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Thu 13 Aug 2009 04:00 AM

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12 new brands on the block

Hotelier Middle East uncovers the insider information on 12 of the most exciting and much-anticipated new hotel brands to enter the region's hospitality industry in 2009.

12 new brands on the block
Spectacular room at W Doha.
12 new brands on the block
The guest rooms, lobby and restaurant at Hotel Missoni Edinburgh feature distinctive variations of the unmistakeable Missoni prints.
12 new brands on the block
Centro Tower, Abu Dhabi, opening 2011.
12 new brands on the block
Pool at Desert Islands Resort.
12 new brands on the block
Park Inn Muscat.
12 new brands on the block
Three-bedroom suite at Staybridge Suites, Cairo.
12 new brands on the block
Armani Residences.
12 new brands on the block
Irish pub concept at Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach.
12 new brands on the block
Le Gray, Beirut.
12 new brands on the block
12 new brands on the block
Michael Weyland presents a Citymax model room.
12 new brands on the block

Hotelier Middle East uncovers the insider information on 12 of the most exciting and much-anticipated new hotel brands to enter the region's hospitality industry in 2009.

The Middle East hotel industry has suffered serious set backs in 2009, with major projects delayed, postponed or even cancelled. No longer is Dubai getting its Four Seasons, plans for Bawadi remain quiet, Dubai Pearl is a long way off completion and The Palm, Deira has all but ceased development.

However, amid these stories of doom and gloom there are several shining lights, with some new brands launched in the region already this year and plenty more lined up to open in the second half of 2009. And what makes a refreshing change is the fact that not all of the exciting hotel brands are debuting in Dubai.

W Hotels has launched its first Middle Eastern property in Doha; Hotel Missoni is headed for Kuwait and Campbell Gray Hotels is setting up in Beirut. Abu Dhabi is also a hot spot, with Aloft, Centro by Rotana and Park Inn set to open imminently. Dubai, however, is home to the first Armani Hotel, so not losing its mantle quite yet. Turn over for 12 of the best, upcoming brands.

W Hotels

W Hotels debuted its  first hotel 10 years ago with the opening of W New York, US.  A decade later, the brand has entered the Middle East with the opening of W Doha in Qatar in March.

According to W Hotels Worldwide and Le Méridien global brand leader Eva Ziegler, "W was immediately conceived as a category buster and recognised as an industry innovator, quickly redefining the hotel experience from a transactional, process-oriented one to a contemporary lifestyle branding approach".

Ziegler sums up the key brand pillars as follows: "W is a contemporary lifestyle brand that offers guests insider access to a world of "wow" through cool design, buzzing bars, and programming around fashion, nightlife, and entertainment with a focus on film and music.

"Every W Hotel demonstrates the brand's passions for cutting-edge design. Each hotel's design approach is unique, rooted in the location and interpreted in a contemporary cool way using renowned designers such as Ricardo Bofill, Clodagh, Yabu Pushelberg, David Rockwell, among others. For example, W Doha, designed by the London-based United Designers, is designed with a cool, contemporary take on conventional Arabic design elements.

"All W Hotels are also the home to hotspot destination bars - like W Doha's Wahm - that become the place to sip, play and flirt for guests and locals. W Happenings, W's signature event series, keeps W "on trend" through regular events for locals and out-of-town guests, activating W's passions for fashion, design, or entertainment," she says.

The hotel staff, or "talent" as they are known, according to the W language all employees are trained in (see box out opposite), is critical to the success of the brand, continues Ziegler.

"W's Talent is trained to "wow" our guests through W's Whatever/Whenever signature service, providing them whatever they want - from a private hot air balloon trip over the desert to a flower bouquet delivered at 2am - whenever they want it, as long as it's legal!" she explains.

So, how have the brand standards translated to W Doha?

"W Doha is the first W Hotel in the Middle East and is Doha's category buster of the hotel industry," asserts Ziegler.

 "The hotel offers a full range of signature programming, providing a unique contemporary lifestyle experience to Doha that includes Spice Market and Market by Jean-Georges, two dining concepts by three-star Michelin Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten; the first Bliss, New York's hottest spa where you can have a manicure/pedicure and facial in a fun, stylish environment; and a touch of exclusivity through La Maison du Caviar and Alexandre Zouari Salon out of Paris and Teushcer Chocolates of Switzerland," she says.

"The property also features a spectacular, 15th floor Extreme Wow suite (W's take on the traditional Presidential Suite), with breathtaking views of the Arabian Sea, private massage and meeting rooms, a full-size pool table and wet bar, a saltwater aquarium and a split-level bathroom."

As a result of the "contemporary cool lifestyle approach" W Doha offers - which Ziegler says makes it the most exciting new brand to open in the Middle East this year - the hotels target  "trendsetters".

Ziegler explains: "The aspiration target for W is the trendsetters; people who are interested in the hippest and newest [products] out there, into what's new and what's next.

"These people are very design-savvy and fashion forward and interested in social happenings around entertainment, so we activate these interests through unique signature programming that touches on these areas.  These trendsetters attract a wider audience such as trend seekers, people who are inspired by those in the know."

There are 31 W Hotels and W Retreats open and Ziegler says "we will more than double the W brand's footprint by 2011".  This will include the launch of  W Dubai-Festival City in 2011, which she says will bring to Dubai the same unique contemporary lifestyle experience that W Doha has brought to the region. Hotel Missoni

Billed as representing a "new standard of design hotel", Hotel Missoni is the product of a worldwide licence agreement between The Rezidor Hotel Group and the Missoni fashion house, signed in November 2005.

The new brand, currently only operational in Edinburgh, Scotland, is set to make a splash in the Middle East this year; the only region worldwide currently to have locations signed for two Hotel Missonis.

First to launch will be Hotel Missoni Kuwait, scheduled to open at the end of 2009/beginning of 2010. Under development also are properties in Oman; Cape Town, South Africa; and Brazil.

Spearheaded by Rosita Missoni in partnership with Rezidor executive vice-president of brands Gordon McKinnon, the development of Hotel Missoni targets both city centre and resort opportunities, with Edinburgh and Kuwait selected as the first locations because they are "young, contemporary and dynamic destinations with a sense for art, design and lifestyle".

They are locations that Rezidor expects to attract its target clientele of "well-travelled individuals, who are independent, relatively cash-rich and time-poor".

Willing to "pay for the difference", typical values of a Hotel Missoni guest include: a strong interest in design, an appreciation of detail, an understanding of food and wine, a belief in authenticity and an understanding of culture from a contemporary point of view.

The appearance of the hotels is obviously critical to the Hotel Missoni brand, which promises to bring the "timeless style, colour and glamour of Missoni to life for today's design conscious traveller".

Rezidor CEO and president Kurt Ritter says: "I've seen so many of these hotels with grey, black and brown and minimalist design - Hotel Missoni is distinctive and colourful. As soon as you walk through the doors you know it is Missoni".

Missoni's signature use of colour and striking patterns will bring "a cool, contemporary energy" to the hotels, but each property will have a distinctive individual look inspired by the location and culture of the host city.

In Kuwait, Rosita Missoni says she found inspiration in the "brilliant blues and sparkling beaches of the Arabian Gulf", bringing a palette of gold, turquoise and beige combined with "the unmistakable Missoni prints" to the hotel.

It is this combination of the culture of Kuwait with the iconic style of Missoni - a mix never seen before - that Rezidor claims "redefines the lifestyle hotel" and will make Hotel Missoni the most exciting new brand to launch in the Middle East this year. Centro By Rotana

According to Centro by Rotana general manager Philippe Anric, accommodation for the budget-conscious executive is a "grossly under-serviced" market in the Middle East.

"In the Middle East, we have seen over the past few years a boom of five-star hotels and chains. Lately, there has been the addition of a few four-star brands, some of them sister brands of those upper market ones. However, we have had a lack of value-for-money hotels with high level of standards, even if we are talking about limited service. This is when we realised a brand like Centro was needed," explains Anric.

The brand, he continues, has been "designed to cater to a clearly identified niche within the economy segment in the region" and is a "unique out-of-the-box solution for the mid-tier market".

Conceived of by Rotana and designed by LWD, the first Centro by Rotana hotel worldwide will be Centro Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, opening in October 2009. It will adjoin the Yas Island Rotana hotel.

Anric says: "The property comprises 259 rooms and is centrally located within the southern district of the spectacular Yas Island and a few minutes away from the Formula 1 Race Track and The Links Golf Course. It will feature amenities specifically geared to the needs of the travelling executive, including a well-appointed executive centre, meeting rooms, gymnasium and a swimming pool. This is in addition to "C.Taste", which is a three-meal restaurant, "C.Mondo",  a bar offering a selection of beverages and snacks and "C.Deli", an innovative deli take-away dining concept allowing guests to enjoy great food and to consume their purchase on the spot, in the lobby lounge, or if they prefer, in the privacy of their rooms".

Guest rooms have been designed to a 22m² area and "great care has been taken to optimise the room configuration and style," says Anric.

"Special features include the functionality and the ergonomics of each item of furniture, innovatively-styled bathrooms and the strategic placement of room lighting and controls," he says.

Centro's target market is young business and leisure travellers "who seek both style and finesse yet at affordable rates".

Anric says Rotana catered to these requirements against an international set of benchmarks.

The region's second Centro property, Centro Barsha, Dubai, will open in November 2009 and the ultimate aim, says Anric, is for 25 Centro properties across the Middle East by 2014. Anantara Resorts & Spas

Since its launch in 2001 in Thailand, Anantara Resorts & Spas has opened 10 luxury resorts in Thailand, the Maldives, Bali and the UAE, with Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara marking the brand's first development outside of Asia at the end of last year.

As  its creator,  Minor International CEO and chairman William Heinecke says, "the Anantara experience offers guests luxury and tranquility in surroundings that are culturally and environmentally uplifting".

Four brand values inform the creation of the experience Heinecke refers to, explains Anantara Resorts & Spas area general manager - Middle East, Didier Tourneboeuf:

Indigenous: resort architecture, interior design, F&B and guest experiences (including the spa) are all inspired by the culture or history of their particular location.

Expertise: the brand is one of passionate insiders with localised knowledge. Connoisseurship and skill characterise both the resort and spa experiences on offer at Anantara properties.

Grounded: We are principled and down to earth. Our service is delivered with enduring warmth that is genuine and fad-free. Our hospitality is heart-felt.

Discovery: The spirit of adventure flavours our brand offer. We give our guests an opportunity to venture further into the experience of their destination.

These values are incorporated into Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara through its location within the nature reserve of HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late president of the UAE, on Sir Bani Yas Island, just off the coast of Abu Dhabi.

Tourneboeuf says: "The resort offers intrepid travellers an exciting island escape featuring indigenous Arabian wildlife from the Arabian National Park for guests to explore. There is also a chance to explore the island's rugged landscape by mountain bike or on foot, snorkel around unharmed reefs or kayak among the mangroves.

"This kind of destination experience is not offered anywhere else in the Middle East".

Anantara is set to launch its second Middle Eastern property by the end of 2009 in the Liwa Desert, also known as the Empty Quarter, one of the world's largest sand deserts.

"Qasr Al Sarab the Anantara Resort will be the ultimate experiential getaway, with a first-hand journey into hidden Arabia. Guests will be offered adventure excursions for a taste of nomadic Arabia, including a chance to live the Bedouin life in a tented camp," says Tourneboeuf.

Both properties have been developed in partnership with Tourism Development & Investment Company, the development arm of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, with which Tourneboeuf says Anantara felt there was a "connection", sparking its foray into the Middle East, which had long been earmarked as an area for growth.

The value of discovery is clearly evident in the locations, with the Middle Eastern Anantara resorts, "expected to attract the experienced traveller looking for more than just a relaxing beach holiday and a sense of discovery and adventure," according to Tourneboeuf.

"Our customers love doing things they've never done before. They want more than just a suntan from their holiday - they want a memory and a story to tell," says Tourneboeuf, adding that he expects to welcome many of Anantara's international guests to the region.

It is this creation of a  "destination experience", which is at the core of the Anantara philosophy, that makes it the most exciting brand to launch in the Middle East this year, asserts Tourneboeuf.

"Anantara strives to go beyond guests' expectations, not simply to meet them. The Anantara team is passionate about constantly anticipating and assessing every component of the resort experience in order to ensure that the guests are inspired and leave with an amazing story," he explains.

Future development for the brand in the Middle East and North Africa is already planned, with a resort opening in Oman in 2010 and two planned for Morocco. Park Inn

The Rezidor Hotel Group opened the first Park Inn in early 2003 in Berlin, Germany.  The brand has grown rapidly since then.

"Including the pipeline, the brand has more than 130 hotels with more than 24,000 rooms in operation and under development in Europe, Middle East and Africa," says Park Inn COO Jacques Dubois.

The launch of the brand in the Middle East this year -Park Inn hotels have already opened in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia and Muscat, Oman, while Yas Island will be the first Park Inn to open in the UAE in quarter four - was a "natural development for Rezidor", says Dubois.

"Both KSA and Oman are markets where most international brands present are aimed at the luxury traveller. Mid-market choices in these countries have largely been provided by local and regional operators," says Dubois, explaining that Rezidor therefore saw an "excellent opportunity" to expand its growth in the region via "a new, competitive, mid-market brand".

"We see Park Inn, as an example, fitting well within Oman's 2020 vision for tourism. As a new player in the market, we stand a better chance of being noticed for our positive contribution in KSA and Oman than in the crowded marketplace of Dubai," says Dubois.

He describes Park Inn as being "fresh and energetic" and offering  a "warm and casual service, being spotlessly clean, easy to use and safe, all within the context of some simple but clever design that plays on the colours of Park Inn".

"Park Inn hotels are successful for delivering the basics, what we call the "essentials", consistently well.  Add to this our "yes I can!" service and you have a winning formula," he adds.

"Park Inn customers don't want to feel they are making sacrifices but neither are they comfortable with paying for luxury they don't feel they need. Park Inn hotels aim to fill that need by aiming for that hard to define middle ground," says Dubois.

He describes this "middle ground" as "finding the right mix of services, quality and style that makes you feel you are getting what you paid for and then some" and is confident that this will appeal to corporate travel planners, for example.

Further Park Inn hotels have already been announced for Riyadh and Makkah in Saudi Arabia. Staybridge suites

Staybridge Suites is an extended-stay hotel brand for travellers staying away for days, weeks or even months who are seeking an alternative to a conventional hotel, says Tom Rowntree, VP Commercial MEA for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG).

Rowntree lists the brand hallmarks as follows:

• A signature fireplace providing a welcome glow when guests first enter the hotel.

• All our guest rooms are suites, providing more space to live and work compared to conventional hotel bedrooms.

• Every suite has a fully-equipped kitchen giving guests the option to prepare their own meals exactly as they like them.

• A hub kitchen, the heart of every Staybridge Suites where breakfast is served every day.

•  After-work receptions, hosted by the general manager, four nights a week with complimentary drinks and snacks for all guests - a great opportunity for guests to unwind and meet their neighbours.

• Free WiFi broadband throughout the hotel so everyone can keep in touch.

• A guest laundry room perfect for washing socks and smalls.

• The pantry 24/7 shop, where guests can buy essentials from food and drink to any forgotten toiletries.

Staybridge Suites has already launched in North Africa - Staybridge Suites Cairo City Stars -  while Staybridge Suites Abu Dhabi Yas Island, scheduled to open in the last quarter, will be the first Staybridge property in the GCC.

Rowntree says that this property will be ideally suited to the types of traveller Abu Dhabi aims to attract.

"In the UAE, especially Abu Dhabi, business travel is a key component of the country's tourism sector. The Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 aims to improve the business environment in the emirate, which will encourage business travel. Staybridge Suites is a concept that aims to ease the pressures of business travel by creating the right living environment. This is the hotels' main unique selling point."

Rowntree continues: "Second to this is the hub kitchen, where breakfast is served every morning and which is also the venue for the signature after-work receptions.  We believe that the kitchen also serves the purpose as a social networking area, where guests will have the opportunity to meet other guests at the hotel".

Aside from the Staybridge Suites concept, the hotel's location puts it right in the middle of all the action," he adds.

"Yas Island is a US $39 billion project and will feature attractions such as a world-class motor sports racetrack, the Ferrari theme park, the Abu Dhabi destination retail development of 300,000 m² retail area, golf courses, villas and numerous food and beverage outlets that will create an international tourist destination," says Rowntree.

"Staybridge Suites is for the business traveller who is away from home for an extended period of time," he continues. "The hotel is designed for professionals such as project workers who have been temporarily assigned to a new base. Staybridge Suites is for the executives who are both IT savvy and brand conscious."

When asked why Staybridge Suites is the most exciting brand to launch in the region this year, Rowntree says:  "The extended-stay concept is new to the market and a refreshing new change from conventional hotels. What makes this brand more exciting is the experience it offers its guests - a chance to network in a comfortable environment outside the workplace. For those who like their own space, it gives them the room to do just that. It is a versatile concept that serves the savvy traveller well".

The pipeline includes two more properties to open in the GCC, both in Kuwait - Staybridge Suites Kuwait Salmiya and Staybridge Suites Kuwait Farnawiya. In the Americas, there are 155 Staybridge Suites  with 152 in the pipeline, while in Europe, Middle East and Africa there are two hotels and 11 hotels in the pipeline, concludes Rowntree. Armani Hotels & Resorts

This year promises two highly ambitious, iconic launches from UAE-based Emaar Properties: the opening of the world's tallest tower, the Burj Dubai, and the operation within it of the world's first Armani Hotel.

Indeed, Emaar Hotels & Resorts CEO Marc Dardenne says that this location - from the concourse to level eight and levels 38 and 39 of the Burj Dubai -  is "the key USP of the hotel", alongside the personal involvement in all aspects of the property by Giorgio Armani.

Four years in development since the Armani Hotels & Resorts brands was established in 2005 by Giorgio Armani S.pA. and Emaar Properties, Armani Hotel Dubai "will realise Giorgio Armani's dream to offer his customers a comprehensive Armani lifestyle", says Dardenne.

"The hotels, residences and resorts will be places that offer the same kind of welcome to guests as he would privately extend to his family and friends. They are characterised by immaculate design and incomparable luxury," he explains.

"From the room designs to the carefully selected textiles and fabrics, to the impeccable service, every aspect of the Armani hotel experience will bear the Armani signature," he says.

As a result, continues Dardenne, Armani Hotels "target connoisseurs - who value excellence, style and elegance".

These "connoisseurs" can also stay long-term at the 144 one-and two-bedroom Armani Residences located alongside the hotel. Highlights of these 100m² to 200m² suites, which Giorgio Armani personally designed from the furniture through to the light fittings, include the creation of zones using rounded panels and partitions and the installation of smart home technology to control security temperature, lighting, draping and air conditioning.

Key features of the 160-key hotel itself, also available for use by residents, include Japanese, Indian, Mediterranean and Italian food and beverage outlets, 30,000ft² of conference and banqueting facilities, Armani/Privé, a hip and upmarket night club; the world's first in-hotel Armani/Spa; Armani/Dolci, a chocolate store; Armani/Fiori, a floral shop; and an Armani/Galleria.

Of the hotel's impact on the Middle East hospitality sector, Dardenne comments: "The very fact that it is a collaboration between Giorgio Armani and Emaar Properties makes it the most exciting hotel brand in the Middle East region. This is further complemented by its location in Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building. The difference lies in the fact that this place has been personally designed and conceived by Giorgio Armani himself.

"There are indeed luxury hotels in Dubai, but there will only be one Armani Hotel," Dardenne confidently asserts.

The opening in Dubai will be followed by the launch of the Armani Hotel Milano. Other properties underway include the first Armani Resort planned for Marrakech and the first Armani Residences villas for Marassi in Egypt.

Armani Hotels & Resorts foresees the opening of at least 10 luxury hotels and resorts within the next 10 years, reveals Dardenne, with key international destinations such as New York, Shanghai and London next on the agenda. Sofitel

Although Dubai previously offered a Sofitel property at Deira City Centre, this was prior to a global relaunch of the brand at the end of 2007, which now only operates in the luxury five-star hotel sector.

This new vision for Sofitel, based around the creation of unique, contemporary luxury hotels that are different and non-standardised - blending the brand's French origins such as elegance, savoir-faire and the art of "recevoir" with the best of local culture from each country -is now set to launch in Dubai with the opening of Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach planned for the third quarter.

Sofitel Worldwide chief operating officer Robert Gaymer-Jones says: "There's a little bit of white space area where clearly there are a lot of luxury hotels in Dubai. For us, our focus will be more around design and elegance with a female touch to what we are doing.

"Our points of differentiation are a very French feel without the arrogance of French; it's much more about design and personality at Sofitel hotels" says Gaymer-Jones.

The general manager at Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach, Giles Longuet, added that an opening in Dubai was a "great opportunity" for Sofitel, following the repositioning of the brand that has been underway for  two years.

"I think we will start building our reputation [in the GCC] with the opening of this hotel. Sofitel has existed in the past with a certain image; now we want to bring the image to an even higher level than what it was in the past," he says.

The 438-room property, which includes 26 Club Millésime rooms, 72 Sofitel suites, 12 Prestige sites and four outlets, aims to bring the French art de vivre to Dubai.

Longuet continues: "There are a lot of hotels that pretend to have the French art de culiniare and French brasseries and indeed there are some that are quite good, but what we want to be is ‘the one'; that is why we decided to have a real French brasserie and we have been taking sufficient time to select the most appropriate team".

He adds that a large percentage of staff at the hotel would be French speaking.

"It does not mean we will have 50%, but at least 8-10% of our employees do speak French," says Longuet.

According to the success of the brasserie, Longuet says it could be a feature of other Sofitels planned for the region. These include Sofitel Al Khobar The Corniche in Saudi Arabia and Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Beach, both already  underway and scheduled to open by the end of 2009 and mid-2010 respectively.

Sofitel, which also operates the So and Legend brands, operates 149 worldwide. It has 31 hotels in its pipeline under the three brands but by 2012, plans to have only 130 hotels in its portfolio as the repositioning continues over the next few years, reveals Gaymer-Jones.

He adds that should Dubai launch a design or fashion district, as has been previously announced, he would "be very interested in putting a So there". CampbellGray Hotels

Boutique brand Gordon Campbell Gray Hotels is set to make its Middle East debut at the end of September with Le Gray, Beirut.

The brand, which operates Dukes and One Aldwych in London and Carlisle Bay Antigua, is "built around exciting destinations and design" although chairman Gordon Campbell Gray believes that "above all, our success has been built around exceptional and modern thinking service".

Campbell Gray says: "The inspiration for Le Gray was to create a modern classic, along the principles of One Aldwych in London, in one of the most exciting cities in the world. Beirut was chosen as a destination because I love the city and have felt for many years that its renaissance was imminent . It is an exciting place to live and an exciting place to visit and I feel strongly that its time has come again to be one of the most sought after and visited capitals in the world.

"Le Gray will add something utterly new to the Beirut Hotel scene. It has a very sexy look and is just what such a sexy city needs.

"Its uniqueness will be based around the design and our approach to service," he continues. "One of the aspects of a Campbell Gray Hotel of which I am most proud is that we are particular about creating snob-free zones. We believe totally in treating everyone, and by this I mean the staff and the guests, utterly equally.

"This may seem rather obvious but I feel strongly that in many hotels there are too many layers and the word VIP is used too often. I do not believe in two tier service," asserts Campbell Gray.

Design is also a significant factor at Le Gray and Gordon Campbell Gray plays a pivotal role in this, alongside renowned interior designer Mary Fox Linton.

"Design plays a big part in a Campbell Gray Hotel, but I think it probably does for most hotels. We merely have our own style which I hope adds a sense of dazzle to the guest's experience," says Campbell Gray, who has personally put together an extensive art collection for the hotel.

"Le Gray will have several hundred original pieces, which I have collected from around the world, but which specialises in art from the region," he reveals.

Despite being one of the most hotly-anticipated hotel brands to enter the region this year, there are no plans to extensively roll out Campbell Gray Hotels, although more locations are set for the Middle East.

"I do not have a particular number of Campbell Gray Hotels in mind. First of all, I should make it clear that I am not a fan of big companies. I feel that in general big is never beautiful. The expansion of the company is therefore built around interesting opportunities in interesting places - in other words, the complete opposite of strategic!" says Campbell Gray.

"There may be other hotels called Le Gray but principally our hotels each have different names and we add very discretely at the bottom -  A Campbell Gray Hotel," he adds.

There will be further Campbell Gray hotels in the Middle East and their destinations wills be announce shortly. Aloft

Aloft entered the hotel market in a particularly unique manner - via  a video game - and has since followed sister brand W Hotels in establishing itself as a mould-breaking brand, this time in the focused-service category. It is now following W Hotels to the Middle East, with the launch of Aloft at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) and Capital Centre campus later this year.

Aloft Abu Dhabi general manager Stephan Vanden Auweele explains the background: "Starwood introduced the highly anticipated new brand in 2005, and in 2006, Aloft became the world's first hotel brand to debut in virtual reality when it introduced a three-dimensional computer-generated replica of an Aloft Hotel inside the popular online community Second Life. The virtual Aloft Hotel provided a way to gather valuable feedback on hotel design, functionality and features before opening hotels in the real world".

So, how does Vanden Auweele sum up these key features? "Like all Starwood hotels, Aloft has its own core values; sassy, savvy and space," he says. "Energy flows and personalities mingle in a setting that combines urban-influenced design, accessible technology, and a social scene that's always ‘abuzz'. Aloft celebrates the individual, giving guests control of their experience and the freedom to customize their travel adventures. It is a place where anything can happen," says  Vanden Auweele.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, senior vice president, specialty select brands Brian McGuinness adds: "The Aloft brand has successfully revolutionised the select service hotel category by meeting the needs of today's travellers. With its emphasis on bringing lifestyle-style hotels to the travelling masses by offering a four-star experience at a three-star price, Aloft is rapidly gaining worldwide recognition as one of the industry's most compelling lifestyle brands."

"Aloft will be the first hotel to open on the ADNEC and Capital Centre campus and it will help relieve the pent-up demand which exists for hotels of its type in Abu Dhabi," adds Vanden Auweele.

"It is located at ADNEC and exposed to more than 100 events and 1.8 million visitors each year.  Aloft is a new property, targeting a younger crowd. Its large rooms and stylish design makes this destination quite unique and different. Aloft has a few signature offerings such as: hotel-wide free internet (rooms and public areas); re:fuel, our distinctive grab and go concept; W xyz hip bar; touch n go self-check-in kiosks in the lobby; and airport check-in from the hotel is also available," says Vanden Auweele.

"Aloft is the second largest hotel in Abu Dhabi, making it easier to cater large group blocks," he adds.

It is these USPs and location at ADNEC, which makes  Aloft the hotel of choice for upcoming events and exhibitions, that makes it the most exciting new hotel to launch in the region, says Vanden Auweele. "Aloft brings a new, very well-perceived concept in terms of practicality to the hotel industry. This form will eventually become the preference of the business traveller on the go-go," he adds.

Starwood currently operates 33 Aloft Hotels worldwide.  In 2009, Aloft will grow to more than 40 hotels, opening one new property every two weeks in markets all over the world, including USA, China, and UAE, says Vanden Auweele. The brand is expected to reach 500 properties by 2013. Citymax

Landmark Group general manager - hotel division Michael Weyland launched the company's first hotel brand, Citymax Hotels, at Arabian Travel Market 2009 and is currently gearing up to open the brand's first three properties in Dubai.

Conceived of by Landmark Group chairman Micky Jagtiani, Weyland says  the brand was developed to fill a "significant gap" in the mid-market segment.

"There is a notable demand-supply imbalance in this segment of the hospitality industry, not only in the UAE but also in the Gulf and other emerging markets. This gap in the mid-market, bridge offering is expected to continue in the years to come, in spite of the supply plans announced," says Weyland.

With Citymax, "we have tapped into the enhanced aspiration levels resulting from the increased global exposure of the mid-level travellers," says Weyland.

"Our customers are savvy and discerning and they seek clean, efficient, secure, convenient and aesthetically appealing accommodation. Our inspiration naturally stems from what the traveller needs and we aim to fulfill these requirements with Citymax.

"In a nutshell, the brand personality is stylish, cheerful, cutting-edge, international and adaptable. Our brand territory is ‘style without pretense' and "our core brand USP is transparent pricing. I believe this is what sets us apart," continues Weyland.

The company is scheduled to open three hotels in the next six months and Weyland says the location of each is vitally important: Bur Dubai with 693 rooms, six  F&B outlets, a rooftop pool and gym; Al Barsha with 378 rooms, four F&B outlets, a rooftop pool and gym  and Sharjah,  featuring 260 rooms and two F&B outlets.

"We plan to expand the Citymax portfolio with preferred partners and become the leading ‘value-for-money' hotel chain in the Gulf. Our vision is to open a Citymax hotel in all our current trading destinations and be an industry example of sustainable development," adds Weyland. Garden Inn by Hilton

According to Hilton Hotels Arabian Peninsula & Indian Ocean regional director of marketing Nathalie Turpin, "the strategy for developing Hilton Garden Inn was to create a hotel with focused service in the mid-price segment".

"We wanted to offer warm and inviting, yet functional hotels," says Turpin.

"Hilton Garden Inn is the award-winning, mid-priced brand that continually strives to ensure today's busy travellers have everything they need to be most productive on the road - from complimentary wired and Wi-Fi internet access in all guestrooms and PrintSpotsTM mobile printing to the hotel's complimentary 24-hour business centre to one of the most comfortable beds with the Garden Sleep System®," she says.

"Each Hilton Garden Inn property incorporates the five brand pillars: sleep deep; stay fit; eat well; work smart; and treat yourself," adds Turpin.

Already successful in the US and Europe,  with around 450 Hilton Garden Inn hotels in operation, the brand launched in the region just last month with a property in Riyadh.

"Located amidst the bustle of Olaya Street, in the heart of Riyadh's business district, the new-build Hilton Garden Inn Riyadh Olaya features 180 guest rooms and suites equipped with a range of unique lifestyle amenities including: self-adjusting Garden Sleep SystemTM bed, wired and wireless high-speed internet access; secure and remote printing to the business centre; and work space kitted out with a desk and Mirra® Chair designed by Herman Miller," says Turpin.

"The hotel also provides a complimentary business centre, three meeting rooms, state-of-the-art Hilton by Precor workout facilities and a Stay Fit Kit® for private workouts.

"Dining options include the Oasis Grill that serves breakfast lunch and dinner, in addition to room service. For guests on the move, Pavilion Pantry® is a 24-hour convenience mart that provides on-the-go snacks and sundries," she continues.

The concept is aimed predominantly at business travellers (70%) and 30% leisure guests.

"We aim to complement the region's ever-expanding business tourism industry with quality and efficiency in service and cost. Hilton Garden Inn's experience in other markets gives us an upper-hand in anticipating, understanding and catering to guests requirements, whilst remaining flexible to the region's needs," says Turpin.

As a result, significant growth is planned, particularly in Saudi Arabia. Hilton Hotels Corporation entered into a non-exclusive Strategic Development Agreement (SDA) with the Abdulmohsen Al-Hokair Group for Tourism and Development, says Turpin, with the potential to deliver approximately 13 Hilton Garden Inn properties (comprising 2500 rooms) in a number of cities across Saudi Arabia.

The next hotel to open will be the 196-room Hilton Garden Inn Riyadh Al Muroj in quarter three, she reveals.

There are 50 Hilton Garden Inns in the development pipeline globally in 2009 and an additional 50 planned for 2010 in Europe, United States, Canada and Asia.

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