By Beatrice Thomas
Operators behind Fairmont & Raffles brands is aiming to double its regional footprint by 2020
A 7.5 million square metre, three-hotel mega project in Egypt's popular Sharm el Sheikh region is among seven new Middle East projects unveiled by luxury hotels company FRHI as it seeks to double its regional footprint by 2020.
The operator of upscale brands Raffles, Fairmont and Swissotel on Tuesday unveiled new projects in strategic markets Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Nigeria as it aims to grow its portfolio from 19 properties to 38.
Under the biggest development in its plans, it will partner with Citystars to develop three new hotels - Fairmont Citystars, Swissotel Citystars and Raffles Citystars - and a signature golf course in a 7.5m sqm mega project at Egypt's Red Sea costal city Sharm el Sheikh.
The first phase of the flagship project will include the Fairmont hotel, which comprises 457 guest rooms, 232 residences and the largest crystal lagoon in the world, and is due to open in 2015.
The second phase will open in 2016 and will include the first Swissotel in Egypt, which will consist of a 400-room, 400-residences project, and a 250-room, 50-villa Raffles and Colin Montgomery 18-hole championship course. The final phase will include a residential development, a unique boutique desert hotel with 80 tent-like rooms as well as a new school, tennis academy and natural reserve of mangroves.
Under the plans, announced at Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, the company said it also planned to open an 180-room, 188-residences Raffles hotel and a 350-room Swissotel in Jeddah.
A Swissotel was also planned in Dubai's Jaddaf district, offering 276 guestrooms and suites, while it also planned to open Fairmont Lagos in Nigeria - a 220-room, 50-residences property.
Jennifer Fox, president international FRHI and president of the Fairmont brand, said following a reorganisation of the company, which included an expanded regional headquarters in Dubai, it had embarked on a growth strategy to increase its global portfolio by 50 percent in the next five years from 110 to 165 hotels.
She said in the Middle East, Saudi and the UAE were the biggest growth markets, while Egypt was a still-underdeveloped tourism market that would take off when political i stability in the country improved.
"Long-term, I really believe in Egypt as a destination and as a company we do believe that once this political instability is stabilised there will be such a pent-up demand for places like Sharm el Sheikh," she told Arabian Business on the sidelines of the event. "It's a huge tourist destination for Europeans and for people from the UK and... we're building at the right time."
Fox said while it had thought about entering the mid-scale hotels model, it decided to stay in the luxury sector where it still believed it still had plenty of growth opportunities.
It had no plans to add to its three brands, though it was "not opposed to the idea", she said.
"We want to really max-out those brands and get them into all the right markets that they need to be in, where our customers want to go, so we see that as such a great opportunity that there's where we're going to focus right now," she said.
"Now, over time we may consider to go into the mid scale market, but at the moment our real focus is really getting those three brands to all the key markets where we need to have them in."