Company Update: Dusit International

Operator is aggressively expanding into Africa, China and Middle East

Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi, established in 2013.
Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi, established in 2013.

After 66 years of operating more than half of its portfolio in Thailand, Dusit International is aggressively expanding into Africa, China and the Middle East. Hotelier speaks to COO David Shackleton and SVP MEA, Thierry Douin, to find out what has taken the Thai operator so long

Dusit International was established back in 1948 by honorary chairperson Thanpuying Chanut Piyaoui with the opening of her first hotel, the ‘Princess’, in Bangkok; but it took another 53 years for the Thai company to reach the Middle East.

That said, the small operator did pip many of the bigger chains to the post when it entered Dubai in 2001 with the now slightly weather-worn Dusit Thani Dubai. This was followed in 2007 with Pearl Coast Premier Hotel Apartments, Dubai, and the franchised Dusit Residence Serviced Apartments at Dubai Marina.

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Just last year, Dusit expanded its UAE presence with Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi, which chief operating officer David Shackleton says “has been trading well”.

Having plodded along for 12 years in this fast-moving region with a handful of properties, while more and more international chains have sprung up left, right and centre, the company last year suddenly woke up to a realisation: that it needed to grow in the Middle East.

And so in March 2013, Thierry Douin was appointed as senior vice president for the MEA region. The French national oversees operations from the Dubai office, while two of his colleagues look after development.

With five operating hotels in the region already, comprising the four UAE properties and Dusit Thani LakeView Cairo, things are starting to gather pace with a sixth hotel on track for a quarter two 2015 opening in Qatar – the 192-key Dusit Residence Doha.

Additionally, new brand to the region DusitD2 is being negotiated for two sites in Doha, Shackleton confirms.
“We are currently negotiating a DusitD2 property near the new airport and one in West Bay. Not everyone gets over the finish line but we have established relationships with the owners and have sites in mind,” he says.

DusitD2, a brand that launched in 2006 with the opening of DusitD2 Chiang Mai, Thailand, is profiled by the company as ‘a contemporary hotel and resort brand whose distinctive combination of cutting-edge design, high-tech connectivity and efficient, modern convenience reflects the needs and desires of today’s new generation traveller’.

“It’s an upscale brand but not quite five-star; four-and-a-half,” explains Shackleton, who is careful not to use the term ‘lifestyle’, but admits “you got it!” when I mention the trend.

The first Dubai DusitD2 was hoped to be signed during Arabian Travel Market, which took place over three days from May 5 – 8 at Dubai World Trade Centre, however, Shackleton explains that the company was going through some contractual issues and negotiations are still underway. However, once the property is signed, he stresses the DusitD2 property will be “rebranded within a month”.

Aside from DusitD2, Shackleton confirms that three more Dubai hotels are currently under negotiation, as well as five more in Africa and four properties in Saudi Arabia – a market in which the group is seriously looking to increase brand awareness. Negotiations to establish a Global Sales Agent in Jeddah were completed in May.

The group currently has no properties in KSA, but Shackleton is optimistic about the Kingdom’s potential, especially since “Saudi is a key feeder market for Abu Dhabi and Dubai”.

In addition to keeping up with trends for mid-range and long-stay in the region, Dusit International is aware that there is scope for its new premium hotel brand, Dusit Devarana, which launched last year with the Dusit Devarana New Delhi.

However China rather than the Middle East will be the next step for the premium brand, with three hotels currently in the pipeline. Although Dusit International made its China debut just last year, already the company is home to 10 Dusit properties and there are plans for 30 by 2016.

In fact China projects are set to buoy an ambitious growth target of more than tripling Dusit International’s global portfolio of 21 properties within the next five years.

“We’ll have 50 hotels signed in China. Probably around 30 will be open, so I think within the next five years we’ll be looking at having around 70 operating hotels,” Shackleton asserts.

So why has a company that has been around for two thirds of a century, with more than half of its operating portfolio in Thailand, suddenly decided to expedite international growth?

“If there’s a problem in Thailand, it has a significant effect on our earnings,” admits Shackleton.

“If we have as many hotels outside of Thailand as inside, then we have support in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Nairobi, etcetera. What we’re trying to do is spread the risk,” he concludes.

Dusit International Africa expansion

Current portfolio

Dusit Thani LakeView Cairo, Egypt

Opening soon:

DusitD2 Nairobi - to open in July 2014 (not opened at time of going to press)
Dusit Thani Samara Sousse, Tunisia – to open mid-2018

Under negotiation:

One Morocco property
Three Egypt properties

Wishlist:

Tanzania
Uganda
Ghana

Did you know?

Dusit International is in negotiations with the owner of the Dusit Thani LakeView Cairo on potential management agreements for three more hotels in Egypt, one in Greece and one in London, which would be centrally located near Harrods in Knightsbridge. Commenting on the potential London management agreement, Shackleton says “We’re hoping on hope that it goes ahead”.

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