CEO Interview: Katara Hospitality

Katara Hospitality has sustained its growth in Qatar's tourism sector while paying close attention to its assets abroad - with refurbishments and conversions of historic buildings on the radar

Hamad Abdulla Al-Mulla.
Hamad Abdulla Al-Mulla.

What has Katara Hospitality planned for 2017?

Katara Hospitality is actively pursuing a strategy to diversify into new markets. We are strategically expanding our portfolio by either acquiring existing hotels, restoring iconic properties or developing buildings created for a different purpose into hospitality gems. These include our restoration of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and transforming a former palace in Tangier, Morocco into a five-star hotel, and our development of the Bürgenstock Resort Lake Lucerne, Switzerland, into three distinct luxury hotels.

In addition to broadening our geographic presence, we also see growth in diversifying our portfolio. We have five- and four-star business hotels and leisure resorts in key tourist destinations, which ensures our short-term commitments as well as our long-term objectives are achieved. Appealing to today’s young travellers who expect a high quality, more digital and unique experience rather than just a hotel room, is also a huge opportunity for us and this is very much top of mind when restoring or upgrading our portfolio of properties.

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How many hotels do you plan on opening this year?

Katara Hospitality has nine properties scheduled to open between 2017 and 2020 in Qatar and abroad. We are focused on the construction of our Katara Towers development in Lusail Marina District. We have also made significant progress on a phased renovation of The Ritz-Carlton, Doha to be completed this year while simultaneously constructing an additional 18 new villas at Sealine Beach Resort in Qatar, also due to be completed in 2017. Lastly, we are scheduled to open two hotels under Murwab Hotel Group in next two years.

Could we see more community projects — such as the Hotel Park — taking shape in the near future?

Katara Hospitality will launch the world’s first LaLiga Lounge at Hotel Park in partnership with Spanish football league LaLiga, the sport’s most popular domestic league competition. The new sports lounge, expected to open mid-2017, will feature various facilities and amenities including big-screen televisions that will broadcast live coverage of matches, an official league shop, and the first themed restaurant for sports fans in Doha.

Visitor numbers did not increase exponentially in Qatar in 2017; give us a realistic picture of the tourism performance in the country?

We believe Qatar is a promising investment destination supported by its reputation as a growing tourism hub for GCC and international travellers as well as high rates of population growth. Qatar’s Ministry of Economy and Commerce reported income from tourists amounted to US$5.03 billion (QAR18.3 billion) in 2015, nine times the $0.58billion (QAR2.1 billion) recorded in 2010. In addition, the Qatar Tourism Authority projects the sector’s contribution to the country’s economy will reach 5.2% by 2030, and make up almost 10% of Qatar’s non-hydrocarbon economy. As the hospitality market matures across the Gulf, we see value across a variety of asset classes, which gives us great confidence in the future of our industry both in the region and abroad.

How confident is Katara Hospitality of achieving the 60-hotel target by 2026?

In 2014, we surpassed our long-established goal of having 30 properties in our portfolio by 2016 — a full two years ahead of schedule. Katara Hospitality is now focusing on its next strategic target of expanding our portfolio of hotels to 60 properties, those that we operate under our own Murwab flag and those that are operated by other global brands. We have achieved several important milestones over the years — across all areas of our business including acquisition, development and operations — and are confident that we are well positioned to achieve our goal of 60 hotels by 2026. We will continue with our expansion in international destinations, while also further strengthening our footprint in Qatar.

Give us a quick snapshot of F&B-related efforts planned by Katara Hospitality?

Last year at ATM we introduced ‘Katara Specialities’, an initiative that highlights the evolution of the organisation’s food and beverage concepts. Our aim was to offer guests experiences that are reminiscent of the authenticity of Qatari heritage and Arabic culture. We will continue to expand our F&B offerings both locally and internationally which we will announce throughout the year.

Kindly shed light on the CSR activities carried out by Katara Hospitality?

Our CSR approach is built on our established infrastructure for addressing issues related to the environment, community workplaces, and product development. We are strongly committed to the sourcing of local produce, services, and building local supplier capacity, to bring sustainable economic worth and empowerment to the communities where we are active, whether in Qatar or abroad.

Katara Hospitality’s current priority is to focus on the impact of our hotels, where we can have the greatest control in creating positive outcomes. We have undertaken a major initiative with the Ministry of Environment for the protection of the sea and reefs at Sealine Beach Resort in Qatar and we are planning a similar programme at the Renaissance Sharm El Sheikh Golden View Beach Resort in Egypt.

We have also significantly increased our priority on understanding the environmental impact of our activities and our main goal is to reduce our electricity and water consumption at all our properties. We continuously seek to reduce negative environmental impacts by adopting environmentally preferable business practices and innovative technologies.

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