ANNUAL REVIEW: 2012 at a Glance

The trends and issues that dominated the MidEast industry last year

Reports, Operators, 2012, Issues, Louise oakley, Stories, The main, The middle eastern hotel industry, Trends
Accor president and COO Yann Caill?re.
Accor president and COO Yann Caill?re.
Jennifer Fox, president of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts revealed 13 hotels in the pipeline.
Jennifer Fox, president of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts revealed 13 hotels in the pipeline.
Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire.
Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire.
Jumeirah at Etihad Towers GM Doris Greif.
Jumeirah at Etihad Towers GM Doris Greif.
Fairmont, The Palm, Dubai GM Martin van Kan.
Fairmont, The Palm, Dubai GM Martin van Kan.
Ali Hamad Lakhraim Alzaabi, president and CEO of Millennium & Copthorne Middle East.
Ali Hamad Lakhraim Alzaabi, president and CEO of Millennium & Copthorne Middle East.
Christoph Mares, director of operations, EMEA, Mandarin Oriental.
Christoph Mares, director of operations, EMEA, Mandarin Oriental.
General manager Klaus Assmann opened Jumeirah Creekside hotel in Dubai.
General manager Klaus Assmann opened Jumeirah Creekside hotel in Dubai.
The team at the soon-to-open Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, snapped during a tour of the resort.
The team at the soon-to-open Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, snapped during a tour of the resort.
JA Resorts & Hotels COO David Thomson spoke exclusively to Hotelier about the rebrand.
JA Resorts & Hotels COO David Thomson spoke exclusively to Hotelier about the rebrand.
Gerardo Gabat from Kempinski Mall of Emirates Dubai was named Concierge of the Year.
Gerardo Gabat from Kempinski Mall of Emirates Dubai was named Concierge of the Year.
Wyndham Hotel Group signed an exclusive development agreement for the economy Days Inn brand in Saudi Arabia with Riyada International Hotels and Resorts.
Wyndham Hotel Group signed an exclusive development agreement for the economy Days Inn brand in Saudi Arabia with Riyada International Hotels and Resorts.
Reports, Operators, 2012, Issues, Louise oakley, Stories, The main, The middle eastern hotel industry, Trends

As an eventful year drew to a close, Louise Oakley reviewed the main stories, trends and issues that have dominated the Middle East hotel industry in 2012


The year started with the somewhat pessimistic prediction, gleaned from the Hotelier Middle East GM Survey 2011, that increased competition would be the biggest threat to business in 2012.

As the year unfurled, the prediction seemed to be on the money, with Abu Dhabi hotels suffering the most.

However, the influx of supply was slower than expected. Reviewing Hotelier’s forecast for the top 10 openings made at the start of this year, only four have welcomed guests so far — St. Regis Doha, Rixos The Palm Dubai, Eastern Mangroves by Anantara in Abu Dhabi and JW Marriott Marquis Dubai.

Several companies were making more positive noises at the outset of 2012: GHM signed a Chedi hotel in Sharjah with Shurooq; Mondo Hospitality rebranded the Dusit Princess Dubai; Auris Hotels announced plans to grow from four to 15 hotels; Habtoor Hotels forecast a 17% increase in gross operating profits in 2012 over 2011; and Hard Rock Cafe said it was reviving plans for hotels in the Middle East.

We spoke with Accor president and COO Yann Caillère, responsible for more than 520,000 rooms, who revealed plans to expand the Pullman and MGallery brands, roll out Grand Mercure in China and convert all Etap hotels to Ibis Budget and All Seasons hotels to Ibis Styles.

On the destinations front, tourism ministers from Jordan and Oman both looked towards positive visitor growth, as they capitalised on the 200th anniversary of the rediscovery of Petra and Muscat’s nomination as Arab Tourism Capital, respectively.

When it came to trends, hoteliers predicted that in 2012 mobile commerce would be “the next big thing”, that the industry would be “aggressively” switching to online booking channels, and that the impact of the social media revolution was only just beginning. They couldn’t have been more right.


The headlines came thick and fast in February, with the announcement of a new strategic partnership between Carlson and Rezidor, the latter of which also won the contract to reflag the Ramada Plaza in Doha under Radisson Blu.

Accor’s Middle East MD Christophe Landais said the group would be opening 10 hotels in UAE and KSA in 2012; IHG announced plans to open eight hotels and appointed Pascal Gauvin the new regional COO; and the Al Habtoor Group unveiled the US $1.33 billion Habtoor Palace — a three-hotel and theatre complex on the site of the Metropolitan hotel in Dubai, currently being demolished.

But the story everyone was talking about was the trial of Burj Al Arab’s head chef and butcher for allegedly taking kickbacks of nearly AED 900,000 ($245,021) in return for buying poor-quality food at inflated priced from suppliers, which brought long-standing concerns over bribery and corruption to the forefront.

In Qatar meanwhile, tongues were wagging over the ban on the sale of alcohol on The Pearl, Qatar — which still stands today.

An interview with Jennifer Fox, the new president of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, revealed 13 hotels in the global pipeline, while the chain’s UAE leaders discussed their strategy to establish their hotels as F&B hubs in the community, as they grow from two hotels in the country to six.

We also spoke with Starwood Dubai area manager Heinz Grub about plans to grow turnover by 4-5% in 2012. Plus, in the first of a series of exclusive behind-the scenes pre-opening reports, we visited Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa by Anantara four months ahead of its opening to understand its aim to be the capital’s hotel of choice for corporate and government business.


March was a deal-maker of a month, with several major announcements coming from locally-based companies.

Jebel Ali International Hotels bought a hotel in the JBR area of Dubai for $100mn, as well as revealing overseas expansion plans; six Layia hotels in the UAE were reflagged under new brand Time Hotels Management.

Meanwhile, Marriott International announced the debut of its Edition brand in 2014 in Abu Dhabi; Hyatt was to hire 2500 new staff in Saudi Arabia in the next four years; Shangri-La said it would launch two hotels in Doha in 2013; Rezidor re-entered Tripoli with Radisson Blu: IHG opened InterContinental Doha The City.

Rezidor’s Kurt Ritter reviewed the company’s recent contract acquisitions — comprising new flags in Dubai, Fujariah and Doha; Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire warned of the risks hotels face if executive chefs are overloaded and not able to actually cook; Ritz-Carlton Riyadh GM Jean-Francoise Laurent reported that the new property had already exceeded its Saudisation targets; and Hotelier made its first visit to the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai.

A year after the Arab Spring protests in Bahrain, our report revealed an uncertain, but resilient market, with the new Sofitel and Kempinski hotels performing well, all things considered.

We also headed to the International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin, where opportunities in China and investment in technology were recurrent themes. Meanwhile, the Hotelier Middle East Supplier Survey 2012 tackled the afore-mentioned issue of corruption.


April reported yet more new launches: IHG signed the region’s first Indigo in KSA, developed the world’s first bespoke brand for the Chinese market, Hualuxe and created a new wellness hotel brand, Even; Sofitel opened in Abu Dhabi; Rixos debuted in Dubai; and Four Seasons finally started construction of its first hotel in Dubai.

Meanwhile, Starwood revealed plans to increase its W brand portfolio by a third, Shaza Hotels said it had 11 properties under construction or in design phase, and Dhaliliyah Est and Nobu Hospitality formed Saudi Nobu, with plans to develop Nobu hotels in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Also in KSA, hoteliers revealed the pressure imposed by the new Nitaqat nationalisation programme.

Out and about, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers GM Doris Greif gave Hotelier a tour of her new hotel in Abu Dhabi. Hotelier reported from the first ever Food and Business Forum in Dubai, organised by sister magazine Caterer Middle East, and also from the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference.

We also headed to Doha for the second annual Qatar GM Debate, where Qatar Tourism Authority director of tourism Abdulla Al Malalla Al-Bader said a total of 3819 rooms would enter the market in the form of 11 hotels and six hotel apartments in 2012.

Already this year, St.Regis Doha, Hilton Doha, InterContinental Doha The City and The Torch have opened, bringing the total to 79 hotels, with another 77 planned. Finally, we were honoured to interview the legendary Herve Humler, the longest serving member of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.


With May hosting Arabian Travel Market and The Hotel Show, the issue was, as always a bumper one. Top of the headlines was the rebranding of Qatar National Hotels to Katara Hospitality, ahead of the company’s ambitious international expansion plans.

Also in Qatar, Gulf Trading & Contracting Co. appointed Onyx Hospitality to run its upcoming hotel under the Amari brand and in the UAE, Real Madrid Football Club visited to launch a resort in Ras Al Khaimah, Banyan Tree repositioned its RAK Al Wadi resort into two hotels, and Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority revealed plans to implement a new classification system in Q1, 2013.

Moving into Saudi Arabia, Cristal was planning three new hotels while owner Al Hokair was investing $40 million to convert half of its internationally-managed hotels to its own MENA brand.

The big names gracing our interview pages included Starwood EMEA president Roeland Vos, Dusit International VP operations Jiri Kobos, Al Hokair Group deputy CEO Sami Al Hokair, IHG director of operations Northern Gulf Michael Koth, Hilton Worldwide VP F&B Middle East and Africa Simon Lazarus, and Cristal CEO Peter Blackburn, while GMs included Paul Evans of Boutique 7 Hotel & Suites and Gordon MacKenzie of Ramada Plaza Doha — now managed by Rezidor.

Hotelier visited Dusit’s new resort in the Maldives and the St. Regis Doha, where GM Tarek Derbas revealed his goal to establish the hotel as “the must-see destination”. We also took a sneak peek of Fairmont, The Palm, Dubai with GM Martin Van Kan.


In June, once again, we reported on a raft of new launches, as yet more brands entered the market.

Millennium & Copthorne eyed opportunities to bring its loft concept Studio M to the GCC; Starwood said it was planning three W hotels in Dubai – including one as part of the ‘Habtoor Palace’, also comprising a Westin and St. Regis; Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels completed its first four openings in Doha, with two more to come; Hospitality Management Holdings opened its Iraq debut; and Hyatt announced it would introduce its North American Hyatt Place economy brand to the UAE.

Elsewhere, Al Khozama Management Company embarked on three new hotels in Saudi Arabia, one to be operated by Rosewood and two in-house, Accor signed three Ibis hotels for the Kingdom, and Drydocks World in Dubai said it was working on a scheme to build a series of underwater hotels in the emirate.

We visited the new Meliá Dubai and met vice chairman and CEO of Meliá Hotels International, Gabriel Escarrer Jaume. Burj Al Arab’s GM Heinrich Morio told us that a reconceptualisation of the Al Muntaha restaurant and banquet areas would be a big project for 2013, Swiss-Belhotel president and chairman Gavin Faull reviewed his recent signings in Oman, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, while Makarim Hospitality Group GM Sultan B. Al Otaibi said there was great potential for authentic Saudi operators.

The June Hotstats Survey from TRI Hospitality Consulting showed a continuing decline in Abu Dhabi, with RevPAR of $73.35, its worst performing month of the year so far.


This month, we brought together five of the UAE’s general managers leading pre-openings of some highly-anticipated hotels, from Conrad Dubai to Rosewood Abu Dhabi.

By the end of 2012/early 2013, they are expected to open a total of 2583 hotel rooms and 48 restaurants, and recruit more than 4350 staff. In other news, The Monarch Dubai was rebranded The H Hotel and Khamas Hospitality announced that Dubai’s Royal Ascot will be reflagged Doubletree by Hilton; Swissotel opened in Makkah; Rezidor signed the Riyadh Park Inn; Mövenpick became the first hotel in Kuwait to ban smoking and IFA Hotels & Resorts said it was in talks to bring Yotel to the Middle East.

We analysed the significant potential for growth in the budget segment in Saudi Arabia, reviewed Mandarin Oriental’s plans for the region, which target seven hotels in the Middle East by 2017, and spoke to Chedi Muscat GM York Brandes about the need for better destination marketing.

A report on revenue management highlighted the need to develop and train skilled revenue managers and a spa update reflected the maturing of this sector, with Accor launching the first Thalassa Sea & Spa product in Bahrain, St. Regis introducing Remede and Esadore International creating a Middle Eastern spa brand, Nine Degrees, to be taken into hotels.

The annual Hotelier Middle East Salary Survey revealed wage woes, with 81.4% of respondents claiming line staff wages are not adequate. However, 42.7% of respondents said they had received a payrise in the previous six months.


An exclusive interview with Four Seasons president and CEO Kathleen Taylor led the way this month, as the ‘first lady’ looked back over her inspirational career and urged an “attitude shift” to move the hotel industry away from being the “exclusive arena of men”.

Hotelier also met with Salman A. Haider, SVP of mixed use at Majid Al Futtaim Properties, who outlined major investments at Pullman Deira City Centre and Kempinski Mall of the Emirates in Dubai; the team behind The Oetker Collection currently working on Le Bristol Abu Dhabi; and took a sneak peek tour of the Crowne Plaza Dubai Deira, where IHG’s reflagging of the former Renaissance hotel was well underway.

Emaar Hospitality Group finally made headlines with the announcement it would take over the management of Al Manzil and Qamardeen in Dubai from Southern Sun; Saudi hospitality firm Elaf said it would invest $107 million in four new hotels; Auris Hotels announced its first hotel in Oman; Nikki Beach launched a luxury resort in Lebanon and Jumeirah Group opened the Creekside hotel.

The Nael & Bin Harmal Group opened its first boutique hotel in Dubai, Qatari Diar signed an MoU with Oman’s Ministry of Tourism to develop three hotels, and we took a look at the first photos of the Hard Rock Abu Dhabi hotel.

A 360° look at the UAE hospitality market revealed 13,392 rooms planned for Dubai alone, with another 4506 coming up in Abu Dhabi, while Ras Al Khaimah is targeting a total of 10,000 rooms operational by 2016.


In September, Hotelier unveiled its new-look design along with the fourth annual Hotelier Middle East Power 50. Jumeirah Group president and CEO Gerald Lawless topped the list.

He was followed by Hilton Worldwide area president Middle East and Africa Rudi Jagersbacher in second place and last year’s number one, Starwood Hotels and Resorts senior vice president and regional director Middle East, Guido de Wilde, in third place.

In the news, Best Western International said it would bring its luxury Premier brand to Kuwait and Oman; Rezidor launched Think Planet, targeting 25% energy savings by 2016; Sheraton Cairo extended its renovation; Le Meridien Mina Seyahi in Dubai said it would reopen before the year-end; Crowne Plaza debuted in Doha; and Hilton Worldwide started a $27 million revamp of the Al Hamra Golf and Beach Resort in Ras Al Khaimah.

Hotelier provided exclusive insights into the new Jumeirah Creekside in Dubai and upcoming Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi via extensive behind-the-scenes tours, outlined Le Mirage Hospitality’s brand uplift in Qatar, and discussed expansion with Golden Tulip MENA president Amine Moukarzel.

We started a three-part exploration of the world of digital reservations, highlighting the need to prioritise SEO to make sure your hotel is visible online.

The highlight of the month was, of course, the Hotelier Middle East Great GM Debate, which attracted more than 200 GMs and industry experts to debate the issues that matter most to them — from competition and number crunching to guest profiling and staff training, along with exclusive data presentations and unique networking opportunities.


In October, Jebel Ali International Hotels became JA Resorts & Hotels in a multi-million dollar rebrand; Premier Inn said Saudi Arabia could accommodate 50 of its hotels within 10 years; boutique L’Hotel Bahrain was forced to close having been crippled by 2011’s unrest; Crowne Plaza Kuwait added 200 rooms; Chinese brand Tangram eyed the Middle East; IHG signed InterContinental Dubai Marina, a property previously expected to be run under Marriott’s Renaissance; and new minimum Saudi wages hit budgets hard.

Columnists urged more trust in owner-operator relationships and the need to make online guest reviews work for you by being more social, Al Hamra Village CFO Mark Hawkes explained why now was the right time to close its hotel operating arm and JW Marriott’s brand manager Mitzi Gaskins revealed why she was redefining the brand’s take on luxury.

Our exclusive cover interview celebrated Hospitality Management Holdings’ president, CEO and founding partner Michel Noblet’s 50 years in the business and we went behind the scenes at Pullman Deira City Centre during its extensive refurbishment.

A report on Kuwait uncovered a stagnating clientele and a need, therefore, to define new markets for future growth, while digital experts urged hotels to simplify their websites and focus on easy-to-use booking engines.

The big news, however, was the unveiling of the 100 finalists in the Hotelier Middle East Awards 2012, all dedicated, professional and creative hoteliers vying for these coveted gongs.


November was a month of celebrations, following the unveiling of the Hotelier Middle East Awards 2012 winners at a glamorous Roaring 20s themed ceremony held at Ritz-Carlton DIFC.

Serge Zaalof, president and managing director of Atlantis The Palm, Dubai was named GM of the Year, Mohammed Rafiq, gardener at InterContinental Hotel Abu Dhabi, won Unsung Hero of the Year, while Media One Hotel took the title Hotel Team of the Year.

The announcements continued to flow despite the year drawing to a close, with the Vichy Spa & Resort announced for Doha, Jordan’s Amlak Hotels & Tourism Investment Company developing six Belle Vue hotels in the GCC, Wyndham Hotel Group signing its first hotel in Bahrain, and the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel opening as promised in Dubai.

However, there were also some delays, with Conrad Dubai’s launch pushed back to Q2 2013, and Starwood revealing its three-hotel complex in Muscat, announced two years back, is still in the design phase.

Hotelier also revealed that Seven Tides Hospitality had cancelled the management contract with Mövenpick for Royal Amwaj on Palm Jumeirah, with The Address Hotels + Resorts believed to be the new operator.

The Rezidor Hotel Group geared up for the start of a new era, as president and CEO Kurt Ritter announced his imminent retirement and his replacement in the form of his number two Wolfgang Neumann, who told Hotelier all about his plans for commercial growth and the repositioning of the Park Inn brand.


As we enter the final month of the year, with events aplenty and the festive period nearly upon us, the industry is as busy as ever.

Sofitel announced a new flagship hotel in Riyadh; Wyndham Hotel Group launched the Days Inn brand in Saudi Arabia; Best Western opened in Bahrain; JA Resorts & Hotels opened Ocean View in Dubai and Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi revealed it would open in Q1.

Opening dates for Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi and Fairmont The Palm Dubai are yet to be confirmed, but both have promised they’ll be open by the year-end.

Our report on the Saudi Arabian market revealed an abundance of opportunities for growth, there are 20 technology innovations to get abreast of in our round-up on page 68, and this month’s cover star is Hilton Worldwide’s Rudi Jagersbacher.

Looking forward to 2013, don’t miss the January issue of Hotelier, which celebrates the magazine’s 10th anniversary and forecasts the year ahead.

Top 12 most read headlines on

1. Guest racks up $105,630 bill at Cavalli Club Dubai
2. Top 10 hotel management schools in the world
3. Mobile madness sweeps the Middle East
4. Burj Al Arab head chef and butcher took bribes
5. Fairmont passport mix-up ruined my career
6. JW Marriott Marquis reveals senior management team
7. New Conrad Dubai to take on rival DIFC restaurants
8. Conrad Dubai targets December 12 opening
9. Top 10 UAE hotels recruiting now
10. Dubai hotel receptionist named best in the worl d
11. Habtoor unveils $133b Dubai hotel theatre complex
12. Ramada Plaza to hire 200 staff

Google Analytics January 1, 2012 - November 21, 2012

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