Since opening its first hotel in 1993, the Rotana brand has gone from strength to strength, successfully building up a portfolio of more than 100 hotels in 27 cities. With the world facing an unprecedented challenge, Guy Hutchinson, president and CEO of Rotana, talks to HN about the brand’s immediate priorities and longer-term vision.
How important is a hotel chain’s legacy and brand equity in the current climate of the coronavirus?
Over the past three decades, the global hospitality sector has weathered many storms. Socio-economic shifts have generated periods of instability, particularly in the Middle East, but they have also led to sustained and robust growth. During this period, Rotana has evolved into a leading hotel brand, expanding from a single property in Abu Dhabi in 1993 to a current portfolio of more than 100 hotels in 27 cities across the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Turkey and Africa. Our growth story is one of success, but also determination and commitment during uncertainty and economic turbulence. In 2020, we face a new period of extreme uncertainty with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic impacting economies globally. There is no doubt that it poses considerable challenges for the hospitality sector. However, the industry has already taken proactive steps to halt the spread of the virus and Rotana was quick to implement a stringent health and safety policy, with strict practices and procedures in place designed to protect our guests, staff and partners at all times. These are unprecedented circumstances we are facing, but the safety and wellbeing of our guests is always our utmost priority and we are doing everything we can to protect them and our colleagues at this very difficult time. I sincerely hope the whole world emerges from this safely and stronger than ever.
What can you tell us about Rotana’s sustainable development strategy?
Pursuing our strategy to open a Rotana hotel in every major city across the region, we have developed a robust portfolio of properties under five distinct brands. This diversified product offering has enabled us to stay resilient when faced with challenging market conditions and to forge ahead with our growth journey. Controlled expansion is the cornerstone of our sustainable
development strategy and we continue to strengthen our footprint in markets where we already operate and to explore opportunities in new destinations where we believe there is demand for our signature hospitality. Similarly, Rotana’s commercial endeavors in new and traditional source markets have been instrumental to achieving sustained growth. For instance, our continued efforts to promote Rotana hotels in Saudi Arabia has paid dividends, with the Kingdom emerging as one of the company’s key source markets for business in 2019.
How does Rotana leverage its advantages as a homegrown name over international brands?
When the doors to the first Rotana property opened nearly 30 years ago, the regional hospitality sector had until that point been dominated by international brands cementing their market presence. Despite this competitive landscape, Rotana steadily built up its indisputable presence by leveraging its biggest strength – its unique position as a homegrown hotel brand conversant with local market dynamics. Building on our deep understanding of local cultures and communities, and leveraging the international experience and expertise of our colleagues, we developed hotels that offered the genuine warmth of Arabian hospitality, coupled with exceptional levels of quality and comfort to deliver unique and memorable experiences to our guests. This unique blend remains the key ingredient driving our ongoing success.
Having established a presence in Morocco, what markets are you now eyeing?
Africa remains a focal point of Rotana’s expansion strategy, bolstered by our recent landmark signing of the management agreement to operate the iconic Palmeraie Rotana Resort in Morocco’s major economic center, Marrakech, as well as the opening of Johari Rotana in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Excited by the opportunities this fast-growing continent presents, we have also signed management agreements for several hotels currently under development. In our home market, Saudi Arabia is fast emerging as a destination where every hotel brand wants to consolidate its presence. We have already established a strong portfolio with six hotels operating in several cities countrywide and in March, we took over the management of DAMAC Towers Arjaan by Rotana in Riyadh. Our upcoming properties will also address the supply gaps in key markets such as Medina and the Eastern Province.
Which brands are you looking to further expand this year?
When it becomes operational in April, DAMAC Towers Arjaan by Rotana in Riyadh will mark the debut of the Arjaan Hotel Apartments by Rotana brand in Saudi Arabia. Offering a home-away-from-home experience with fully furnished and serviced hotel apartments and 24-hour room service, Arjaan properties provide elegant city living for long-stay residents and families. Our Centro brand, which is popular with the younger generation and business travelers, will launch in Jordan in the second quarter of 2020. Centro Mada, Amman will introduce a new affordable accommodation experience to the market, appealing to the budget- conscious.
What are your expectations for Expo 2020 and afterward, even if it got postponed till next year due to the global situation?
Even if it got postponed to next year, Expo 2020 Dubai will provide an inspiring platform for innovation and cultural exchange, attracting visitors from all over the world and delivering significant economic benefits to the city and the nation. It will benefit the tourism and hospitality industries hugely and given the current circumstances impacting international travel, it is very important for us to remain positive and look forward to game-changing events such as this. I am confident that Expo 2020, along with other major business and cultural events and tourism and infrastructure developments across the Middle East – all part of the ambitious economic diversification efforts of regional economies – will play a major role in stimulating the sector’s expansion as we emerge from this time of uncertainty.
What do you expect Rotana’s portfolio to look like in five years’ time?
We foresee a very exciting future for the company and the hospitality sector. As part of our long-term development strategy, we seek to further expand our presence in the UAE, wider region and beyond. Some 68 Rotana properties are currently under development across 27 cities in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and Turkey. Although we have come very far since 1993, when we debuted in Abu Dhabi, the scale of our ambition means we still have a long way to go and we are very much looking forward to the next stage of our exciting journey.Add to Favorites