EXCLUSIVE: Q&A with Katara Chief Executive [HotelierMiddleEast.com]
(HotelierMiddleEast.com Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Chief executive officer of Katara Hospitality talks to Hotelier about new openings, challenges in the hospitality sector and the industry trends he is seeing emerge.
1. Which hotels do you expect to open in the Middle East in 2014?
Katara Hospitality has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to manage a new hotel in Doha. This new property will be named Merweb Plaza Hotel and is scheduled to open in late 2014 once construction work has been completed.
2. In total, how many rooms do these hotels comprise?
The Merweb Plaza Hotel will comprise 175 rooms and suites.
3. What is your hero hotel opening in 2014 and why?
The Merweb Plaza Hotel will be our hero hotel opening in the region. It will comprise 175 rooms and suites equipped with the latest technologies and amenities required by business travellers on the move, while restaurants, meeting and banqueting space as well as recreation facilities will complement the offer.
Merweb is the Qatar-born and grown brand, intimately related to the history of the country. The ancient Merweb fort that once provided shelter for traders and seafarers has now developed into the modern hotel concept that caters to modern business travellers – a metamorphosis of Arabic hospitality heritage enhanced through technological innovation.
4. To meet the needs of your upcoming pipeline, how many staff will you be looking to recruit in 2014?
We are already a major employer in Qatar and we will look to expand that hotel workforce to support the opening of Merweb Plaza Hotel. We will finalise recruitment plans and numbers closer to the opening date.
5. How can the hotel industry best entice new, young talent?
The Middle East hotel market remains robust and its high growth potential provides an exciting opportunity for new recruits looking to join the hospitality industry.
Hotel companies looking to hire talented staff can enlist the services of headhunting organisations in the region, some of which cater specifically to the hospitality sector. It is helpful to define job responsibilities of the role that needs to be filled, and also to outline the personality characteristics a hotel looks for in potential employees. Especially in the case of young talent starting out in their careers, hotels must remember recruit on the basis of personality rather than just experience.
Candidates are attracted to hotel companies that offer learning and growth opportunities. Training and development is important in today's competitive environment, as are steady paths of progression. Another key factor in recruiting and retaining staff, true for the hospitality industry as any other, is empowering employees and delegating them with decision making authority.
6. What do you think are the main challenges hotel GMs will face in 2014?
The hospitality industry is becoming increasingly competitive and one of the greatest challenges for any hotel is to determine how to be more innovative and differentiate from competition.
Qatar is witnessing an unprecedented growth in high-profile hospitality projects, thanks to the steady growth of the economy, and to the lead up to the FIFA World Cup 2022. More new hotel openings in 2014 will add to the challenge of maintaining competitive room rates while stimulating healthy competition to maintain service standards.
With today's dynamic economy and in turn, fast evolving hospitality needs, hotel GMs will have to keep their strategies flexible and plan for constant change. Another challenge for international hospitality brands setting up in the Middle East is adapting to local customer preferences. Global hotel companies looking to succeed in new markets must find effective ways of competing with domestic brands by localising their service offerings while keeping in line with their global brand values.
Recruiting and retaining talent remains another challenge for the hospitality industry.
7. The rejuvenation of hotel F&B has been a hot topic in 2013, with some hotels restructuring F&B management, hiring at the corporate level, etc. What is your approach to reinvigorating F&B in 2014?
We are currently finalising our plans for the F&B offers in the Merweb Plaza Hotel. You can be sure the final offer will match the best of international cuisine for the business traveller, with a unique touch of Qatari hospitality.
8. What are the key travel trends you are seeing emerge?
The hospitality sector is one of the most dynamic and competitive industries as new concepts are continuously developed to meet increasing guest demands. Travellers looking for luxury accommodation have become more sophisticated, looking for genuine luxury hospitality experiences that go beyond recognition and personalised service.
We are now witnessing the emerging of various niche products within the luxury hotels segment that bring in unique flavours, having the ability to merge local heritage with services and amenities that create 'money can't buy' experiences and lifetime memories for global travellers. In Qatar for instance, Sharq Village & Spa was the first luxury and heritage property that generated this trend; other hotels under the umbrella of Katara Hospitality in international destinations, such as Raffles Singapore or Le Royal Monceau-Raffles Paris have created a tradition in providing "emotional luxury" hospitality experiences.
With regard to wellness, consumers have become more concerned with well-being and healthy living. Partnering with some of the most popular players in the global hospitality industry, our properties host some of the most renowned spas in the world. For instance, the Six Senses Spa at Sharq Village & Spa is the largest of its kind in the Middle East and it has been at the forefront of the industry since it opened in 2007. In Switzerland, Bürgenstock Resort Lake Lucerne will incorporate a medical wellness hotel with 160 rooms and an integrated spa, while Le Royal Monceau – Raffles Paris showcases one of the most prestigious wellness centres in the French capital, with Spa My Blend by Clarins.
When it comes to diversification, the increase of more cost conscious travellers led to the diversification of the offer under the four and three star hotel segment. Operators that have been traditionally known for managing five star properties have started developing brands and concepts that operate within the four and three star market, thus diversifying their offering. Alternatively, operators in the luxury segment that have traditionally counted on the net value of their services and reputation started introducing incentives and reward programmes that enable them to retain guests in a very competitive market place.
9. What are you doing to target new markets such as the BRIC market and Generation Y travellers?
Our operated properties ensure we have an offer that appeals across nationalities and across segments. Offering efficient service softened with a warm Arabic welcome, the Merweb Hotels bring in a versatile hospitality concept that integrates all areas of hotel operations in a seamless stay experience.
10. Where in the GCC do you see scope for diversification of the market and how are you targeting price-conscious customers?
Within the GCC, Katara Hospitality intends to continue its strong focus on the Qatar hospitality market. Qatar is our homeland and we believe we have a duty to bring our contribution to developing a strong infrastructure network. Our plan is to maintain our position as market leaders by developing peerless hospitality environments that will become internationally recognised landmarks.
In addition, recent hospitality market trends reveal an increase in more cost conscious travellers, leading to a diversification of the offer under the four and three star hotel segment. We at Katara Hospitality also recognize the importance of diversification. Currently, the properties owned and managed by Katara Hospitality in Qatar form an eclectic portfolio of hotels that cover a large area of demand, from high end business travellers to more cost conscious ones, while catering successfully to the MICE segment and offering outstanding recreational facilities.
Our diversification strategy of introducing four star business hotels and leisure resorts located in markets with high potential is meant to penetrate the related market segments, enhance the cash flow projections to support the company's development and ensure a balance is met across assets of short and long term profitability.
11. What is your vision for 2014?
At Katara Hospitality, we believe our breadth of operations, geographically and across market segments, with our range of investments mean that we are well positioned for another successful year ahead.
We have several important openings scheduled for 2014, including the opening of the Merweb Plaza Hotel in Doha, The Peninsula Paris and the Excelsior Gallia in Milan.
We will continue the development work on the iconic Katara Towers, Lusail Marina District in Qatar. An architectural translation of Qatar's country seal, the complex is expected to open in 2017.
Currently entering the final stages of a major redevelopment, The Peninsula Paris will emerge as one of the most luxurious destinations in Europe representing a legendary hospitality legacy of more than a century.
Also in final development, Excelsior Hotel Gallia Milan is the "youngest" hotel amongst Katara Hospitality's growing international investments. Initially opened in 1932, the hotel has undergone a major renovation with expansion incorporating an adjacent building.
We will also see work accelerate on our major Swiss projects. The Royal Savoy in Lausanne is now well under way and we will see development of more of the Bürgenstock resort project, one of Switzerland's most important tourist resorts.
The openings in Europe will add further operational strength, building on the foundations of our successful portfolio. And we continue to seek new investments as we aim for our goal of 30 properties by 2016.
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