You have recently signed a strategic partnership to manage 16 hotels in Saudi Arabia, can you tell us more about this?
We plan for expansion everywhere, but Saudi Arabia is an important focus for us now and we were lucky to find Al Aboud Company, one of our main real estate development partners in Saudi Arabia. We are comfortable servicing the conservative market – there is a high demand in this segment, and we have tailormade our product to meet this demand. The plan is to develop more than 16 hotels in major cities across the country, not necessarily in the bigger cities such as Jeddah, Riyadh, Makkah or Medina. Although these are four of the prime destinations, we are also looking at other destination across Saudi Arabia. These 16 hotels translate into an additional 4,000 rooms to our inventory in the country.
Give us an update on Retaj’s brands.
Retaj operates in the upper upscale bracket with Retaj Royale. Retaj, is our top four-star hotel brand; we have a budget brand called Retaj Inn and we are developing an extended-stay product called Retaj Suites, one of which we will be opening in October is Doha. We also have two resorts in operation now, with a third to open by year-end and maybe more in Turkey and Moroni, Comoros.
Three new hotels are to open in Doha, The Retaj Al Rawdah is an 80-room boutique hotel with a couple of outlets located in the business district and is accessible for a short or long stay. The second one is Retaj Suites Musheireb, also for long- or short-term stays. We are lucky to be part of this destination within a destination. The third is our resort Retaj Salawa Road and Vichy Spa, a unique resort catering to sports and wellness. It will have a spa managed by the French brand Vichy. We will have a lazy river ride of around one kilometre, nine pools (indoor and outdoor) and will be spread over 20 hectares. It is at the beginning of Salawa, the road to Saudi Arabia, but only about 20 minutes from Doha City. We are building a sporting village with a FIFA football field next to it. It is a fully integrated resort. We hope to have this open by year-end.
Any chance to see you here in the UAE?
Absolutely. I just joined the group a few months ago, so I am first looking at the branding and the vision, our standards, working with the team that are in place, but yes part of our expansion plan is here in Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and also Oman and Bahrain – so GCC is definitely key for our expansion plan. We are also looking at East Asia going to Malaysia, Indonesia, Bosnia – our client mix is 25 per cent French, 22 per cent German, and a good UK market too – so very diversified.
How are the current hotels performing?
We had an excellent first quarter in Doha this year, same in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, but I am worried about the second quarter as it is slowing down more than expected, but it is part of the trend. We are looking forward to a good close of the year that will hopefully balance the year.
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