By Claire Ferris-Lay
UPDATE 1: Hospitality giant upbeat on Q4, will build five new hotels in MENA region.
Marriott International on Wednesday said it expected occupancy rates to recover through the final quarter of the year and into 2010.
The hotel giant, managers of the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott Hotels & Resorts, said it was upbeat on the future, saying the Middle East appeared to have "weathered the economic storm".
And company chiefs said that Revenue per available room (RevPAR), a key industry measure, was strong in the Middle East compared to their properties in Europe.
The company has now set up a headquarters in Dubai for its new MENA regional operation and was planning to open five new hotels in the region.
Jean-Marc Grosfort, chief development office for Middle East and Africa, said: “Middle East has been terribly strong for us over the past few years and keeps performing strongly. Africa is a new continent that we have started to screen and work on a few years ago and we have a very strong pipeline moving up now so it was time to create a division to take care of that.
“It’s one of the fastest growing parts of our group, Europe is still going well but at a steady [pace], Middle East is a huge potential for us and Africa is coming second. If you compare to Europe the Middle East is still doing well. RevPAR is strong; the margins are still strong, there are a lot of places in Europe where we would like to have the same ratio.”
New properties are planned in Algeria (2), Egypt, Ghana and Morocco to bring the total number of Marriott owned hotels in the MENA region to more than 70, offering more than 20,000 rooms.
Ed Fuller, president and MD of International Lodging for Marriott, added: "The Middle East appears to have weathered the global economic storm and we are beginning to look forward to rising occupancies through to the end of this year into next year."
He said that setting up a regional HQ in Dubai "recognises the dynamic nature of tourism in the Middle East and the emergence of Africa as a viable destination for business and leisure travel".
Many western hotels chains are eying expansion across the MENA region in a bid to recoup losses from their home markets, which have been hit badly by the economic downturn.
Millennium & Copthorne Middle East has announced plans to bring three new brands to the region bringing its total number to 100 in the Middle East by 2015, while Belgium-based Rezidor Hotel Group, which manages the Radisson SAS and Missoni hotels, plans to open 18 hotels in the region over the next three years.
revPAR has declined as a result of the global financial crisis. In Dubai, a hub for tourism in the Gulf, RevPAR has declined around 35 percent. Although the decline is significant, industry experts say the region is faring better than markets in Europe and the United States.
On Wednesday, Marriott, which operates more than 3,200 properties worldwide, also announced it would be launching a new brand called the Autograph Collection. The brand will allow independent hotels to tap customers who prefer not to stay in branded hotels.
On whether or not he will launch the Autograph Collection in the Middle East, Grosfort told Arabian Business: “We will consider it. It’s worldwide so there is no reason why we shouldn’t do it in the Middle East. Part of the strategy now is to look at conversions because on the downturn we can show our strength in penetration, reservation and everything so conversations will increase now.”
My wife and I consider the JW Marriott, Dubai, as one of the best hotels in the world. It is our favorite. Doug