REVEALED: Middle East's 10 most powerful hoteliers

Jumeirah's Gerald Lawless tops the 2012 Hotelier Middle East Power 50

10 Ali Hamad Lakhraim Alzaabi, president and CEO, Millennium and Copthorne Middle
10 Ali Hamad Lakhraim Alzaabi, president and CEO, Millennium and Copthorne Middle
9 Amine E. Moukarzel, president, Golden Tulip MENA
9 Amine E. Moukarzel, president, Golden Tulip MENA
8 Michel Noblet, chief executive officer, Hospitality Management Holdings
8 Michel Noblet, chief executive officer, Hospitality Management Holdings
7 Pascal Gauvin, chief operating officer for India, the Middle East and Africa, Intercontinental Hotels Group
7 Pascal Gauvin, chief operating officer for India, the Middle East and Africa, Intercontinental Hotels Group
6 Christophe Landais, managing director, Accor Middle East
6 Christophe Landais, managing director, Accor Middle East
5 Alex Kyriakidis, president and managing director - Middle East and Africa, Marriott International
5 Alex Kyriakidis, president and managing director - Middle East and Africa, Marriott International
4 Selim El Zyr, co-founder, president and CEO, Rotana
4 Selim El Zyr, co-founder, president and CEO, Rotana
3 Guido De Wilde, senior vice president and regional director - Middle East, Starwood Hotels and Resorts
3 Guido De Wilde, senior vice president and regional director - Middle East, Starwood Hotels and Resorts
2 Rudi Jagersbacher, area president Middle East and Africa, Hilton Worldwide
2 Rudi Jagersbacher, area president Middle East and Africa, Hilton Worldwide
1 Gerald Lawless, president and group CEO, Jumeirah Group
1 Gerald Lawless, president and group CEO, Jumeirah Group

In the final instalment of the Hotelier Middle East Power 50 2012, presented by Voglia, revelations, Hotelier names the top 10 most powerful hoteliers in the region. 

Over the course of this week, the 50 most influential hoteliers have been revealed daily in batches of 10 starting with those ranking in positions 50-41 announced on September 9, through to today's (September 13) unveiling of the top 10. 

In this fourth edition of the Hotelier Middle East Power 50, you will notice a few changes. This year for the first time, the list is entirely dedicated to hotel operators. Even those entrants who both own and operate hotels have been judged only on their management merits. This has meant that we have had to omit the specialists in tourism and development as well as owners and investors, but rest assured, the Hotelier team is already hard at work planning a list to recognise these hotel industry partners.

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As always, however, the rankings in the Hotelier Middle East Power 50 are subjective and the opinion of the editorial team. Decisions are made based upon portfolio and pipeline, activity over the past 12 months and plans for the coming year, along with the reputation of the individual among their peers and their dedication to developing the Middle East hospitality and tourism industry generally.

We are confident that each entrant deserves their place in the list and invite you to join with Hotelier in celebrating the achievements and accolades of so many hotel pioneers.

10 Ali Hamad Lakhraim Alzaabi, president and CEO, Millennium and Copthorne Middle East
With 11 hotels open and 45 upcoming, Millennium & Copthorne Middle East has one of the largest pipelines in the region thanks to the leadership of Ali Hamad Lakhraim Alzaabi, who established the business just 11 years ago.

Over the past year, the company has opened two hotels — Millennium Plaza Hotel Dubai and Kingsgate Hotel Doha — and signed nine more, including Millennium branded properties in Muscat and Mecca and a Grand Millennium in Riyadh.

In total, the company expects to open 13 hotels in the next 12 months. Lakhraim’s next big focus is Iraq, where three hotels are planned to open in Sulaimaniah by September 2013, two under the Copthorne brand and one five-star Grand Millennium.

Among the operating hotels, Grand Millennium Dubai deserves a special mention: it was number one in a guest satisfaction matrix conducted across 41 Millennium & Copthorne hotels worldwide.

BY THE NUMBERS
Millennium & Copthorne hotels open in Middle East: 11 Hotels in confirmed pipeline for Middle East: 45 Middle East hotels opened in past 12 months: 2 Middle East hotels signed in past 12 months: 9 middle East hotels due to open by September 2013: 13 Years in hospitality: 16 Years in Middle East: 16 Nationality: Emirati

9 Amine E. Moukarzel, president, Golden Tulip MENA
Since being promoted from MENA managing director and vice president to president in November, Amine Moukarzel has focused on developing the rapidly-expanding Golden Tulip group.

Moukarzel has dedicated his entire career to Middle East hospitality and the years of expertise gained from nearly four decades in the business are being put to the test as he oversees the launch of 46 new hotels comprising 7678 rooms between now and 2016.

The group has fast-tracked its expansion in MENA over the past 23 years through a successful franchising strategy. Having established a region-wide footprint of 44 hotels, Moukarzel is now set on improving the quality of the product by increasing the number of managed hotels. As a result, only four of the group’s pipeline properties are franchised, compared with 29 of the existing 44.

BY THE NUMBERS
Golden Tulip Hotels open in Middle East: 44 Hotels in confirmed pipeline for Middle East: 46 Middle East hotels opened in past 12 months: 6 Middle East hotels signed in past 12 months: 16 Middle East hotels due to open by September 2013: 22 Years in hospitality: 39 Years in Middle East: 39 Nationality: Lebanese

8 Michel Noblet, chief executive officer, Hospitality Management Holdings
Making his highest entry to date is Michel Noblet, CEO of Hospitality Management Holdings (HMH), a company he launched in 2004 with HE Sheikh Faisal bin Sultan Al Qassimi and HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Faisal Al Qassimi.

They first set up the Coral Hotels & Resorts brand, aiming to launch 25 hotels within five years. Having achieved that target within four years, Noblet was instrumental in the creation of HMH.

Since then, the company has expanded to 30 operational hotels and 20 hotels in the pipeline. It opened 10 hotels in the past 12 months including Coral hotels in Saudi Arabia and Iraq and EWA properties in UAE and Oman. Fourteen projects were signed during the same period, including three in UAE and four in KSA.

Noblet celebrates another incredible milestone this month as he completes 50 years in the business — more than any other entrant.

BY THE NUMBERS
HMH Hotels open in Middle East: 30 Hotels in confirmed pipeline for Middle East: 20 Middle East hotels opened in past 12 months: 10 Middle East hotels signed in past 12 months: 10 Middle East hotels due to open by September 2013: 16-20 Years in hospitality: 50 Years in Middle East: 20 Nationality of Michel Noblet: French

7 Pascal Gauvin, chief operating officer for India, the Middle East and Africa, InterContinental Hotels Group
Following the retirement of IHG stalwart John Bamsey, who was ranked number three in last year’s Power 50, another long-serving member of the family has taken his place.

Pascal Gauvin, who joined IHG in 1993, has overseen four Middle East openings in the past 12 months, including the first Crowne Plaza in Qatar, significantly also the first in the region to feature the brand’s new image. Still to come this year are Crowne Plaza Dead Sea Resort & Spa, the 502-room Crowne Plaza Medinah and Holiday Inn Riyadh Meydan.

There were also three significant signings earlier this year: InterContinental Muscat Hills, Oman; InterContinental Riyadh King Abdullah Financial District, KSA; and the first Hotel Indigo signing in the region, also in Riyadh.

Seven hotels are expected to open before Q4 2013, including InterContinental Kuwait and Staybridge Suites Beirut.

Factoring in India and Africa too and Gauvin says that in total, over the next five years, IHG is targeting 96 new hotels. There are 27 in the confirmed pipeline for Middle East, making IHG the only chain to exceed a total portfolio of 100 hotels in the region.

BY THE NUMBERS
IHG Hotels open in Middle East: 74 Hotels in confirmed pipeline for Middle East: 27 Middle East hotels opened in past 12 months: 4 Middle East hotels signed in past 12 months: 3 Middle East hotels due to open by September 2013: 10 Years in hospitality: 31 Years in Middle East: 13 Nationality: French

6 Christophe Landais, managing director, Accor Middle East
Since establishing the Accor Middle East office in Dubai in 2000, Christophe Landais has been dedicated to extending the company’s presence across the region.

Paving the way initially with Accor’s budget and mid-range brands Ibis and Novotel, Landais has since overseen the addition of many more of the French hotelier’s brands, with Adagio City Aparthotel opening in Abu Dhabi in Q1 2013, Pullman ZamZam Makkah open, and the region’s first MGallery signed for Doha.

In total, over the past 12 months Accor has opened two hotels and signed four hotels, including Mercure Dubai and Novotel Jizan, KSA. Looking forward, Landais expects to open 11 hotels within the next 12 months, of which nine will be in the UAE.

Expansion in KSA is also a focus and scheduled to open in December is the 176-room Ibis Yanbu, which will be the first time a global group has brought an economy brand into Saudi Arabia. This should take the regional portfolio to 68 hotels by this time next year.

Landais has also pushed forward with Saudisation, with all Accor hotels in Makkah on the Nitaqat green label and a target to recruit 1400 nationals by 2016.

BY THE NUMBERS
Accor Hotels open in Middle East (excludes Sofitel): 45 Hotels in confirmed pipeline for Middle East (excludes Sofitel): 21 Middle East Hotels opened in past 12 months: 2 Middle East Hotels signed in past 12 months: 4 Middle East Hotels due to open by September 2013: 11 Years in hospitality: 30+ Years in Middle East: 12 Nationality: French

5 Alex Kyriakidis, president and managing director – Middle East and Africa, Marriott International
Alex Kyriakidis has officially stepped into the big boots of the well-respected Ed Fuller — who retired on March 31 — as president and managing director for Marriott’s Middle East and Africa division.

The company currently has a regional presence consisting of 32 properties in eight countries, offering 7,482 rooms and spanning seven lodging brands. Under Kyriakidis, the division is poised for major growth; 22 properties are scheduled to join Marriott’s portfolio in the region through 2015, adding 7,321 rooms.

In the past 12 months alone, the company has opened eight hotels in the GCC, including Renaissance Doha City Centre, Qatar and Residence Inn by Marriott, Juffair Bahrain — the introduction of the long-stay brand to the Middle East. The company also signed three exciting deals, for JW Marriott Hotel Bahrain, Residence Inn, Kuwait and Edition Hotel, Abu Dhabi.

By September 2013, seven new hotels are expected to open, including the first phase of the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, which will comprise 804 rooms, and 1608 rooms when complete, and is a major deal for the hotel giant globally.

BY THE NUMBERS
Marriott International Hotels open in Middle East (including Ritz-Carlton): 32 Hotels in confirmed pipeline for Middle East (including Ritz-Carlton): 22 Middle East hotels opened in past 12 months: 8 Middle East hotels signed in past 12 months: 3 Middle East hotels due to open by September: 7 Years in hospitality: 38 Years in Middle East: 30+ Nationality: Greek

4 Selim El Zyr, co-founder, president and CEO, Rotana
A familiar face in the Power 50 top 10, Selim El Zyr is respected industry-wide for setting up the region’s first hotel group that proved local management could operate at international standards.

Among his notable achievements have been the diversification of brands to capitalise on all market segments including the all-suites Arjaan, midscale business Centro Hotels by Rotana, and the alcohol-free Rayhaan Hotels & Resorts, in addition to the original five-star Rotana.

Still at the helm of Rotana 20 years on, El Zyr is now the CEO to which all other home-grown companies seeking Middle Eastern growth aspire to.

With El Zyr the numbers really do speak for themselves: he has now worked in hospitality for 42 years, runs 43 operating hotels in the Middle East and has another 46 in the pipeline. Only two properties have opened in the past 12 months but 16 have been signed, including hotels in Riyadh, Jeddah and Iraq, plus properties in Doha and RAK which were only signed in June and have yet to be officially announced.

And at the end of October, Rotana will take over from Starwood as the dominant hotel chain in Dubai, with the opening of Al Ghurair Arjaan by Rotana and Al Ghurair Rayhaan by Rotana taking the tally to 15 operating hotels in the emirate.

By this time next year, El Zyr should be in charge of 53 operating hotels, including exciting launches such as the long-awaited Capital Centre Rotana in Abu Dhabi.

BY THE NUMBERS
Rotana Hotels open in Middle East: 43 Hotels in confirmed pipeline for Middle East: 46 Middle East hotels opened in past 12 months: 2 Middle East hotels signed in past 12 months: 16 Middle East hotels due to open by September 2013: 10 Years in hospitality: 42 years Years in Middle East: 39 Nationality: Lebanese

3 Guido De Wilde, senior vice president and regional director - Middle East, Starwood Hotels and Resorts

Starwood has once again increased its Middle East portfolio this year under the leadership of Guido de Wilde and exciting new deals have solidified its position as the leading hotel operator in Dubai, where the company currently has 14 hotels under five of its brands.

In what was the most talked-about hotel development deal to be announced so far this year, Starwood will add to this with three hotels on Sheikh Zayed Road — the St. Regis, Westin and W — being built on the site of the former Metropolitan by the Habtoor Group. Opening of this vast complex is scheduled for 2017 and Starwood has also signed a W on Palm Jumeirah.

New openings over the past 12 months included the regional debut of the ultra-luxury St. Regis brand in both Abu Dhabi and Doha, and the opening of the first Westin in Abu Dhabi. In addition, Starwood added one tower to the Grosvenor House Dubai, increasing the inventory to 730 units. Looking ahead, a second St. Regis will launch in Abu Dhabi in early 2013, followed by Starwood’s debut in Sharjah and Ajman.

In 2013, Starwood will also be expanding its portfolio in Saudi Arabia with two properties in Medina, Sheraton Medina and Four Points by Sheraton Medina. Other exciting pipeline hotels include a property under the Aloft brand in the emirate of Sharjah and the re-entry of Starwood into Iraq with the milestone signing of a new Sheraton hotel in Erbil.

BY THE NUMBERS
Starwood Hotels open in Middle East (excludes Egypt): 45 Hotels in confirmed pipeline for Middle East (excludes Egypt): 29 Middle East Hotels opened in past 12 months: 3 Middle East Hotels signed in past 12 months: 7 Middle East Hotels due to open by September 2013: 5 + two extensions Years in hospitality: 29 Years in Middle East: 6+ Nationality: Belgian

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2 Rudi Jagersbacher, area president Middle East and Africa, Hilton Worldwide
Hilton Worldwide has had another stellar year under the leadership of Rudi Jagersbacher, who maintains his second position place in the Hotelier Middle East Power 50.
Since taking up his role in January 2011, Jagersbacher has overseen a period of major growth for the company in the Middle East, not to mention Africa and Indian Ocean which he is also responsible for. The Middle East, Egypt and Levant portfolio alone comprises 41 operating hotels and 39 in the confirmed pipeline.

In the past year, five hotels have opened, including the company’s debut in Qatar, Hilton Doha, as well as DoubleTree by Hilton, RAK; Hilton Jumeirah Hotel Apartment, Dubai; Hilton Beirut Habtoor Grand, Lebanon; and Hilton Beirut Metropolitan Palace, Lebanon, the latter two marking an all-important partnership with Dubai’s Habtoor Group, which is also developing a Waldorf Astoria on Palm Jumeirah — one of Hilton’s most prestigious recent signings.

In total, Jagersbacher has signed 14 hotels in the wider Middle East over the past year, including two in Iraqi Kurdistan, two in Qatar and two in Morocco. Development is not likely to slow down either, with 13 hotels scheduled to open over the next 12 months, including Conrad Dubai, Hilton Al Hamra Resort & Spa, Waldorf Astoria RAK, DoubleTree by Hilton Bur Dubai and Hilton Riyadh King Saud University.

Beyond the Middle East, Jagersbacher is also responsible for 15 hotels in Africa and the Indian Ocean and 12 in the pipeline in those markets.

A Hilton veteran, Austrian national Jagersbacher joined Hilton Worldwide in 1974. His career has included vice president roles in London, Dubai and Brussels. He is also a founding member of the Hilton in the Community Foundation, which fund raises to support disadvantaged children.

BY THE NUMBERS
Hilton Worldwide Hotels open in Middle East: 41 Hotels in confirmed pipeline for Middle East: 39 Middle East hotels opened in past 12 months: 5 Middle East hotels signed in past 12 months: 14 Middle East hotels due to open by September 2013: 13 Years in hospitality: 30 Years in Middle East: 5 Nationality: Austrian

1 Gerald Lawless, president and group CEO, Jumeirah Group
The president and group CEO for Jumeirah Group, Gerald Lawless, is crowned this year’s most influential hotel professional in the fourth edition of the Hotelier Middle East Power 50.

Climbing to the top spot from seventh place last year, Lawless’ ranking is testament to the phenomenal growth in the Jumeirah portfolio he has driven over the past 12 months. The chain has expanded from 10 hotels in January 2011 to 21 properties as of September 2012, with new openings including several market debuts — Frankfurt, Abu Dhabi, Rome, Istanbul and Mallorca among them.

He may not run as many hotels as those operated by the international giants also featured in the Power 50, but where Lawless’ success is significant is that he has taken what was 15 years ago a small regional company, global, and with that not only put Jumeirah on the world hotels map but also contributed in no small part to Dubai’s destination status. His achievements over the past 12 months represent eight years dedicated to internationalising the Jumeirah brand, ensuring that investors the world over understand what Jumeirah stands for, and doubling the portfolio over the past year is the culmination of this effort.

This is by no means the peak for Jumeirah though. Lawless is committed to pushing expansion further still, with Jumeirah Bilgah Beach Hotel, Baku, Azerbaijan in soft opening, and Jumeirah Messilah Beach Hotel, Kuwait due to open before mid-2013. In total, 13 hotels are confirmed in the pipeline, but Lawless has made no secret of his desire to sign more hotels in key letterhead locations such as Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore.

While personally committed to ensuring Jumeirah continues to fulfil its expansion targets, Lawless is also dedicated to consolidating the existing business — which he helped found in 1997 after a 23-year career with Forte Hotels. Continually exceeding performance targets is a key priority. At the end of 2011, Jumeirah scored 94% within the Market Metrix Hospitality Index — the largest measure of hospitality company performance available today with 35,000 guest surveys. Dubai properties performed well, with Madinat Jumeirah reporting 80.1% occupancy at RevPAR AED 1607 averages between July 2011 to July 2012. The competitive London market is also strong, with average occupancy of 78.3% and RevPAR of AED 1568 at its hotels in the city.

And aside from Jumeirah’s hotel development, Lawless is also responsible for Jumeirah Restaurants, which launched a second Rivington Grill in Dubai this year and is set to debut Scott’s at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi soon. Meanwhile, home-grown brand The Noodle House reached UAE Superbrand status in 2012 and is set to open new outlets in Morocco, Russia and the UK later this year.

Talise, Jumeirah’s signature spa brand, has also been a target for growth under Lawless’ watch. Until January 2011, it was only present in Madinat Jumeirah. There are now Talise spas and fitness centres in 10 hotels and resorts worldwide, with more opening soon in Shanghai, Baku and Kuwait.

There has been one black mark against Jumeirah in recent weeks, however; the sale of its New York property Jumeirah Essex House by Dubai Investment Group. The sale is scheduled to complete by midnight on September 7, when JW Marriott takes over management. Only time will tell the impact of the loss, as there are currently no more Jumeirah hotels planned for the US, but for now, the firm is focused on America as a source market.

A self-confessed high achiever, Lawless believes in the philosophy that “if something is achievable, you have a duty to set about achieving it”. This attitude no doubt is behind Jumeirah’s success as well as Lawless’ many personal accolades, including being a member of the executive committee and vice chairman – corporate governance of the WTTC.

Praise for Lawless is far-reaching indeed and Ahmad Bin Byat, CEO of Jumeirah’s parent company, Dubai Holding, credits him as being “instrumental in making Jumeirah the global success story it is today”. You simply can’t argue with that.

Read a full interview with Gerald Lawless here

BY THE NUMBERS
Jumeirah Group Hotels open in Middle East: 8 Total number of Jumeirah Hotels: 21 Hotels in confirmed pipeline for Middle East: 5 Total number of Jumeirah Hotels in confirmed pipeline: 13 Middle East hotels opened in past 12 months: 2 Middle East hotels due to open by September 2013: 1 No. of employees: 13,000 Years in hospitality: 38 Years in Middle East: 31 Nationality: Irish

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