New opening: Centara Grand West Bay Doha

The hospitality offering in the GCC is diverse and almost every global hotel operator has a regional presence

Centara will make its Middle East and North Africa debut this year, with expansion plans across the region in the offing.
Centara will make its Middle East and North Africa debut this year, with expansion plans across the region in the offing.

Thailand is home to several international hotel brands; from Dusit to Anantara and Avani, to Banyan Tree. Each of these brands and their parent companies are reputed global players in the industry. Centara is probably one of the only other big Thai-based hotel operators that was yet to make its presence felt in the regional market. While slightly late, the operator is set to launch with a bang in the Middle East.

Centara Grand West Bay Doha general manager James Wilson tells Hotelier Qatar: “This is not the only Centara opening in the Middle East, we also have a property opening in Muscat. We are both in the pre-opening stage. But we are delighted to have the Centara Grand debut in the region, hopefully there will be more.”

But the Qatar property will be Centara’s flagship offering in the Middle East. And Wilson gives a few details of what it will offer to its guests. “We have unique Thai elements such as our Thai restaurant in the hotel. We also have an entire floor dedicated to our spa operations, of which there are 17 treatment rooms. The Thai elements extend in the service and design of the hotel, but at the same time, the Centara Grand in Doha is quite contemporary. We realise that we are not located in Bangkok, we are in Doha. So, we will be celebrating our Thai heritage but embracing the location at the same time.”

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The Centara Grand West Bay is located just across the road from the popular W Doha and the recently opened Adagio Hotel Apartments. There are several other five-star hotels in the vicinity with the likes of Meliá Doha and the Kempisnki Hotel and Residences to name a few.

Positioning the hotel correctly will be key to its success and Wilson feels the five F&B outlets and 17 treatment room Cenvaree spa will play a big role in doing just that.

“It is a traditional city hotel when you compare it to Bangkok, a lot of the five-star hotels there have several F&B outlets with expansive spa facilities. As a company we are strong in food and beverage and we are very strong in our spa concept. We see the hotel as a multi-facility property; we want to attract the local Qataris and the residents within the area. Realistically, we want to position the hotel as work, home and Centara Grand [in people’s lives]. We want the hotel to be part of people’s lifestyle.”

Wilson says the Centara Grand West Bay Doha is a corporate hotel, which also focuses on leisure tourists. “As a company Centara always thinks about families, which is why we have a huge swimming pool and a separate kid’s pool. Our spa will surely be enjoyed by corporate guests but [it also appeals to residents and leisure seekers]. We also have a kid’s room which can be used when the parents are dining. So, there are elements that suit families as well corporate,” he says.

Wilson joined the property in July 2016, and has had his hands full with different facets surrounding the pre-opening. He was considered an obvious choice for the role as he combined a bit of everything that Centara were looking for. “I already had experience with a previous Thai hotel company and I also had experience in the Middle East. I had also worked in Thailand before.”

Wilson is referring to his stint with Dusit International where he headed the Dusit Thani Dubai as general manager. He also worked in the Dusit Thani Hotel Bangkok. Wilson’s last project was the Millennium Corniche Hotel Abu Dhabi, where he held the position of general manager.

Another member of the ExCom team with a similar mix of experience is resident manager Jari Nielsen. “I was the first to arrive during the pre-opening phase, and have been involved with everything from construction to setting up our makeshift offices. There have been a few delays and ideally I would have liked we would already be open but we have come a long way,” he smiles.

Nielsen was with Centara in one of its Phuket properties for two-and-a-half-years prior to which he was involved in hospitality in his native Denmark. He also worked at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai for eight years and the St Regis in London. It is one of the reasons Nielsen was transferred to this project by Centara’s headquarters. “At Centara we have a certain way of doing things and that’s what we want to infuse here,” he says.

Pitting the Centara Grand in comparison to its surrounding competition, Nielsen says: “The quality of the products and amenities that have been used in our property are top notch, from the furniture to the fit-out levels. When you walk around the other hotels they look quite similar, and don’t offer something particularly different. But that is not the case with us and that is all down to our owners, it’s like their ‘baby’ [being its first venture in hospitality]. It is a matter of pride and our owners wanted a special destination.”

Speaking about the owners, Wilson adds: “This is the first of three hotels that our owners are involved in, so far they have been extremely supportive and it’s been a two-way education. It is in both parties interest that this hotel succeeds. It’s a very positive, open and humble relationship [between both parties].”

Wilson is also confident that the property will be able to break even much before the two to three year mark. “We have 90 apartments in the hotel along with 264 bedrooms. Our apartments allow us to have the long term baseline. We set ourselves ambitious goals, and it would not take us that long to break even,” he smiles.

In terms of its accommodation, the Centara Grand West Bay has eight room categories across its 264 rooms, and three apartment types across its 90 units. Rooms and suites range from 42 - 131m2 while the apartments come with an option of one to three bedrooms providing living spaces ranging from 95 ­­— 193m2. The apartments come equipped with a kitchen including an oven, microwave, fridge and freezer, cooking equipment, as well as a washing machine and a dishwasher.

The Centara in Doha will have a mix amongst its F&B offerings. “We had to have a Thai restaurant given our company’s roots. Suan Bua will serve contemporary Thai cuisine and along with our French patisserie Antoinette — the two outlets will have an element of al fresco dining linked to them,” Wilson says.

He adds: “Our Global Kitchen outlet (which is an all-day dining restaurant) will serve Arabic, South Asian and South East Asian cuisine, along with western cuisine based on the live cooking concept and doing things fresh. We are also going to have a grill room — the Mayfair Grill restaurant and bar — which will be a fine dining concept.”

He also reveals that the hotel will open a rooftop bar, which will be a “chill out zone with views of the corniche”. “That will probably be launched six months after the hotel opens,” Wilson says.

F&B will be a major factor in gaining market share in the face of Doha’s cut-throat competition. And Wilson agrees that it will take some effort to establish the hotel in the market. “Centara is well known in South East Asia but that’s not the case in the Middle East.

“Hence, the most important thing is to create brand awareness for which we are working with third-party companies through the corporate office that will help facilitate our introduction in the Middle East market,” Wilson says, indicating that the hotel is also working with regional experts at the same time.

“It is imperative that we get people to come in to the property because once here guests will be sold. It’s all about getting them through the doors.”

Wilson adds: “We are a quality product but we also want to make sure guests get value for money. We will hence be carefully looking as to how we are positioning our pricing structure within our competitor set and within our product offering.”

But dropping prices does not cross Wilson’s mind. “We are not in the business to lower our rates because as soon as you do that you are earmarked. We are not a mid-range property, The Centara Grand is a five-star luxury quality product. We need to engage with our client base and make aware of what’s available at the property.”

Citing examples of adding value, Wilson says guest’s rooms can be upgraded from a lower category to a higher one, “just like airlines do”. He adds: “Meanwhile, a range of activities to bring in local and overseas guests are being looked at as well, for which we will consider utilising different media platforms. It is also important to give attention to online booking channels and OTAs,” Wilson adds.

Supply has outpaced demand in the Doha market for the last few months and sources from the industry claimed as much as 27% of new supply was introduced on Doha’s West Bay district alone during the first half of 2016.

Wilson says: “I have heard from colleagues in the hospitality industry that revenue is down 20% from last year (in 2016 compared to 2015). I am not sure about this particular figure because I do not have all the stats in front of me at this moment. But QTA has made it clear that they are working hard to improve the situation, and we have been told that the visa on arrival option for citizens of different nationalities — Chinese, Russian and Indian — will be in effect from 2017.

“In addition, they are also going to issue visa on arrival to passengers travelling on cruise liners in to Doha. It’s great they are opening several opportunities and it’s quite positive to be honest.”

Wilson remains cautiously optimistic of the hotel and the city’s future, but is quick to point out that most of the cities around the world are grappling with “tough times”. “From our perspective it’s just another challenge that we need to overcome and that is why we are here as professionals to address these issues.”

The Centara Grand West Bay Doha will make a push to attract Qatar’s tried and tested source markets. “According to QTA, the biggest source market for Qatar is Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE followed by elements of Europe – Italy, Germany and UK.” But Wilson says people from these countries travel to Thailand and are hence, aware of the Centara brand name. “These are markets we can easily approach as we already have awareness to stand for.”

With an April 2017 opening pencilled in, Wilson feels the company is making its Middle East debut at the right time.

“We have not left it too late. Centara offers more of a contemporary style of service as compared to the other Thai brands. Anantara has beautiful properties but don’t always tend to infuse Thai-ness into them. They tend to adopt the location they are in more than playing on its roots. Don’t get me wrong, they are beautiful in their own rights and great properties. Ours is more a 21st century brand and we are going to infuse Thai culture for sure, but in a very different way,” Wilson concludes.

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