The Hotelier Express Power 20: 1-10

The most influential hoteliers in the Middle East's budget and mid-market hospitality sector

AccorHotels Middle East, Managing Director & Chief Operating Officer, Olivier Granet
AccorHotels Middle East, Managing Director & Chief Operating Officer, Olivier Granet
Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Senior VP Regional Director Middle East, Guido de Wilde
Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Senior VP Regional Director Middle East, Guido de Wilde
Rotana Hotel Management Corporation, President and CEO, Omer Kaddouri
Rotana Hotel Management Corporation, President and CEO, Omer Kaddouri
Rezidor Hotel Group, Area Vice Resident for the Middle East and Turkey, Mark Willis
Rezidor Hotel Group, Area Vice Resident for the Middle East and Turkey, Mark Willis
Hilton Worldwide, Head of Focused Service Management, Tal Shefer
Hilton Worldwide, Head of Focused Service Management, Tal Shefer
Louvre Hotels Group, VP Development & Acquisitions MENA,  Rami Moukarzel
Louvre Hotels Group, VP Development & Acquisitions MENA, Rami Moukarzel
InterContinental Hotels Group, CEO, Pascal Gauvin
InterContinental Hotels Group, CEO, Pascal Gauvin
Ascott Limited, Area Manager, Vincent Miccolis
Ascott Limited, Area Manager, Vincent Miccolis
Al Khoory Hotels, General Manager Hospitality Division, Pierre Sokhon
Al Khoory Hotels, General Manager Hospitality Division, Pierre Sokhon
Citymax Hotels, Chief Operating Officer, Russel Sharpe
Citymax Hotels, Chief Operating Officer, Russel Sharpe

Welcome to the first annual Hotelier Express Power List. As the budget and mid-market hospitality sector continues to grow in the Middle East, we present our first ever ranking of the most influential people working to develop and expand this vibrant industry.

With an abundance of properties already operational in the region, including international brands, local home-grown chains, and standalone hotels and serviced apartments, compiling this list was no easy task. Furthermore, as you are well aware, there is an impressive and ever expanding pipeline of new hotels and brands entering the market over the coming months and years.

All this information was taken into account while producing this list, in addition to the personal accomplishments of each individual in their own budget and mid-market career paths. While the listing is subjective, we also used an algorithm to ensure accuracy in our decisions. To all those who made it into the top 20, congratulations! If you have any suggestions for who should be included in next year’s power list, please do get in touch.

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1. AccorHotels Middle East, Managing Director & Chief Operating Officer, Olivier Granet

AccorHotels, under the guidance of Olivier Granet, tops the Hotelier Express power list 2016 due its diverse portfolio of economy and mid-market brands currently operational in this region, in addition to a pipeline that see’s 50% of upcoming keys in this sector.

As of September 2016 there are 87 Accor hotels in the Middle East, encompassing more than 26,000 rooms, spanning the full spectrum of brands, including mid-market (Novotel, Novotel Suite, Mercure, Adagio) and economy (ibis and ibis Styles). Furthermore, between September 2015 and September 2016, AccorHotels opened seven economy and mid-scale hotels across the Middle East.

“Over the past year, we have also been proud to introduce new and innovative offerings, such as the ibis Styles brand to the region with the opening of the ibis Styles Jumeirah and ibis Styles Dragon Mart. Both properties add close to 450 budget rooms to the market in the UAE,” says AccorHotels Middle East managing director & chief operating officer of Olivier Granet.

At present there are 78 hotels with close to 23,500 additional rooms currently under development and to be opened within the next three years. This brings the total number of AccorHotels properties in operation and under development in the region to 165 hotels with nearly 50,000 keys, half of which are in the economy and mid-scale segment.

Granet notes his vision for the future of the company’s economy and mid-market activity will “more than double our network to reach a target of 30,000 rooms in operation by 2020.” He adds: “AccorHotels has had the pleasure of introducing the concept of budget hotels across key markets in the Middle East, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Expanding on our presence, we have opened this year in Dubai our largest ibis hotel in the Middle East, the ibis One Central, with close to 600 keys.”

Last year, AccorHotels signed an economy and mid-market management agreements for a trio-cluster of hotel properties in Al Naseem, Makkah, representing 2,400 keys to be operated three brands: Novotel, Adagio and an ibis Styles. This will become the largest complex worldwide to be operated by AccorHotels.

“Over the past year we have also been working to maintain our commitments to the global Planet 21 programme,” says Granet. “As part of this program, we are proud to state that 100% of our Middle East hotels, including those in the economy and mid-market category, are now recycling their waste.”

2. Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Senior VP Regional Director Middle East, Guido de Wilde

The mid-market brand Aloft by Starwood Hotels & Resorts takes second place in the 2016 power list.

Aloft was launched in 2009 with Aloft Abu Dhabi, and recently was introduced in Saudi Arabia with the opening of Aloft Riyadh, soon to be followed by Aloft Dhahran also in Saudi Arabia. At present it has 12 hotels operational in the region, with a further five in the pipeline.

Scheduled to open in 2018, Aloft Dubai City Centre Deira will feature 304 rooms, including 29 suites. This property will also feature an outdoor rooftop Vox Cinema. Additionally, Aloft aims to bring the latest technology into this hotel; to this end, Aloft Riyadh will feature a keyless entry system that allows guests to use a smart phone as a key.

Today the company operates 54 hotels and more than 16,000 rooms across eight brands and has a team over 20,000 associates in the Middle East. The company is also on track to reach its milestone of 100 hotels in the region by 2020.

Wilde looks after the operations of 53 hotels, this includes 55 colleagues in the regional office, 14 general managers/area managers who directly report to him. “Guests are at the centre of what we do and we need to have an obsession for guest service excellence.” he says.

Marriott International completed its acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts in September of this year, while the Starwood name will now come under Marriott, it has been included in this power list as the nomination timeline preceded this announcement.

3. Rotana Hotel Management Corporation, President and CEO, Omer Kaddouri

Rotana Centro takes the bronze medal thanks in part to a combination of seven mid-market hotels currently operating in the region, and 14 more in the pipeline.

Centro describes itself as a lifestyle, affordable hotel brand that redefines the conventional concept of economical comfort with superior class accommodation and hospitality, meeting the demands of travellers who seek both finesse and functionality at reasonable rates.

Rotana Hotel Management Corporation launched its budget hotel concept Centro in 2009, with the opening of Centro Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. By 2010 Rotana was opening the second Centro Hotel, Centro Barsha in Dubai, followed in 2012 with the opening of Centro Capital Centre Abu Dhabi, UAE. As the name suggests, the locations of Centro properties will be at the heart of business or commercial districts in the major cities across the region.

Kaddouri’s role in the Centro success also leads to the company’s high ranking in the power list. He has turned to new source markets for a solution to the ‘difficult times’ facing the sector – resulting in a rise of guessts from the GCC, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. New openings include: Centro Olaya, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Q1 2017), Centro Waha, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Q1 2017), Centro Corniche, Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia (Q1 2017), Centro Salama, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (Q2 2017) and Centro Istanbul, Turkey (Q4 2017).

4. Rezidor Hotel Group, Area Vice Resident for the Middle East and Turkey, Mark Willis

Known as a fresh and energetic mid-market hotel brand offering ‘friendly and welcoming hospitality at a competitive price,’ Rezidor currently operates eight Park Inn hotels, with a further 10 in the Middle East pipeline.

Among the new opening by Park Inn by Radisson is the 150-room Dubai Motor City hotel, overlooking the race track at the Dubai Autodrome, and is part of an investment worth US $136.3 million (AED500 million), due in 2017.

A British national, Willis has over 20 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, including more than 15 years with the Rezidor Hotel Group. Willis started his career in the culinary sector, taking on roles in a number of locations including London, Stuttgart and South Africa before moving to the United Arab Emirates in 1995 in a variety of senior roles. In 1998, he returned to the UK, where he joined the Rezidor Hotel Group as hotel manager for Radisson SAS Hotel Manchester before securing his first general manager position in 2000 with Radisson SAS in Oslo, Norway.

Willis then relocated to Bahrain in 2002 as general manager of the Diplomat Radisson SAS Hotel, where he repositioned the property. Willis moved back to London in 2004 opening the Radisson SAS London Stansted Airport. He then joined the Radisson SAS Portman Hotel in London’s W1 where he became the district director for the UK South region, supporting a further seven Radisson Blu properties.

5. Hilton Worldwide, Head of Focused Service Management, Tal Shefer

Hilton regards the mid-market segment as a major opportunity and has embraced the drive to affordability, with its hotel teams currently attracting visitors from around the world to five Hilton Garden Inn properties in the region: Al Muraqabat, Al Mina, Mall of the Emirates, Riyadh Olaya and Tabuk.

With the backing of its owners, Hilton is now pursuing plans to triple the number of its mid-market Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton by Hilton branded hotels operating in the region to more than 15 hotels in the next 2-3 years. Hilton currently has a further 18 pipeline hotels in the Middle East across its Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton by Hilton brands.

Recent signings across the two mid-market brands includes plans to open Hilton Garden Inn Doha (138 guest rooms), Hilton Garden Inn Damietta Beach (130 rooms), Hampton by Hilton Riyadh Olaya, (154 rooms), Hilton Garden Inn Kuwait (430-rooms), which is to become the brand’s largest hotel in the EMEA region.

With more than 15 years of service at Hilton, Shefer is now tasked with overseeing Hilton Worldwide’s focused service brands across the EMEA region. He brings with him 17 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, of which nine years have been spent exclusively in the mid-market hospitality sector.

6. Louvre Hotels Group, VP Development & Acquisitions MENA,  Rami Moukarzel

In the midscale and budget segments Louvre Hotels Group have a committed to a pipeline of 40 new builds in the coming five years across the GCC, Levant, Iran and Georgia. Between September 2015 and September 2016 a roll out plan has been announced and confirmed by the group for the budget focused brands Campanile & Premiere Classe.

Additionally, Louvre Hotels will re-launch the Golden Tulip Inn brand by end of 2016 as an upscale millennial geared hotel brand – with a new logo and branding of hotels commencing in Muscat, Dubai, Tbilisi, Istanbul and Riyadh. Since taking office, Moukarzel has overseen expansion into new markets including: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Georgia, Algeria, Tunisia and Iran. Moukarzel’s vision for the future includes continuing to be one of the largest mid-market operators globally and aims to ensure its brands, hotels and services continue to be relevant for the new age traveller for decades to come.

“That goal has driven our focus to launch our budget-economy focused brands in the region for the millennial traveller.

Our pipeline is confirmed at 95 hotels by 2020, while we aim to surpass the 120 hotel mark before 2020 which will result in doubling our room count to 16,000 keys.”

7. InterContinental Hotels Group, CEO, Pascal Gauvin

In 2007, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) launched in the Middle East its limited service chain, Holiday Inn Express. Dubai being identified as a key destination, the move was to add to its portfolio of upscale properties and mid-market hotels and resorts. Designed and purpose-built for the price-conscious business and leisure travellers, Holiday Inn Express properties cater for both short and long-term guests. Currently there are four properties in Dubai’s business locations.

Gauvin says the group is expecting more than 40% growth across the Middle East in the next three to five years, with 25 new hotels in the pipeline, placing a focus on midmarket hotels, addressing the lack of affordable options for low-budget and family travellers in many GCC States. As IHG’s fastest growing hotel brand, Holiday Inn Express seeks to be the first choice for the increasing number of travellers who need an engaging place to ‘rest, recharge and get a little work done’.

Gauvin has re-asserted the group’s commitment to its mid-scale offering across the region, bearing in mind developments such as Dubai Expo 2020 and Saudi Arabia’s national vision 2030.Holiday Inn Express hotels has an aim to ‘keep it simple and smart’ as it progresses in the region.

8. Ascott Limited, Area Manager, Vincent Miccolis

In the Gulf region, Ascott has 11 serviced apartment properties, located in Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The company expects to open Ascott Culture Village Dubai, Ascott Olaya Riyadh, Ascott Tahlia Jeddah, Ascott Sari Jeddah, Citadines Al Salamah Jeddah, Somerset Panorama Muscat and Somerset Corniche Jeddah in 2015 & 2016.

Ascott currently has 2,300 units across 16 properties in the GCC, with a Middle East pipeline that includes Ascott Rafal Olaya Riyadh (Q3 2016), Citadines Al Ghubrah Muscat (2017), Ascott Corniche Al Khobar (2018) and Somerset Downtown Al Khobar (2019.)

Miccolis’ vision for the future of the company includes expanding the footprint of the group more rapidly to cover all continents through strategic partnerships, acquisitions, management agreements and franchising, reaching 80,000 units by 2020.

Vincent Miccolis has amassed 20 years of experience working with several hospitality brands across Europe. Since joining Ascott since 1997 he has and held senior roles in London, Brussels, Marseilles and Paris. Miccolis oversees Ascott’s operations and drives the growth of Ascott’s presence in major cities such as Jeddah, Riyadh and Muscat and seeks opportunities in new cities such as Mecca and Kuwait City.

9. Al Khoory Hotels, General Manager Hospitality Division, Pierre Sokhon

Wth 27 years under his belt working in the hospitality industry, of which 23 years were spent in the Middle East, Sokhon is a heavy-weight of the industry. Operating in the mid-market sector, Sokhon has amassed 10 years’ experience in the industry, of which three years were spent in his current role, leading the expansion of Al Khoory hospitality.

Al Khoory has three hotels operational: Al Khoory Hotel Apartments, Al Khoory Executive Hotel and Al Khoory Atrium Hotel, all located in Dubai. The number of hotels in the Al Khoory Middle Eastern pipeline stands at seven: one in Bur Dubai, one in Deira, one in Muscat, two hotels in Sohar and two in Business Bay.

Sokhon was also instrumental in creating the mid-market brand of hotels, during the time which he was also managing two hotels. The original strategy for development lead by Sokhon is now being used to develop all seven hotels in the pipeline.

Speaking on his accomplishments at Al Khoory hotels, Sokhon points to his role in setting up the corporate office for the division through which the company is now governing the existing three hotels and also the ongoing seven upcoming projects. Sokhon is currently responsible for 300 team members.

10. Citymax Hotels, Chief Operating Officer, Russel Sharpe

Sharpe has a grand total of 40 years’ experience working in the hospitality industry, 26 of which were spent here in the Middle East. Operating in the mid-market hospitality sector has kept Sharpe busy for 10 years of his career, of which five years were spent in his current position with Citymax Hotels.

Sharpe, who is responsible for 700 employees at the company, said: “I would like to think that I have had a significant contribution in the regions hospitality sector growth having worked in the sector for 26 years on brands ranging from Holiday Inn, Accor, Le Méridien and most recently Citymax Hotels.” On the topic of improvements to systems and operations since taking office, He added: “Creating memorable customer experiences is the winning formula in today’s monotonous hospitality where hoteliers are taught to follow SOPs rather than delight the guests. We have launched a revolutionary service led programme that will re-define hospitality in the mid-market segment. Since the launch of ‘Go Beyond’ we have witnessed 42% increase in customer satisfaction scores.”

At present, Citymax is operating three properties in the region, with a pipeline that includes four additional hotels. Sharpe notes that since taking office with company, he has also overseen expansion in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

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