Cristal founder and CEO, Peter Blackburn Cristal founder and CEO, Peter Blackburn

Cristal Hotels and Resorts has signed new hotels in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, with plans to expand further in the latter.

The Lebanon hotel, which is currently being operated, is located around 30 minutes outside Beirut and will reopen by August 2012 after a US $2 million investment from the owners.

Peter Blackburn, founder and CEO, said: “You have businesses coming from other parts of the region, where there are struggles, and Lebanon is benefitting for this.”

The group has also plans to open three new hotels in Saudi Arabia, with one property already signed in a joint venture. The plans are for two hotels in Riyadh and one on the east coast.

Blackburn said: “One of the three in Saudi Arabia is currently being operated, which will be rebranded. That is on the outskirts of Riyadh, and is a very high calibre, prestige, futuristic hotel. It’s very contemporary.”

“Saudi Arabia is probably one of the biggest markets in the region in regards to internal tourism and religious tourism, and there’s such a shortage of hotels there, and international chains,” he added. “I just came back from Riyadh and their occupancy levels are 100% from Saturday to Tuesday, with Wednesday to Saturday around 65%. It’s fantastic. And rates are higher than the UAE – you’re talking almost double the UAE.”

Blackburn also told Hotelier that Cristal will enter Iraq soon, and is about to sign a deal on a property in Erbil, in the Kurdistan region. “That side of Iraq is very secure, I’ve been there several times and it’s very safe. It’s a very, very nice part of the country.” He added that it “will probably snowball into another two in Iraq”.

Blackburn’s plans for Cristal is to have 25 properties confirmed in the next five years. “It’s achievable. All going well, by the end of this year, we’ll be at eight properties confirmed.”

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