France's Sofitel in talks for Doha, Saudi hotels - CEO

Designer-led 'So by Sofitel' likely to be in Dubai within next 3 years
France's Sofitel in talks for Doha, Saudi hotels - CEO
(Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)
By Shane McGinley
Thu 26 Sep 2013 09:24 AM

Luxury hotel brand Sofitel, which is owned by French parent company Accor, is in active talks to sign new hotels in Qatar and Saudi Arabia and is keen to expand its designer.

'So by Sofitel' brand across the region, the hotelier’s CEO told Arabian Business.

Qatar is quickly building up its portfolio of hotels in anticipation of hosting the FIFA 2022 World Cup in less than a decade. With hotel openings a regular occurrence, Sofitel could also be the latest addition to the Doha hotel landscape.

“I went to Doha and we have a very good opportunity… They have given me two weeks and we either have it or we don’t,” Robert Gaymer-Jones, chief executive officer of Sofitel Worldwide said in an interview.

Gaymer-Jones was in the Middle East to formally sign an agreement with Al Tamiuz Hotels & Resorts to manage a new 189 room hotel in Jeddah. Scheduled to open in 2014, the Sofitel Jeddah will be located on the city’s corniche and include six food and beverage outlets, meeting facilities, two swimming pools, a health club, a spa, squash court and a cinema.

“We trust there is a great potential for Sofitel in the Middle East and we are delighted to sign a new agreement for this beautiful project in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, by blending our different cultures: our French heritage of elegance and lifestyle with the finest of the Islamic culture and the Arabic tradition for hospitality,” Jones said.

Sofitel currently has eight properties in the GCC, and already operates in KSA in Al Khobar, with a flagship property in Riyadh scheduled to open for 2015.

The Jeddah hotel was previously a Westin-branded property but it was shut for two years for renovation and will be given a facelift before it reopens under the Sofitel flag.

Jeddah is unlikely to be the last new property in the kingdom for Sofitel as Jones revealed talks were underway for more openings: “We have a very good opportunity we are just about to sign for Makkah and we are looking a signing a hotel in Madinah… Makkah would be advanced stages.”

Across the Middle East and North Africa, Yousef Wahbah, Head of Transaction Real Estate at Ernest and Young, said earlier this month the first half of 2013 has shown positive signs. “The hospitality market across the MENA region witnessed strong growth in H1 2013. Despite the continued economic and political uncertainty in a number of markets, overall hotel occupancy rates and RevPAR have continued to grow.

“The peak winter tourism months showed significant increases across all key performance indicators and although the summer months showed an anticipated slow-down, we remain broadly positive about the region’s hospitality industry going into the second half of 2013,” he said.

Jeddah’s RevPAR increased by 13.4 percent year-on-year in H1 2013, attributed to an increase in average daily rate (ADR) from $240 in 2012 to $275 in 2013 and a steady occupancy rate of around 80 percent.

However, the numbers for Makkah and Madinah are less encouraging. Occupancy levels in Makkah dropped 8 percent to 69 percent and Madinah was down five percent to 65 percent. Average rates were also $754 and $607 respectively, compared to $936 in Jeddah.

The hospitality industry in the UAE in particular saw positive growth throughout the first six months of 2013. Dubai achieved an overall increase in average occupancy of two percent, along with growth in ADR from $267 to $284.

Having opened the Sofitel project on the Palm this year, the team is also working on the Sofitel Downtown Dubai for a launch in 2014.

Last year, Sofitel admitted it is looking to increase the number of 'So by Sofitel' branded hotels to 18 globally in the next five years, including plans for a property in Dubai.

"Eventually we’ll have somewhere between 15 and 18 Sos operating around the world in the next five to seven years. I'd love to bring it to Dubai, Cairo and other parts of the Middle East. We’re looking at an opportunity in Beirut," Jones was quoted as saying.

"The destinations have to be around fashion and design. The So we've just launched in Bangkok is unbelievable because guests choose their room by their preferred designer – it’s very fashion led. The uniforms and hotel accessories – the bath robes and soaps – are all designer."

“Eventually it will come to Dubai... I would say by 2015/16. What we do is we find the location and then we talk to our designers... These guys do not put their signature on just any hotel and are very worried about maintaining the quality of their name and who they are associated with. We have a great relationship with them and are behind the positioning of So as a real lifestyle brand.”

The designer brand has partnered with a number famous fashion names, including Kenzo Takada, Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfeld and Jean-Paul Gaultier.

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