Expo 2020 and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and a host of major-developments, including Al Habtoor City, Bluewaters Island and Dubailand, launching in the coming years, we hoteliers are preparing for the significant increase in tourists,” says Wajeed Bagwan, General Manager of the Suba Hotel Dubai, adding that his group plans to open at least three more hotels in the region by 2017.

Future hotel opening plans include the introduction of the popular W Hotel and St. Regis brands by Starwood Hotels and Resorts in Dubai, as part of Starwood’s massive Middle East expansion that will see its regional portfolio doubling in the next five years.

Jumeirah Group is readying to open two properties in Dubai by 2017, namely the Jumeirah Al Naseem at Madinat Jumeirah and the first hotel under its lifestyle brand, Venu, planned to be built on the new Bluewaters Island, a development project under construction 500m off the Jumeirah Beach Residence coastline near Dubai Marina.

New hotels for Abu Dhabi include the Capital Centre Arjaan by Rotana, part of a list of 11 new hotels set to open by the end of this year in the Middle East and Africa, including two in Qatar, three in Saudi Arabia and one in Bahrain. Another Abu Dhabi-based hotel group, Jannah Hotels and Resorts, has recently launched a boutique hotel under its Jannah Place brand in the capital.

“It is necessary to push and expand our properties across all the emirates,” says Nehme Imad Darwiche, the group’s CEO, adding that the company is working on opening more hotels in the region and globally.

Competition from well-established International hospitality groups has been intense. One of Thailand’s largest hotel operators, Centara Hotels and Resorts, recently announced its West Bay Hotel Doha in the newly developed West Bay district. The hotel, slated to open in the first quarter next year, is part of the Qatar government’s project list for the World Cup and will be the second from the Centara group to open in the Middle East after the Centara Muscat Hotel in Oman.

“The Middle East is strategic for us and we deeply appreciate the trust that international investors are placing in our unique, Thaistyle hotel management,” says Centara Hotels and Resorts CEO Thirayuth Chirathivat.

Hospitality experts expect Dubai and Abu Dhabi to be next on the list of Centara’s hotel launches, although the company would not confirm this.

Another large hotel chain from Thailand to expand deeper into the Middle East is Dusit International. The company, known for its iconic Dusit Thani hotels and two Dusit Residences in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, says it will add at least six more properties to its Middle East portfolio. Three will be managed by the Dusit group: one in Doha and one in Jeddah under the dusitD2 brand, and one in Jeddah under the Dusit Thani.

The dusitD2 Salwa in Doha is slated to open in 2018 and follows the new Dusit Residence and Suites Doha. The other hotels will be located in Saudi Arabia (Mecca and Medina) and will be managed in partnership with local hospitality Dyar Hotels and Resorts.

According to Dusit International CEO Chanin Donavanik, the group opened additional office in Saudi Arabia in May besides its sales office in Dubai to kick off regional marketing for the new properties. He says more dusitD2 hotels are planned in the UAE, where Dusit is partnering with investment company Al Masar Holding for projects such as dusitD2 Tecom Dubai and the dusitD2 Residence Al Manzel Abu Dhabi, both set to open in 2016.

Minor Hotel Group, which runs one of the most luxurious Thai hotel brands, Anantara, and is renowned for its exceptional Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort in Abu Dhabi, has announced a push into Oman with an Anantara mountain resort in Jabal Akhdar some 200km southwest of Muscat and another in Salalah in 2016. The expansion comes after the group opened its Banana Island Resort Doha earlier this year, which brought its current properties in the Middle East to eight.

Daring projects
In April, Minor Hotel Group announced a partnership with Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company to build two hotels in North Africa — in Tangier, Morocco, and in the southwestern Tunisian oasis city of Tozeur. Preparing for the World Cup, Doha has seen a number of other audacious hotel proposals, among them the Amphibious 1000, a hotel that is partially under water, Silver Pearl Hotel, a new Steigenberger Hotel Doha, a new Le Meridien, a new Park Hyatt and others such as Planet Hollywood Hotel Doha.

Oman, meanwhile, is especially upbeat over its tourism potential. The country’s Ministry of Tourism revealed plans in June to build a number of luxury hotels in various parts of the Sultanate worth about $3.3 billion (Dh12.12 billion), according to the ministry’s undersecretary Maitha Al Mahrouqi.

Besides Minor Hotel Group, other private investors eyeing Oman include serviced residence owner-operator Ascott, which has secured a contract to manage its first Citadines Aparthotel in Oman, Intercontinental Hotel Group, which will open a new Intercontinental Hotel Golf Resort and Spa at Muscat Hills in September 2018, and UK-based Millennium and Copthorne, which will open in 2017 the Agarwood hotel, villa and apartment resort in Salalah, followed by the group’s budget brand Studio M.

In Kuwait, IHG has committed itself to a new 120-room InterContinental hotel and a 232-room Crowne Plaza hotel. Bahrain will see a new One&Only resort open next year and the new Fairmont Bahrain Resort on the west coast in 2018.

Size matters
Saudi Arabia is especially active in building more sizeable properties. This month IHG will open in Mecca the first phase of the world’s biggest Holiday Inn, a complex that will boast no less than 5,000 rooms. While this dwarfs other new hotels to open in the country, such as the first Fairmont in Jeddah with 350 rooms due to open in 2018, two Hyatt hotels to open next year and in 2017, five by the Rezidor Group and Hilton’s new Conrad in Mecca set to open next year, there is another amazing project in the pipeline.

Saudi Arabia wants to build the world’s largest hotel, the Abraj Kudai, currently being planned for Mecca and boasting 10,000 rooms for visitors and worshippers. The $3.5-billion project will have 12 separate towers with 44 storeys each, and include 70 restaurants, rooftop helipads, royal floors and a fullsize convention centre. The property will span 60,000 sq m and a total built-up area of 1.4 million sq m. It will eclipse the current world’s biggest hotel, Venetian Palazzo in Las Vegas, which has 7,117 rooms.

All these add to the $195.7b worth of construction contracts drive interest in GCC.

Source: Arno Maierbrugger, Special to Property Weekly


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