Canada's Fairmont Hotels and Resorts said it is planning to add 14 hotels in the Middle East by 2014, focusing on Saudi Arabia, as it looks to tap into regional growth.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Kent Cooper, vice president for regional hotel sales, said: "The Middle East is our primary focus for development."
The Middle East, despite being impacted by the global downturn, still shows resilience over the past year with revenue dropping less than other regions, industry figures showed.
Cooper said: "Saudi has to be our No 1 market for development at this point."
He added: "It has a large critical mass, huge influx of travellers, the built in demand drivers, and it helps us support our partnerships with our shareholders."
Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, is developing its tourism sector to lower dependence on oil and hosts an estimated 10 million Muslim pilgrims every year.
The kingdom, which sits on more than a fifth of global oil reserves and billions of dollars in state coffers, will see the opening of Fairmont's Makkah Clock Royal Tower this year.
Mohammed al Arkobi, vice president and general manager, Makkah Clock Royal Tower, said: "By next year we will have (announced) four or five hotels in Saudi Arabia."
The 14 planned hotels will be all under the Fairmont brand.
The hotelier - which also has the Raffles and Swissotel brands - is likely to also add hotels in Qatar, the world's top exporter of liquefied natural gas, whose economy is booming.
On April 5, Fairmont Raffles said it would sell new shares equivalent to 40 percent of its capital to Qatari Diar - an affiliate of Qatar's sovereign wealth fund - as part of an $847 million deal to fund the firm's global expansion.
Cooper said the newly announced partnership with the Qatari firm is expected to result in new projects in the Gulf state.
He said: "I think it's a natural ... you'll see a lot come out of this partnership," adding that developments under the Raffles and Swissotel brands will also increase.
He added: "Those will really jump off in the Middle East."
Fairmont Raffles' biggest shareholder is Saudi investment firm Kingdom Holding. Kingdom, 95 percent owned by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed, becomes the second largest shareholder in Fairmont after the Qatari Diar deal.
Fairmont's regional growth is driven by Middle East markets such as the UAE, Egypt and increasingly Saudi Arabia, as well as growing numbers of Gulf travellers that stay at its properties in the United States, Europe and Asia.
The company has four new hotels planned for the UAE, at varying stages of development, with two in Abu Dhabi. It is also considering projects in Cairo and Morocco. (Reuters)For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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