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Thu 20 Jan 2011 12:00 AM

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Who will lead the next hotel revolution?

A new year is always a good reason to make a fresh start. It is a time to take note of previous challenges, review past achievements and set new standards for future goals.

Who will lead the next hotel revolution?
Who will lead the next hotel revolution?

A new year is always a good reason to make a fresh start. It
is a time to take note of previous challenges, review past achievements and set
new standards for future goals.

At Rotana, this month’s cover star Selim El Zyr, the group’s
co-founder, president and CEO, has done just that and come up with even more ambitious
- yet carefully planned - targets, intended to take his company to greater heights
in 2011 and beyond.

In Hotelier’s exclusive interviews with El Zyr, he reveals plans to increase online bookings by 50% within the next two to
four years, open seven new hotels in 2011 alone and ultimately, to grow the chain
to 100 properties - something he says will happen “very soon”.

All this from a company that only began business 19 years ago,
thanks to the confidence of El Zyr and business partner Nasser Al Nowais in their
“strong hunch” and “gut feel” that the regional hospitality group would “take off”
and achieve international hotel standards.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I am inclined to ask: who
will form the ‘next’ Rotana? Who will take a bold step and offer something entirely
new?

Range Hospitality CEO Munaf Ali and Shaza Hotels
president and CEO Simon Coombs, may well have found a true gap in the market that
both are keen to capitalise on; that of religious tourism and specifically, the
lack of quality accommodation available to those visiting the region’s holy sites.

Ali’s accounts of his trips to Karbala
in Iraq
are astounding - in a town with six or seven peak periods of religious tourism a
year, he says there are no internationally branded hotels. There are not even enough
unbranded hotels, with tourists staying five to six per room, yet paying extortionate
prices for rooms that are way under par.

The opportunity in Karbala - and
likewise in various cities in Iran
and the Kingdom of
Saudi Arabia - is huge, and
Ali and Coombs are confident they will bring the right product to the market.

Speaking of Saudi
Arabia, this is another market where the hospitality
industry is in need of some serious attention.

The first Hotelier Middle East conference in the country revealed
an industry desperate for standards and support as it strives to meet required growth
targets.

Government officials and hoteliers alike admitted the need for
guidance from more mature markets, but maybe there is also the opportunity for the
industry to come together and create something fresh - a hospitality offering befitting
this unique destination.

Of course, there are plenty of new developments to look forward
to in 2011, from hotel openings to Qatar’s approach to meeting the demands
of its successful World Cup bid. But what is there that will really
be truly ‘new’, a hotel concept no-one has tried?

Over in the US,
the man famous for inventing the boutique hotel, Ian Schrager, is embarking on the
fourth phase of his career by launching two new brands. Many in the industry expect
these to shake up the business, but as yet Schrager has no plans to bring them to
Dubai. While this
may seem a shame, it also lays the gauntlet wide open for hoteliers here to fill
that gap themselves.

Louise Oakley is the group editor of Hotelier Middle East.

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