As the new CEO of Saudi-based Dur Hospitality, Sultan bin Badr Al-Otaibi has been quietly positioning the company to leverage the performance of a homegrown powerhouse. While major economic, cultural and social changes are sweeping through the Kingdom, Al-Otaibi is spearheading the hospitality sector toward expansion and development to meet the ambitious objectives laid out in Saudi Vision 2030
Can you tell us a little bit about your background in hospitality? What skills, qualifications and experience are you bringing to the role?
Dur Hospitality and I have a long history together, spanning two decades. Throughout this time, I served in various roles from accountant to vice president and many other roles in between. As former vice president of Property & Asset, I was tasked with leading and maximizing the returns of the real estate assets portfolio for the company, negotiating management contracts for all the company’s properties and examining proposed budgets, marketing plans and operating plans to ensure they comply with the company’s expectations and strategy. Throughout my previous role as the general manager of Makarem Hospitality Group, I was responsible for directing the overall management and supervision of the Group properties and led a team of the Group’s regional managers. At some point I also served as Dur’s internal auditor.
Besides my educational qualifications as an MBA holder in International Hospitality Management and in addition to having completed several courses at New York’s Cornell University, I consider the experience I have accumulated working with Dur as my main asset. I’m glad I will be giving back this expertise to the company in a new form through my new position. Being a member of the Tourism Committee at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce is an additional advantage to my new position at the company.
What advice did Dr. Al Badr offer during the transition?
For many years, Dr. Al Badr steered Dur Hospitality toward exceptional feats through his reliance on a strategy that met the current market needs and anticipated future ones. He would always repeat “We cannot succeed without making a difference.” I plan to build on the accomplishments Dur saw during Dr. Badr’s term to continue to direct the company toward further success.
In which direction will you be taking Dur Hospitality? What is your vision for the group?
Dur Hospitality’s business development plan today is focused on strengthening its presence in the luxury residential market, and servicing the pilgrims visiting Makkah through its award-winning brand Makarem Hotels. In the luxury residential sector, Dur is developing the DARRAQ brand in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter through the addition of 55 luxurious residential units. Other projects include the development of the Twaiq Residential Compound, hotel apartments in Holiday Inn Tabuk, Dur Al Wadi Compound and Holiday Inn Jubail Hotel and Suites.
Meanwhile, Makarem Hotel’s growth strategy is ongoing, with the latest milestone being the signing of the 4-star Makarem Sagryah Tower hotel in Makkah. Another agreement was signed earlier in 2019 to operate the 5-star ‘Makarem Jabal Al Kaabah Makkah’. Our growth plan for Makarem seeks to expand the brand’s portfolio to 10,000 rooms by 2028.
At the same time, we will continue to forge partnerships with world-renowned hospitality names, such as our partners Marriott International and Intercontinental Hospitality Group (IHG), to provide diversity that meets our clients’ needs. Additionally, Dur recently entered the serviced apartment sector through a landmark acquisition deal with SHADA Homes, so this is a new area we are working to develop.
Furthermore, we will continue to grow our diversified portfolio, which currently includes more than 22 properties in addition to several new projects underway. Dur currently operates 4,288 rooms; we seek to almost double this number within the next four years.
What changes will be implemented under your leadership?
Innovation is key to the sustainability and progress of any business. At Dur we always seek to devise new solutions throughout our wide range of business activities. This is reflected in the company’s continuous development and portfolio diversification. In this sense, my plans to grow Dur’s portfolio will build on the current strategy and promote it in line with the national transformation plan to fulfill the market’s growing needs. In this context, a number of new projects are in the pipeline and new partnerships are on the horizon. So, I would not call it change, but rather innovation.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Housing in the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage, are there any regulatory changes required that will be implemented in the near future?
As the first ever official agency responsible for the tourism and heritage sector in KSA, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), seeks to organize, promote and develop tourism to present it as a key productive sector by drawing in more tourists, while also attracting Saudi citizens toward domestic tourism. Throughout this context, SCTH seeks to create investment opportunities, develop a national human capital, and create new jobs for Saudi youth. One of the main reasons that led to the creation of this independent organization is to regulate different sectors of tourism activities. Thus, SCTH seeks to restructure the regulatory framework to create a competitive and attractive business environment that will encourage private investors to tap the tourism industry by initiating new tourist facilities and projects.
What role will DUR hospitality play in the Saudi Arabia of 2030?
Saudi Vision 2030 has established the tourism and hospitality sector as a key driver of KSA’s restructured economy prompting an overhaul in these sectors. Dur has always been a pioneer in the hotel industry and today is no exception. Our expansion strategy is aligned with the progressive national plan which has set a target to more than double the number of hotel rooms by 2030. It aims to serve the anticipated growth in the numbers of pilgrims – with a national target to receive 30 million pilgrims by 2030 – we will continue to expand in Makarem Hotels, which caters to the visitors of the Two Holy Mosques, with a target to increase the number of rooms it operates to 5,000 by 2023. Moreover, we seek to contribute toward accommodating the expected rise in the number of tourists, set to hit 1.5 million by 2020, through tapping the serviced apartment market. On another level, Dur will continue its strategy in line with Saudi Vision 2030’s nationalization goal. Dur already places emphasis on Saudization through employment and development of local staff. For instance, three Saudi nationals have been appointed as general managers in Makarem group hotels. In other words, we can say Dur is spearheading the hospitality sector toward expansion and development to meet the ambitious objectives of Saudi Vision 2030.
I believe in Dur Hospitality as an ambitious hospitality player that has unlimited growth prospects and I believe in its capacity to lead growth in the Saudi hospitality sector.