The 2017 Qatar Hospitality Summit's panel discussion on The 2017 Qatar Hospitality Summit's panel discussion on "Qatar Under Pressure - Planning for Tomorrow" was moderated by TRI Consulting associate director Christopher Hewett (left) and involved Grand Hyatt Doha marketing communications manager Noha Belhaj, Four Seasons Doha regional vice president & general manager Todd J. Cilano and IHG regional general manager Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait and InterContinental Doha general manager Andreas Pfister.

During this economic downturn, hoteliers in Qatar need to seize the opportunity and convince owners to re-invest in assets and refurbish, without displacing existing business.

Members of the 2017 Qatar Hospitality Summit’s first panel discussion, tackling the topic “Qatar Under Pressure – Planning for Tomorrow” all agreed that sluggish rooms business offers a natural opportunity for operators to bring forward plans for renovation, in order to be ready for the eventual upswing in the business cycle.

Four Seasons Hotel Doha regional vice president & general manager Todd J. Cilano said: “It is clearly a down market. This is the best time to strategically map out where to re-invest, as long as you’re not displacing business, because there is already a natural decline. When the business returns or when the new supply settles in, you can re-launch with something different, something special, to draw attention back to you.” Cilano highlighted the importance of operators being aligned with their owners on this vision, adding that owners who understand the nature and timing of the business are vital.

Grand Hyatt Doha Hotel & Villas marketing communications manager Noha Belhaj added that, in line with the summit’s market overview presentation by TRI Consulting associate director Chris Hewett, who also moderated the panel, which had pointed out the revenue generating potential of food & beverage, her hotel would also be focusing on stand-alone concepts for F&B.

IHG regional general manager Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait and InterContinental Doha general manager Andreas Pfister agreed that F&B still offers opportunities for growth whereas with rooms, it would be a “struggle.” Nevertheless, he stressed the importance of emphasising service as well as profitability during a downturn. To which Cilano also agreed and cautioned those operators who respond to downward pressure on occupancy by cutting rates, saying: “By dropping rates, you are not enticing the market. You are not adding to your occupancy by dropping price points.” Instead, he said, the focus should be on driving quality and, in Four Seasons’ case, a “strong reliance on the brand”, a strategy which, he said, has proven successful for the Doha property.

The panel also touched on Qatar’s source markets, with everyone agreeing that QTA’s Vision 2030 of shifting from an over-reliance on GCC feeder markets (comprising 46.1% of total visitors as of 2016, according to TRI Consulting) is “medium to long term.” Cilano said: “The conscious push to move away from GCC markets and attract more international visitors – that’s simply not happening right now. We’ve got to fish where the fish are and in the short term, they’re in the GCC.”

He also cited the importance of Qatar’s readiness in attracting other markets, citing Chinese travellers as an example: “What makes Doha attractive to these travellers? We’ve got to have shopping and cultural attractions, yes, but also Mandarin speakers and visitor entry forms written in Chinese language. From an operator, hotelier point of view, we need to make sure that we have their food. This is one of the nationalities that truly wants, needs and desires their own cuisine, regardless of where they are in the world. And speaking of social media, we’ve got to be on Wechat.”

All three panellists agreed that more could be done in terms of destination marketing for Doha and that initiatives should be a “community challenge, not an individual hotel challenge”, Cilano added.
Pfister stressed the sense of urgency in implementing such initiatives: “Time and speed is of the essence. We need to be ready for the future. We need to plan today and get our act together for the next three to five years.”

Approximately 200 of Qatar’s hoteliers and hospitality providers convened at the Grand Hyatt Doha ballroom on April 11, 2017 for the seventh annual Hotelier Middle East Qatar Hospitality Summit, a day of industry presentations, panel discussions and workshops dealing with issues and developments in Qatar’s evolving tourism industry landscape. The event was sponsored by exhibitors: Pulsar Foodstuff, The Gourmet Olive Market, A. Ronai, KTC Hospitality Division, Matrix Asset Management Solution, Isukoshi, Grand Strength, Langel and Technogym, as well as workshop sponsor Tink Labs and lunch sponsor Qatar National Import and Export Company.

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