With nearly five decades in hospitality under his belt, there are few hoteliers who can go toe-to-toe with Alex Kyriakidis. In just over seven years at the helm, he has steered Marriott International into a period of exponential growth despite challenging market conditions.
The hotel operator currently operates 20 brands in 30 countries in Middle East and North Africa, with 152 properties and over 45,000 rooms under operation — across brands including Bulgari, JW Marriott, Luxury Collection, The Ritz- Carlton, St. Regis, Edition, W Hotels, Renaissance Hotels, Sheraton Hotels and Westin Hotels. From July 2018 to July 2019, the company signed 31 projects and over 5,000 rooms across the MENA region and during the same period, opened more than 20 new properties and added more than 5,000 rooms.
The past year has seen a number of hotels open doors, with some marking the debut of certain brands. One such example is the launch of Edition Hotels in the region with the opening of The Abu Dhabi Edition, the opening of W Dubai – The Palm, and W Muscat, which marked the debut of W Hotels in Oman. Other landmark openings included Four Points by Sheraton Makkah Al Naseem, the largest Four Points by Sheraton in the world, and the opening of Aloft Dubai South, the first hotel to open near the Expo 2020 Dubai site.
Marriott’s openings include a mixture of new-builds and conversations, with three re-flagged properties and three new conversion deals signed in the same period. Despite this, it’s not been the easiest year. After losing The St. Regis Dubai, Al Habtoor Polo Resort and Club and the three Habtoor City hotels in July 2018, Marriott International also lost the management contract for the Mirbat Marriott Resort in Salalah, Oman, in October last year. However, the trend of new flags in the region is one that has affected many a hotel group; Marriott certainly isn’t the only one.
Despite these bumps, a vital part of Kyriakidis’ vision is to make Marriott International an operating partner of choice for owners. In a late 2018 media roundtable, Kyriakidis had revealed that 70% of current Marriott owners have developed more than one hotel with the company, showcasing developers’ desires to continue to collaborate with the American hotelier.
This loyalty continues on through to Marriott’s guests. Kyriakidis says: “Today one out of every two guests at our hotels globally is a member of our loyalty programme. Our new travel programme, Marriott Bonvoy, really goes beyond points. It offers a global footprint of extraordinary hotel brands, experiences for every passion and the richest rewards and benefits.”
Results like these are what drives Kyriakidis. He says: “When I first joined Marriott International in 2012, we were present in 11 countries with Egypt alone representing a significant amount of our portfolio. Today, we are present in 29 markets across the region with the UAE, KSA and Egypt representing our largest markets. Our success in the region really comes down to our people. One of our core values at Marriott is, take care of associates and they will take care of the customers.” On that note, the company has been recognised by external bodies for its human resources’ policies; it was mentioned in the Aon Best Employers in the Middle East list in 2018, for example. The company is also focusing on diversity, having established the Female Leadership Initiative (FLI) in the Middle East and Africa to support female leaders to achieve their full potential in their careers and personal lives. The aim is to increase female leadership presence in this region – a welcome sign.
With all this on the cards, Marriott International is on track to expand its footprint in the region with the addition of 100 new properties and more than 26,000 rooms by 2023 — representing up to $8 billion of investment from property owners and is expected to generate over 20,000 new jobs across the region.
More specifically in the Middle East and North Africa, the operator anticipates the opening of 80 projects and 20,000 rooms within the next five years.
For all this and more, Marriott International has ascended to the throne – yet again.