Hotelier Middle East Power 50: 41-50

Hotelier Middle East reveals who made position 41 to 50 in our Power 50 List 2016. Click to find out

Erkan Yildirim, Senior Vice President Operations, EMEA & Far East, Rixos Hotels
Erkan Yildirim, Senior Vice President Operations, EMEA & Far East, Rixos Hotels
Kamal Fakhoury, Chief Executive Officer, Cristal Group
Kamal Fakhoury, Chief Executive Officer, Cristal Group
Anton Bawab, Regional President, Viceroy Hotels and Resorts
Anton Bawab, Regional President, Viceroy Hotels and Resorts
David Grant Thomson, Chief Operating Officer, JA Resorts & Hotels
David Grant Thomson, Chief Operating Officer, JA Resorts & Hotels
Mohamed Soussan, Group General Manager, Ayla Hotels and Resorts
Mohamed Soussan, Group General Manager, Ayla Hotels and Resorts
Jason Harding, Area Director Taj Hotels, Resorts & Palaces & General Manager, Taj Dubai
Jason Harding, Area Director Taj Hotels, Resorts & Palaces & General Manager, Taj Dubai
P.R.S. Oberoi, Executive Chairman, The Oberoi Group
P.R.S. Oberoi, Executive Chairman, The Oberoi Group
Alexander Bohnekamp, CEO, H Hospitality Collection
Alexander Bohnekamp, CEO, H Hospitality Collection
Julian Ayers, Vice President India & Middle East, Alila Hotels and Resorts
Julian Ayers, Vice President India & Middle East, Alila Hotels and Resorts
Vardaraj Shetty, Chairman & Managing Worker, Ramee Group of Hotels & Resorts
Vardaraj Shetty, Chairman & Managing Worker, Ramee Group of Hotels & Resorts

41. Erkan Yildirim, Senior Vice President Operations, EMEA & Far East, Rixos Hotels

Amid continued UAE expansion, Rixos toys with KSA debut

With two Rixos properties already operational in the UAE, Rixos the Palm and Rixos Bab Al Bahr in Ras Al Khaimah, this year the hotel group’s pipeline in the GCC is very much focused on the Emirates again. According to the Turkish hospitality group, its second Dubai property, Rixos JBR, is expected to open this month. The hotel project will also feature a luxury residential tower, with 164 housing units.

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Also under construction in the UAE is Rixos’ debut in the capital, located on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. According to the operator’s senior vice president operations for EMEA and Far East, Erkan Yildirim, the two new Rixos projects reflect the group’s “commitment to pursuing expansion in the UAE market”. Rixos also has its eye on new markets in the Gulf, Iran and North Africa. Yildrim has revealed that Rixos is currently negotiating for the opening of new hotels in Saudi Arabia, with potential signings considered for Jeddah, as well as a new property in Muscat, Oman, which would mark a brand debut for Rixos in both countries.

By the numbers

2 Number of years in the role
15 Number of Middle East operating hotels
9 Number of years with company as of July 2016
2 Number of Middle East pipeline hotels as of July 2016

42. Kamal Fakhoury, Chief Executive Officer, Cristal Group

Kamal Fakhoury is set to continue with the ambitions and vision of previous CEO, Peter Blackburn

Despite joining the company nine years ago, Fakhoury is a newcomer to his current role, due to the unfortunate demise of the previous Cristal Group and Cristal Hotels & Resorts CEO Peter Blackburn in July this year. At the time, he was COO, and told Hotelier: “The Cristal Family deeply regrets the loss of our founding father Peter Blackburn. Unfortunately the Middle East hospitality industry lost one of its icons.”

Fakhoury’s vision for the future echoes the ambitions of Blackburn, with a target of 50 new hotels by 2020. In the Middle East in the last year, Cristal Group opened Cedar Ville by Emerald in Erbil and Bayat Hotel by Cristal in KSA.

Commenting on notable improvements to systems and operations since taking office, Fakoury says: he is “always trying to improve on our designs and operations through new ideas and empowerment of my team”.

Fakhoury’s other key accomplishments include co-founding a management company in 2007 which operated hotels successfully during the financial downturn.

By the numbers

1 Number of months in the role
9 Number of years with company
3 Number of Middle East operating hotels
7 Number of Middle East pipeline hotels

43. Anton Bawab, Regional President, Viceroy Hotels and Resorts

Viceroy Hotels hopes to open its second UAE property in 2017

Viceroy Hotels and Resorts has had a choppy year; however, its regional president Anton Bawab is steering the ship through the rough waters.

Initially pencilled in for a 2016 opening, the Viceroy Palm Jumeirah hotel has been delayed to 2017. Bookings are being taken from April 2017, but insiders are hopeful of a March opening.

And more recently, in August, the construction site of the 60-storey Viceroy Dubai Jumeirah Village broke out into flames. It is not clear at this point how the schedule for opening has been affected. The tower was previously reported to be on track to open in late 2017, with SKAI having registered the building design as a trade mark in 186 countries. When open, the property will have 247 hotel rooms and suites, as well as 221 one- and two-bed apartments and 33 four-bed apartments with private pools.

Bawab oversees the operations and the growth of group from the Abu Dhabi office. With over a decade in the industry, he has focused on strategy, business excellence and business development. He holds a Bachelor of Sciences (Hons) in International Hospitality Management from the Swiss Hotel Management School, Les Roches Switzerland and a Master’s of Business Administration from the Cranfield School of Management, United Kingdom. Prior to joining Viceroy’s executive management team, Bawab spent four years with Mubadala’s Real Estate & Hospitality team as senior vice president and 11 months with Jumeirah Group as business excellence manager.

By the numbers

6 Number of years in the role
1 Number of operating hotels in the Middle East
6 Number of years with company
2 Number of pipeline hotels in the Middle East

44. David Grant Thomson, Chief Operating Officer, JA Resorts & Hotels

While JA Resorts & Hotels has no Middle East hotels in the pipeline, it’s staying steady

In the Middle East, JA Resorts & Hotels has focused on cementing its reputation, while concentrating on international properties in Seychelles, Maldives and most recently, Sri Lanka.

Additionally, the rebranding of JA Resorts & Hotels has been a key accomplishment under Thomson, which has strengthened the company’s position both locally and in key feeder markets.

Thomson’s vision for the brand is in line with its long-term expansion strategy — which is to grow its footprint within the UAE as well as internationally.

Thomson, who originally moved to the Middle East in 1984, joined JA Resorts & Hotels in 2001. He began working with JA Resorts & Hotels as director of sales and marketing where he implemented the rebranding of the company to Jebel Ali International Hotels. Over the next few years he focused on developing opportunities for expansion, incorporating new venues, expanding product ranges and renovating the existing properties.

By the numbers

4 Number of years in the role
15 Number of years with company
5 Number of Middle East operating hotels
0 Number of Middle East pipeline hotels

45. Mohamed Soussan, Group General Manager, Ayla Hotels and Resorts

Al Ain-born hotel group eyes foothold into Africa, as well as an upcoming UAE property

After 32 years working in hospitality, Mohamed Soussan now finds himself overseeing approximately 400 employees as Ayla Hotels and Resorts’ group general manager. The group currently operates two properties in Al Ain, UAE, (Ayla Hotel and Ayla Bawadi Hotel). The group is set to double its number of operational hotels, with two hotels in the pipeline: the Ayla Grand Hotel (also in Al Ain) and Ayla Djibouti Resorts. The latter, which Soussan says represents a US $24.5 million investment, marks the group’s first foray outside of the UAE, and into the African market. The Ayla Grand Hotel, which is the group’s third property in Al Ain, is expected to open in Q4 2016. Soussan says he is keen to keep an “open-door” policy with his employees. “I have been where they are presently and I can relate easily to what they are going through. Therefore, I am not some scary boss who spreads fear — I consider myself as part of the team, I brainstorm with my people to identify problems and definitely always find myself being part of the solution,” he adds.

By the numbers

6 Number of years in the role
6 Number of years with company
2 Number of Middle East operating hotels
1 Number of Middle East pipeline hotels

46. Jason Harding, Area Director Taj Hotels, Resorts & Palaces & General Manager, Taj Dubai

The Indian hotel group operator has revived plans for old projects

Responsible for 450 people in the region, Jason Harding is aware that Taj Hotels’ development is being viewed with interest. The Indian hotel operator opened the Taj Dubai last year, and also lost the Taj Palace Dubai, now reflagged as Jood Palace Hotel Dubai. However, the UAE’s first Vivanta by Taj is undergoing construction at Jumeirah Lakes Towers in Dubai, and is expected to be completed by the end of October 2018.

Furthermore, the Taj Exotica Resort and Spa, which first broke ground in 2006 and was then scrapped, is back on again, with a tentative 2019 opening. Owned by the Arenco Group, the property will be located on the western crescent of The Palm.

Harding’s goal is to “continue to grow our footprint in the Middle East”. He adds: “With one flagship open, three in pipeline and a number in discussion we are confident to expand the brand organically in the next five years.”

By the numbers

21 Number of months in the role
1 Number of Middle East operating hotels
21 Number of months with company
3 Number of Middle East pipeline hotels

47. P.R.S. Oberoi, Executive Chairman, The Oberoi Group

Double Doha debut swells the Indian hotel group’s regional pipeline

P.R.S. (Prithvi Raj Singh) Oberoi is the son of the Oberoi hotel group’s original founder, Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi. The Indian-born luxury hotel group is very much a family business, with P.R.S. Oberoi’s son Vikram looking after operations for the hotel group, and already named as the successor to his 87-year-old father.

In the region, the Oberoi Group has a growing presence, with three operational hotels (one Dubai property, one hotel in Madinah, KSA, and one Egyptian hotel and two cruisers), and an additional three hotels in the pipeline. The brand is expected to make its debut in Ajman, with the opening of The Oberoi Beach Resort, Al Zorah in December 2016, and its debut in Qatar, with two new Doha properties now on the cards. The Doha properties, a 250-key hotel in the West Bay area and a 148-key serviced apartment building in Lusail, are currently both expected to open in 2018.

P.R.S. Oberoi previously told Hotelier: “We are extremely pleased to have been selected by the Qatar General Insurance and Reinsurance Company to assist them in the design and management of these two projects and we look forward to bringing the Oberoi hospitality to the Qatar market.”

By the numbers

14 Number of years in the role
3 Number of Middle East operating hotels (and two Nile Cruisers)
3 Number of Middle East pipeline hotels as of july 2016

48. Alexander Bohnekamp, CEO, H Hospitality Collection

A new hospitality operating group has entered the Middle East

Starting his career in 1990 with InterContinental Hotels Group, Alexander Bohnekamp is now the CEO of the newly formed H Hospitality Collection. Earlier this year, the H Hotel and Resort Management Company officially launched the “H Hospitality Collection” under which all its resorts will operate — including the already open H Dubai. Its global development is set to take place over the next five years, which includes H Montenegro, H Sri Lanka and H Abu Dhabi.

The Abu Dhabi property is scheduled to open in 2018. Located by the waterfront near the Emirates Palace hotel in the UAE’s capital, its design has been inspired by traditional dhows.

Bohnekamp tells Hotelier: “The group aims to create the most interesting and inspiring spaces it operates in, whether tented camps, business hotels, luxury retreats or airside properties. The collection provides unique buildings and management solutions to maximise owner investment combined with the most boutique service approach under its two brands — The H and heritâge.” The operator is reportedly looking at international spots such as the UK and US, with the GCC of interest, with more properties being eyed in the UAE.

By the numbers

2 Number of years in the role
2 Number of years with company
1 Number of Middle East operating hotels
1 Number of Middle East pipeline hotels

49. Julian Ayers, Vice President India & Middle East, Alila Hotels and Resorts

Oman seems to be the hot-spot for the Alila Group in this region

Regional vice president India & Middle East Julian Ayers is currently also the acting general manager for the Alila Jabal Akhdar in Oman, Ayers revealed to Hotelier earlier this year that the Alila Salalah — first announced in 2014 — is back on track, with construction having started on the new hotel. He continued: “We are hoping that in around 20-24 months, we should be able to launch [the hotel].”

Ayers revealed that while details had yet to be finalised, the Alila Salalah will have around three F&B outlets, modestly sized conference and banqueting facilities, and a spa. He declined to reveal other projects in the region.

Ayers has a wealth of experience from various international management positions in India, Oman, the Caribbean, Indonesia and the UK. His most recent role prior to joining Alila was as general manager of the Ros Hotel managed by Hilton Hotels in Delhi, India. Prior to joining Alila, Ayers was completed numerous hospitality contracts, including general manager at Hilton Worldwide for two years general manager at Eros Group for four years and general manager at Intercontinental Group for two years. Ayers currently works closely with the development team to help execute Alila’s growth strategy in India and the Middle East.

By the numbers

3 Number of years in the role
3 Number of years with company
1 Number of Middle East operating hotels
1 Number of Middle East pipeline hotels

50. Vardaraj Shetty, Chairman & Managing Worker, Ramee Group of Hotels & Resorts

Five-star properties are in the pipeline for the home-grown hotelier

Vardaraj Shetty runs at least 40 hotels across the Middle East, and last we spoke to the hotelier, he had three more in development.

Its hotels are spread across the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and India — with Shetty also having investment in a shopping mall in Chennai, India.

Last year, Shetty that in addition to these GCC countries, he was looking at opportunities in Qatar, but no confirmation of potential venues has been released by the company yet.

According to sister title Arabian Business, who also ranked Shetty amongst the ‘50 Richest Indians in the GCC 2015’ the chairman is set to add two more five-star hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi over the next three years at a cost of roughly US $200mn. At the time, his wealth was estimated to be $325mn.

He is also keen on improving environmental standards across his properties in the region, and those in India.

Shetty first came to the UAE in 1978 and started running his own hotel when he was only 25 years old.

In addition to his managed properties, the group — which also operates mid-market hotels — has food & beverage venues under its diverse portfolio.

By the numbers

26 Number of years in the role
26 Number of years with company

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