With over three decades of experience in luxury hospitality, Nils-Arne Schroeder is a visionary and inspirational hotelier. Here, he provides insights into the regional hospitality market and discusses his demanding role as senior vice president of operations for Asia Pacific and the Middle East at Fairmont.
How is the region’s hospitality industry currently faring?
The hospitality sector in the Middle East is experiencing robust growth, having displayed incredible resilience over the last few years. The level of investment in the travel and hospitality sector alone is a testament to the confidence in the region. Reports indicate almost US$2 trillion of hospitality and residential projects under development in the Middle East.
The UAE is a great example of the pace of recovery in the region. The UAE Travel & Tourism sector is set to add AED 180 billion to the country’s economy in 2023, as per WTTC. Thus, representing nearly 10 percent of the total economy. Furthermore, the sector created more than 89,000 more jobs from the previous year to reach more than 751,000 jobs nationally.
Fairmont plans to increase its Middle East and Asia portfolio by over 50 percent, capitalizing on luxury experiences for global guests. Our robust pipeline of hotels in key markets will see us grow our presence in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. We plan to open several hotels in these countries such as Fairmont Rua Madinah, Fairmont Red Sea, Fairmont Dubai Skyline.
For luxury travelers, it is evident that the Middle East remains top of mind as a travel destination. The region has consistently upheld its reputation for offering opulent experiences, iconic hotels, and world-class services. So, in recent years, there’s been a consistent rise in travelers to the Middle East. Particularly, the Middle East is attracting Indian visitors for both leisure and business. Furthermore, India became the top contributor to Dubai’s tourism, with 1.6 million visitors in the first eight months of 2023. This represents a significant increase from the previous year, with 612,000 visitors in the first quarter alone.
Furthermore, a positive trend has emerged with the return of Chinese travelers to the region following the reopening of borders. Notably, recent reports show that over 20 percent of Chinese millionaires plan to visit the Middle East in the year starting June 2023. Saudi Arabia, with its e-visa and 96-hour stopover visa programs, aims to welcome four million Chinese visitors by 2030. Fairmont is poised to attract many of these guests by offering personalized, luxury experiences.
What can you tell us about the projects you are currently working on?
We have a number of projects that debuted recently and others that are underway at Fairmont. First and foremost, our most recent addition in Qatar, Fairmont Doha, is truly remarkable. It is part of the Iconic Towers, a waterfront complex featuring a double-scimitar sword-shaped building, inspired by Qatar’s national emblem. Fairmont Doha promises to offer a fresh and captivating experience to the city of Doha.
Furthermore, we look forward to welcoming several new hotels in the Middle East. The upcoming Fairmont Dubai Skyline is one we anticipate will open in Q4 2024. This new property features awe-inspiring architecture through asymmetric balconies. The 226-meter-high tower will feature 181 hotel rooms and suites spread across 54 floors.
With three hotels in Riyadh and Makkah and plans for six more, Fairmont is expanding in Saudi Arabia. A deal has been signed for the 142-room Fairmont Rua Al Madinah, which will have views of the Prophet’s Mosque. Thus, the hotel will contribute to Vision 2030, aiming to enhance luxury hospitality standards.
Which markets are you most interested in breaking into right now and why?
Saudi Arabia is a market of strategic importance for Fairmont and stands out as a market brimming with potential. It is experiencing a huge transformation, with infrastructure development and projects like the Red Sea development, which is set to attract global travelers. The kingdom aims to achieve 100 million annual visits by 2030, a significant increase from 2019’s 41 million, reflecting strong optimism. This ambitious goal demonstrates confidence in the market’s future and its potential for growth and development.
Fairmont is incredibly well-placed to cater to this burgeoning demand. We currently have three hotels operating: the iconic Fairmont Makkah Clock Tower and two in Riyadh with the latest addition this year of Fairmont Ramla Serviced Residences. Over the coming years, we look forward to welcoming even more brand-defining hotels, such as the Fairmont Rua Al Madinah, and to expanding our presence in religious cities and the Red Sea region.
Returning to the Middle East after spending two decades in Asia, I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. The region is an incredible canvas on which we can set new benchmarks in luxury hospitality. With the unprecedented momentum the market is gaining and Fairmont’s legacy of excellence, I’m more optimistic than ever that we will craft an extraordinary success story in the region that will resonate globally.
What are some of the key differentiators that are instrumental in adding value to the guest experience?
At Fairmont, we pride ourselves on offering more than just a stay. Thus, we provide a personalized experience which will cater to the expectations of all generations of luxury guests.
Complementing each unique experience is the attention to detail by our team members. Furthermore, guests would pay heed to the unique architecture across the hotel. For example, Fairmont Doha which features the world’s tallest chandelier, for instance.
Pioneering sustainability since 1990, Fairmont’s Green Partnership Program sets the norm for eco-conscious hotel operations, including localized initiatives. Sustainability is the norm today, and Fairmont leads the way with initiatives like coral reef conservation and water-from-air bottling plants.
What do you hope to achieve at Fairmont?
I work with a talented leadership team to elevate Fairmont’s luxury hospitality globally, drawing from Asian expertise. My aim is to explore luxury hospitality in Asia and the Middle East, leveraging unique market opportunities for exceptional guest experiences.
As Fairmont expands, my goal is to set new industry standards, pioneer innovations and maintain a reputation for luxury, innovation and service.