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Tue 26 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Double-Doha for Four Seasons

Four Seasons Hotel Doha general manager Simon Casson sees a bright future for the hotel, with the luxury hotel operator planning to add another property to its Qatar-based portfolio.

Four Seasons Hotel Doha general manager Simon Casson sees a bright future for the hotel, with the luxury hotel operator planning to add another property to its Qatar-based portfolio.

How has business been for the Four Seasons Hotel Doha?

We opened in early 2005, and I think it is fair to say when you look at our statistics that we took the market by storm.

We are going to be finishing 2007 with 75% occupancy, with an average rate of $420.

Here we are two and a half years later, and one of the best things about leading our team is that we have created significant leadership in the market place. That has been the case since we opened, and we are also very optimistic about the future as well.

We are going to be finishing 2007 with 75% occupancy, with an average rate of US $420. You have to put that in the context of the market; that gives us about a 35% RevPAR premium over our nearest competitors.

When you have a market with some big hotels, that is an unusually large amount, and I think it speaks to the different qualitative features that are present within the hotel, which are the location and the people and service.

Who do you consider to be your competition in the market?

We have the Ritz-Carlton in terms of luxury properties, and we also have other hotel brands, which are performing very strongly.

In Doha as the year ends in 2007, the second most successful property on RevPAR is going to be the Sheraton, with the Ritz-Carlton in third place, so we have a very high performing Sheraton hotel.

In terms of hotel models, clearly in our high-end luxury bank the Ritz-Carlton would probably be our closest competitor.

What is your biggest challenge operating a hotel in Doha?

We are in this oddly exciting and wonderful business where you have to re-earn your reputation every single day.

If people were here yesterday and had a wonderful time, then that is great, but it was yesterday. Today we have to earn our reputation from scratch again. If everyone has a bad time today then our reputation is poor.

So what makes that reputation? I believe there are three factors that create excellence in hotels.

There's the location of a hotel, which has historically always been a factor, and there is the physical presence of the hotel in terms of its design and architecture, as well as the interiors in terms of artwork and so on.

On those two factors we are blessed in Doha with one of the top locations in the city, and it is a unique hotel which is quite iconic within the marketplace.

But those two factors can be brought, someone else can come in and decide to spend a billion dollars and build something more impressive.

So the third factor is delivering service excellence on a continuous basis, and that is driven by people.

Our business is not rocket science, but it is about delivering great food and clean rooms, and it's often the little things that will transform a guest's experience - an unexpected touch.

Looking outside the hotel for a moment, how do you see the tourism market in Doha, and Qatar, performing?

Qatar today is a strongly corporate destination, and we have put together a hotel which has significant leisure elements - it has its own private beach, six swimming pools and a 36,000 sq ft spa.

For a hotel where 90% of our business is corporate, we still have a strong leisure component.

At the same time, the leisure tourism industry, which is fairly embryonic in Qatar at this stage, will grow.

We are experiencing now what Dubai was experiencing 10 years ago; we are getting very healthy stopover business, and we are also experiencing healthy business from Europe during traditional holiday breaks like Christmas, Easter and school holiday breaks. That is how it starts.

The high end traveller is always looking for something new, and if they go back to London or Sydney and sit around the dinner table saying ‘I was just in Dubai' then there are probably other people around the table who will have been there too.

But if they say they were in Doha then it's something a bit new, and I think travellers are looking to be adventurous with new destinations.

Qatar's vision is very unique; the vision is not to be the next Dubai, but to be the newer Qatar.

It celebrates what it has to offer which is that it is smaller than Dubai, probably more bespoke, and it is able to offer a family experience.

What are your key source markets?

It's going to be split between regional Arab business, which is very healthy from other GCC countries as well as from further afield such as Morocco and Egypt, and then the other big markets are the UK and North America, and Asia, and it is starting to emerge in Russia as well.

What do you see as the future for the hotel and Qatar?

It's pretty bright, because Qatar's future is bright. The fact we are opening a second property in Doha is a good indication of the future Four Seasons sees in Qatar over the coming decades.

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