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Thu 6 Mar 2008 04:00 AM

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Promoting the Ritzy lifestyle

Ritz-Carlton senior vice president Bob Kharazmi and Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel and Spa general manager and area vice president Pascal Duchauffour discuss the company's regional plans.

Ritz-Carlton senior vice president Bob Kharazmi and Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel and Spa general manager and area vice president Pascal Duchauffour discuss the company's regional plans.

Tell us about the new property you have signed in Abu Dhabi?

I think [abu dhabi] will be a big draw-card for business and leisure, and we would want to have multiple hotels there.

Bob Kharazmi:The [Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi at] Coconut Islands is a project in co-operation with Aldar. It's a very unique hotel, which has two sections - one side is connected by a pool to the other side of the property. It's about 160 rooms, where the smallest room is about 55m2, and there are also some villas, a larger spa, themed restaurants and a health facility.

The beauty of it is that there are very high-end residential units and the location of it is absolutely superb - it is facing the palace right on the water. It's a fairly unique hotel that I think will add a lot of value to our portfolio in the UAE.

There seems to be a push from a lot of companies coming into Abu Dhabi at the moment. What is the attraction for Ritz-Carlton?

Kharazmi:Abu Dhabi is really growing in terms of tourism and tourism arrivals - I think the projection is that tourism arrivals will triple in the next few years. It's a beautiful city state, and it has incredible opportunities.

I think it will be a big draw-card for business and leisure, and we would want to have multiple hotels here.

We would like to have more, and hopefully we will find partners to work with so we can have more than one Ritz-Carlton. But right now we are concentrating on Coconut Island.

Pascal Duchauffour:I think that this is a destination that we want to be in because it is where our customers are going. Today we are based in Dubai, we are based in Bahrain, and we are based in Qatar, and we want to continue to be in those important centres to be with our clients. It is a desire from the brand, because we want to be in such a key location, but it is also a desire from the customers who want us to be in Abu Dhabi.

Looking across the wider Middle East, what else is in the pipeline?

Kharazmi:We are looking at our second hotel in Bahrain, again with the same owner. We are looking at another hotel in Dubai which will be in the financial centre.
We have a project in Kuwait that is under construction; it's moving slowly, but it is there. And we have a property in Riyadh that will be a beautiful hotel, in an incredible location in the business district. Potentially there will be a third hotel in Dubai, and we are also looking at Jeddah for a potential project close to Madinah and Mecca.

Duchauffour:We would love to be in Cairo, and we are working with partners there. And then after that we are looking at any opportunities with existing owners who want to partner with us again.

What is the concept behind the new Reserve brand?

Kharazmi:It's quite new, and it will offer a luxury exclusivity in unique locations in very small boutique hotel environments. It's for guests who like to go away to exotic locations and stay in small high-end properties. We have the first resort coming up in Krabi, Phulay in Thailand, which will be the first Reserve hotel. It is a beautiful island where you can get away from everything and be indulged.

Do you see the Reserve brand coming to the Middle East?

Kharazmi:It could. At this time the first project will be in Thailand, and we will definitely see a lot of interest from our clients and from our investors for the brand, so we look forward to seeing it come to the Middle East.

Looking now to the global markets, where do you see the strong opportunities for Ritz-Carlton?

Kharazmi:We have been very successful in Asia - we will open two hotels there this year.

One is in Guangzhou, which will be a nice hotel around 350 rooms and around 90-100 serviced apartments. We will also open a hotel in Sanya, which is a beautiful beach resort in China. We are looking at a property in Kowloon, outside of Hong Kong, which is actually going to be one of the tallest properties in that market. It is a very high-end product, with a beautiful view of the harbour.

We are also looking in 2009 at a property in Shenzhen, which is another one close to Hong Kong with a spa and themed food and beverage outlets.
We have a project in Bangalore in India which will open around 2011.

Basically from now until 2011 we will have about 30 to 33 additional hotels globally. We will have five additional serviced apartments, five additional clubs (which is the shared ownership or timeshare product) and around 17 additional residential communities. So the growth in the next three years is very rapid and aggressive.

Obviously there are a lot of luxury brands in the market - who do you see as your main competitors?

Kharazmi:There are beautiful, massive and luxurious hotels in the market, however what we focus on is competing with other elements. You need to evolve with the market - if you look at our new hotels in terms of the designs and service, and if you look at our core values systems, you will see that we are evolving towards our guests needs, trying to be very relevant in the market.

Luxury is a moving target, and in this field we have to constantly change ourselves and challenge ourselves to create luxury experiences for our guests by providing what they are looking for.

What are you doing to ensure you find and retain the best staff in the industry?

Duchauffour:The first thing to do is to focus on the existing staff we have. Our ladies and gentlemen we have are by far our most important resources, and we are focusing on our existing talent.

At the Ritz-Carlton in Bahrain, the turnover over the last five years has been 15%. This is a record in this part of the world. That means that our culture, the way we behave and treat our employees, is a strength, and our ladies and gentlemen stay with us.

The second part, which is a strong focus, is how you grow, educate and train [your staff], and ensure the existing people are ready [for career growth]. We are seeing many individuals throughout the region who have started as line staff and have grown through the ranks and now they are holding important positions. I am an example of it - my first job with the company was as a bellman and today I am the vice president of the Middle Eastern region.

The third part is how to attract the various ladies and gentlemen, and I think we need to start looking at new markets. India has been terrific, but today a lot of our ladies and gentlemen are interested in going back home because they see the opportunities there. India remains an important place, but we need to start looking at [other] places. We are very active in looking in China, and there is tremendous potential there.

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