Event Preview: Qatar Hospitality Summit

The key trends which need to be addressed and discussed at next month's Doha event

Doha is beginning to attract more leisure visitors, although hoteliers say more attractions are needed.
Doha is beginning to attract more leisure visitors, although hoteliers say more attractions are needed.

Hotelier Middle East finds out what key trends need to be addressed and discussed at the Qatar Hospitality Summit and how the industry is progressing amid major developments in the country

On April 22, hoteliers from across Qatar, as well as industry leaders, will gather in Doha for the latest edition of the annual Hotelier Middle East Qatar Hospitality Summit.

Taking place at Grand Hyatt Doha, the event is set to provide a forum for hoteliers from every department to step back and reflect on how they are going to tackle key operational challenges, meet customer expectations and boost their bottom lines over the coming year.

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It comes on the back of a year during which the country launched its Qatar National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030, and a push to promote ‘Destination Qatar’.

Ahead of the event, Hotelier formed an advisory panel to find out what key trends should be on the agenda, and to get a better idea of the lay of the land in the hospitality sector of Qatar.

Since the last summit, the flow of new hotels and rooms into the market had continued, with the beginning of 2015 alone seeing the opening of a number of high-profile properties, including Banana Island Resort by Anantara (see p50) and Marsa Malaz Kempinski, The Pearl — Doha.

Ray McShane is the pre-opening general manager of Mondrian Doha, which is set to open in the second quarter of this year. He believes the increased competition will be healthy for the market.

“It pushes innovation, motivates hotels and their employees to improve their services and most importantly, provides the consumer with a wider choice, which in turn, stimulates growth,” he explains.

However, as TRI Consulting senior consultant Christopher Hewett points out, the performance of existing supply could be affected. The question of how established hotels can continue to compete will therefore undoubtedly be discussed.

“A number of older properties in Doha are embarking on renovation and refurbishment programmes in order to improve their overall product offering and remain competitive against the new hotels entering the market,” Hewett explains.

One of those established properties is Grand Hyatt Doha, where the event will take place, and general manager Christophe Franzen feels he still has an advantage over newcomers. “We know the market better than the newcomers, we know the likes and dislikes of the resident clientele and can cater to it; we are able to fine-tune any and all offerings we put out into the market, be it rooms or F&B,” he comments.

“The biggest benefit for our rooms business is probably the fact that we are recognised for personalised service, resulting in many guests returning to the Grand Hyatt.”

Looking back on 2014, Franzen reflects on a year that started slowly, yet still proved to be productive for his hotel.

“Q1 in 2014 was weaker for us, it was the second, third and fourth quarters that really turned the tide around,” he says. “We had a lot more leisure guests; probably also because of the hard work of Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), who did concentrate more on selling the destination during the leaner months.

“It was clearly also due to special one-off events that took place in the city, such as the global IATA conference.”

Hewett points out that hotels were helped by the QTA’s focus on positioning Doha as a transit destination, on the back of the expansion of Qatar Airways’ network. [See box on p22 for more on QTA’s efforts].

“This has allowed the country to draw in a greater proportion of stopover transit passengers for one to two days, which has helped diversify the market away from being a corporate orientation destination,” he explains.

Meanwhile, McShane agrees with Franzen on the point of one-off events having a big impact on KPIs, and he sees that trend showing no signs of abating.

“Doha occupancy continues to be impacted by macro and micro economic factors that are in constant flux,” he adds. “Spikes in demand are normal and we expect to see more as the country’s infrastructure ramps up towards 2022.”

As ever with any event focusing on Qatar, that particular year, 2022, is bound to be another hot topic for discussion, with the FIFA World Cup set to attract visitors from across the globe.

A report by Samba Financial Group last year identified the risk of overcapacity in the market, citing problems faced by South Africa, host of the 2010 World Cup, with oversupply particularly in the luxury hotels segment.

While McShane believes it will only be possible to judge whether this is the case once 2022 comes around, Hewett can understand some of the anxieties being raised by various groups.

“There is a definite concern about a potential oversupply post-FIFA World Cup and the level of supply that will remain once the demand subsides. Hoteliers and developers are adopting a courteous approach, and ensuring that extensive market research is conducted before implementing new hotel developments,” he states.

Franzen dismisses any worries that hotels will be built purely for the 2022 World Cup or 2019 World Athletics Championships.

“The city and country do so much more even today to make this a successful business venture for hotel operators and hotel owners,” he insists.

“Look at Doha’s events calendar with so many high profile events returning each year. For example tennis tournaments, Qatar Golf Masters, Moto GP, Motor Show, Jewellery and Watches Exhibition, to name just a few.

“In addition there are many ‘one-off’ events like [January’s] Handball World-Cup being hosted in the country.” He also compares the current situation in Qatar to that seen in Dubai at the beginning of the last decade, with hotels having to allocate marketing spend not just for the properties themselves, but also for the destination.

One advantage of such aforementioned events is that they are forcing Qatar to up its game in terms of infrastructure, and hoteliers appear to be pragmatic about the short-term inconveniences posed by projects such as the Doha Metro.

“No one can really ‘combat’ its effects as it impacts everyone,” says McShane. “The end result will be a metro second to none however. We are looking forward to beating the traffic!”

One area where hoteliers would most certainly welcome construction is in the entertainment and leisure sphere, with the destination still having some way to go before catching up with the UAE.

“We need additional family entertainment venues,” says Franzen. “There are plenty of malls already open or under construction. We need more golf courses, more water parks, and more ‘fun destinations’ such as a movie-themed park or a theme park type venue to attract more guests.”

Among the other issues Franzen is looking to be addressed at the event are social media — he feels its potential is underrated by many hoteliers — and the outsourcing of F&B operations, which he feels creates issues and does not necessarily result in more profit.

Promoting Destination Qatar
In February 2014, the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) unveiled its Qatar National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030, aimed at promoting the country as a destination, with a particular focus on its culture and heritage.

One year on, Grand Hyatt Doha general manager Christophe Franzen is in an ebullient mood about the impact of the QTA’s efforts.

“It had a huge effect,” he enthuses. “For the first time since I am in Doha I have seen Germans, British and Swiss tourists coming to us, spending their Christmas and New Year’s vacation with us. Momentum and awareness is building. Hotels need to support this and also attend the major exhibitions along with QTA.”

He has also seen more business as a result of the expansion of Qatar Airways’ network and a reduction in flight prices. “We definitely did have more guests who opted for a few days stop-over en route to Europe or Asia/Australia,” he explains. “This area still has a lot of potential and I know QTA is working on this.”

McShane agrees that the initial phase of the strategy, which continues to 2018, appears to be yielding results. “We have seen a significant improvement in sports and cultural activities for example,” he says. “Things will naturally accelerate as supporting infrastructure develops.”

Meanwhile, Hewett draws a link between the strategy and efforts to assuage concerns about overcapacity in the hotel sector.

He says: “This plan has given hoteliers and tourism professionals greater confidence that the QTA is working on creating a long-term tourism plan which is focused on the development and growth of the destination well beyond the FIFA World Cup and World Athletic Championships in 2019 and 2022.”

ESSENTIAL INFORMATION
Event: Hotelier Middle East Qatar Hospitality Summit

Date: April 22, 2015

Venue: Grand Hyatt Doha

Format: A one-day event with keynote addresses, debates and discussions, workshops and networking opportunities for all attendees

Attendance: By invitation only based on designation, and free to hotel GMs and hotel department heads. To request an invite, please contact Amanda.Elisha@itp.com or call +971 4 444 3463

Sponsorship opportunities: To gain direct access to decision makers, there are a range of sponsorship packages available. For more information, please contact Stephen.Price@itp.com or call +971 4 444 3246

Speaker opportunities: Some speaking slots are still available. Please register your interest with Louby.Maktari@itp.com or call +971 4 444 3578

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