By Lucy Taylor
As Shaza reveals the details of its ground-breaking new hotel line, the group's chief executive Christopher Hartley explains why Shaza is going to be such a success.
Shaza Hotels have announced the details of their new line of hotels incorporating contemporary Arabian culture and hospitality.
The group, a joint venture between Guidance financial Group and Kempinski Hotels, will open its first property in Dubai at the beginning of 2009.
Others will follow over the next three years in Doha, Muscat, Cairo, Jeddah, Bahrain and Marrakech.
Christopher Hartley, chief executive of Shaza Hotels, explained that there had been some concerns at first: "People were quite sceptical at the beginning, wondering why we should have a Middle Eastern brand, was there even demand. But once we looked into it we realized it was actually a unique opportunity. Once we'd done our market analysis we saw that there was undoubtedly a niche in the market for this product.
To a certain extent, this research has been proven right even before Shaza have opened their doors. Hartley explains: "Since we announced the launch a year ago, there have been a number of copy-cat brands that have come out and announced something similar. But none of them have got the head start that we have, and I think that with an operator behind us like Kempinski that gives us momentum that others are going to struggle to match."
Hartley added that extensive research had gone into making the Shaza experience authentic.
"We're not just hiring an interior designer to plan an Arabic-looking building; we're actually looking into the history of the region, the architecture of the region, and building culturally from the ground up," Hartley said.
"I think so far the Middle Eastern definition of a hotel experience has been, to a certain extent, foisted upon the region. People were told the best hotels were the Ritz-Carlton, the Four Seasons. Then the Asian brands came in and brought the Mandarin and the Shangri-La, and added a take on what Asian hospitality is like, and to a certain extent you've had your Meridiens with a bit of French flair, and Kempinski which of course is German. But there's been nothing designed by locals, that really reflects what the locals want."
This is an oversight that Shaza hopes to remedy.
"We're looking into every single aspect of what is different in the Arabian culture. Consultants from the region are researching everything for us, right down to what art work we can source, what style the hammam should be and so on. So overall it creates a contemporary product - a modern Arabic setting with traditional service."
The first hotel will include 220 rooms, a hammam spa, a designer restaurant and a juice bar with drinks sourced from the region.
It's not going to be a big hotel," Hartley explained. "So it's not going to be a landmark Shaza property; but it will be very much representative of what we're pitching the brand to be."
This first property will be under management contract, as will the future properties in Doha and Muscat.
Hartley stressed that this would not affect the brand standard.
"We're putting a lot of pressure on investors to keep up the standards the way we want them. If they have a Shaza hotel there's going to be no compromise. We want the highest quality."
With the brand geared towards the Arab market, Hartley admitted the group would have to recruit carefully.
"We're an international team, but certainly the front-line staff, who will have constant customer contact, will need to be Arabic speakers. But I think that there's a lot of talent we can draw on in this region; places with bigger, younger populations like Egypt and Lebanon."
Hartley said he believed Shaza would attract international tourism as well as visitors from the region.
"The international traveller is not looking for the same security and assurance that they were 30 years ago; travellers today want to try something different. So I think our opportunity is to become a truly regional experience."