CEO interview: Jean Gabriel Peres
Movenpick Hotels & Resorts CEO Jean Gabriel Peres has growth ambitious for the region, but believes this must be achieved on a human scale
They say that the Swiss make everything run on time; well Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts certainly seems to fit the stereotype when it comes to its Middle East development, which up until now has ticked along steadily, yet surely. Despite its solid foundations in the region — with 30 hotels across the GCC, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon — Mövenpick doesn’t spring to mind as one of the hospitality giants, as Marriott and Hilton might.
Instead, the operator stays true to the attributes upon which it was founded — authenticity, warmth and care, which according to CEO Jean Gabriel Pérès, are “best achieved on a human scale”. That said, he admits there are still some key markets in the region that he would very much like to tap into.
Measured and human himself, the Frenchman, who joined the company in 1999, explains that quality has always been the group’s focus when it comes to expansion, and that an excellent F&B offering is at the spine of each property, given Mövenpick’s origins as a restaurant chain. In fact, Pérès claims the company has “become a hotelier as a derivative of what we were first and foremost”.
Founded in 1948 by Ueli Prager, with the opening of his first restaurant — Mövenpick at Claridenhof in Zurich — the company opened a number of restaurants across Switzerland, mainly on the motorway system. Silberkugel snack restaurants, established in 1962 was the next step, and after this, Mövenpick launched cash and carry wine shops, branded food items and even ice cream.
“Lots of hotel companies don’t master F&B — it’s seen as a cost centre, labour intensive, etcetera,” continues Pérès. “We love it — we love restaurants, bars, banquet facilities — it’s something in which we excel and we drive more margins than the average hotelier by about 10 points. Lots of people consider that food and beverage operations run at a loss, but this isn’t true for us.”
In 1970 the group was split into separate divisions, including Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, and the Middle East/ Africa was the first region for the company’s expansion outside of Europe, with the launch of Mövenpick Hotel Jolie Ville in Egypt in 1976.
Having continued its expansion into the region throughout the 1980s, Mövenpick has since gradually built up its brand presence across the Middle East, and Pérès is now ready to talk numbers.
Earlier this year, he confirmed the group will ramp up its regional footprint by more than 10 hotels by 2020, with plans to debut in Oman, Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi, among other unexplored markets.
“We feel that there’s definitely room for growth, particularly in places we’re not present,” Pérès says, adding that expansion will be buoyed by a high level of consumer awareness of the brand in the region.
“We benefit from the fact that we’re the second brand in terms of awareness in the Middle East,” he says, referring to research conducted by BDRC Continental on behalf of the company.
And it’s no wonder consumers in the region are so aware of Mövenpick. A third owned by Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holdings, and with some of its corporate functions Dubai-based, Mövenpick has six hotels operating in the emirate, with a further two — announced this year — to come.
In April, the 251-key Mövenpick Hotel Dubai Media City was confirmed and will be located adjacent to the US $1.2 billion Innovation Hub announced by Dubai government in 2014. This followed the signing of the 246-key Mövenpick Hotel Apartments Downtown earlier this year.
Further expansion plans in the wider Emirates are also on the radar, and Pérès admits that he would like to see a Mövenpick beach resort in Dubai.
“There are lots of places such as Ras al Khaimah where we’re not yet present. We don’t have a resort hotel in Dubai yet for instance, and we feel we could do a great job, so there’s great potential for us.”
He admits the company is also scoping out a debut project for Oman and the addition of two more hotels in Doha, as well as more properties in Saudi Arabia.
Commenting on the potential for Oman, Pérès reveals: “Right now we’re looking at a hotel that would not have immediate beach access, but would be close to the beach. It’s located in the city — a top location, but I can’t say as it’s not yet signed, but there are lots of Omani investors that are very interested in the brand”.
In terms of location and type of property, a resort in Muscat would be “just right”, according to Pérès, while Salalah still has to grow as a destination before he considers a hotel there.
“[Salalah] will take a little more time to develop because it’s the kind of destination that needs a number of resorts to be self-sufficient. I’m sure the market will mature but it will take a bit of time.”
Saudi Arabia is also under the Swiss operator’s spotlight, and already the company has a strong portfolio in the Kingdom’s major cities. “In Saudi Arabia we have nine hotels — we’re opening in Riyadh soon, Jeddah also, and there will be at least 12 hotels in Saudi Arabia by 2020, and probably more,” Pérès confirms.
The 14th Saudi property for the brand, and the fourth for Jeddah — the 300-key Mövenpick Hotel Heraa Jeddah — was signed in July, and is set to open its doors in 2019.
It is one of five new properties being rolled out by the group in KSA over the next four years, with two planned for Riyadh, one for Al Khobar and the 233-key Mövenpick Hotel City Star Jeddah.
In Qatar, where the company currently has two properties, Pérès reveals that he would like to have at least two more by 2020.
“I’m absolutely convinced we can have three or four very fine properties in Doha by 2020; I would like to have at least one or two additional hotels if we could. Doha is expanding and I’m sure with the soccer world cup there will be more development.
“We’re extremely happy with the numbers being delivered by the hotels we have there today, and we need to continue to build that.”
However, harking back to the operator’s F&B heritage, and remaining true to his own preference of quality over quantity, Pérès adds a caveat to his expansion discussions.
“We have to make sure that the comp set that we develop would not cannibalise the current hotels that we have, but when the right opportunity comes we’ll be ready for that.”