Hotelier eyes MidEast for new two-star brand launch

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Outgoing Rezidor CEO Kurt Ritter.

Outgoing Rezidor CEO Kurt Ritter.

Rezidor Hotel Group, operator of the Radisson Blu and Park Inn brands, is developing a new two-star hotel concept which may be debuted in the Middle East, the Belgian hotelier's outgoing CEO told Arabian Business.

“We have made the studies and we have made somehow a concept 80 or 90 percent ready to take off the shelf and do it,” Kurt Ritter, CEO of the Rezidor Hotel Group, said in relation to plans to add a two-star hotel brand to Rezidor’s portfolio.

“I think especially in the countries like the Middle East, where there is still a lack of mid-market products… and a lot of sports events… You don’t put them in the Ritz-Carlton for these events,” he added.

Ritter officially stepped down as president and CEO at the end of 2012 and said the timeline for the implementation of the plan will be down to his successor, but said he believed the region would be a good fit to premiere the new brand.

“That I have to leave to my successor, I don’t want to decide for him but he knows it is on the shelf. It takes a lot of time and work to start up a brand but I would start it up and I told him I would start it up in the Middle East,” he said in an interview in Qatar shortly before leaving his post.

The Brussels-based hotel group currently manages the Radisson Blu and Park Inn by Radisson brands in Europe, Middle East and Africa, and has a worldwide licence agreement with the iconic Italian fashion house Missoni to develop a range of branded hotels.

There are currently 335 hotels in operation and a further 101 under development.

The reason Ritter did not launch the two-star brand during his 22-year tenure as CEO was, he claimed, because the company had taken on too many lease options during a troubling economic time.

“We went through a tough time… For several reasons, between 2003 and 2007, we signed up quite a lot of new properties with lease contracts.

“We had signed, proportional to the whole portfolio, too many leases in these four years [and] they all opened… But this is a problem that goes away by itself with time. You have to go through this period where you have to tighten the belt a bit more than usual,” he said.

Of its current portfolio, only around a quarter of the group’s hotels are leased, while none of the 101 upcoming hotels in development are lease contracts.

Ritter’s successor, Wolfgang Neumann, told Arabian Business in October he is aiming to develop the group’s presence in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and is also looking at the possibility of opening a Missoni-branded hotel in the UAE.

“I have very clear views,” said Neumann, who was appointed chief operating officer and executive vice president of the Rezidor Hotel Group in May 2011 and was promoted to president and CEO at the end of 2012.

"The Middle East is a key region for us and it is an emerging market where we want to continue the growth we have had over the last couple of years.

“Our core brands are Radisson Blu and Park Inn and that is where the main growth is… We have fantastic traction in the Middle East. We opened 14 hotels in the last three years. We have firm openings on the horizon with a focus on the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” he added.

The group also operates the Hotel Missoni brand, which is a joint venture with the Italian fashion house, and it currently has one property in Kuwait and is planning to open Hotel Missoni Oman in 2013 and Hotel Missoni Qatar in 2015.

When asked if there was the possibility of an opening in the UAE, Neumann said “potentially”.

“Missoni is a niche growth,” he said.

Ritter will step down from his role in January 2013 after 23 years, but will remain on as a key strategic advisor to Trudy Rautio, chairman of the Rezidor Hotel Group and president & CEO of Carlson.

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