Hamad Abdulla Al-Mulla, CEO, Katara Hospitality

23 Feb 07:48 AM

Sector : Economy & Int'l Relations Country : Qatar

Qatar's Leading Hospitality Organization

 

Katara Hospitality, previously known as Qatar National Hotels, is a global hotel owner, developer and operator based in Doha. With over 40 years' experience in the industry, Katara Hospitality has set a target of owning 30 hotels by 2016 and 30 more over the next decade. B'Here asked CEO Hamad Abdulla Al-Mulla about Katara Hospitality's global growth and how it will achieve its ambitious plans.
 
Mr. Al-Mulla has been CEO of Katara Hospitality since Feb 2011, where he was chief Human Resources and Administration Officer since Dec 2009. Completing Hospitality Management & Tourism studies at University of Salzburg he started his career in 1991 at the Sheraton Gulf Hotel, (Doha Marriott today). He has also been GM at Merweb Hotel Al Sadd and Doha Club as well as Dep GM at the Doha Marriott Hotel.

 

A stated goal of Katara Hospitality is to own 30 hotels and resort complexes locally and internationally by 2016, and a further 30 over the following decade. Are you on track for meeting this goal by 2016? And how are you readying plans now for the next decade?

As an international hotel owner, developer and operator with over 40 years’ experience in the industry, Katara Hospitality is focused on its global expansion. We already have 28 properties in our portfolio and are confident that our target of 30 hotels will be reached and even exceeded within the next two years.

Our strategy is to create a balanced and diverse collection of properties that includes iconic hotels that have created a lasting legacy in the hospitality industry, a healthy base of business hotels and resorts located in key markets, without missing the opportunity of being pioneers in Qatar and other emerging tourist destinations where we commit to support the local communities.

Looking ahead to the decade after, our plan is to continue investing in and developing peerless hotels not just in Qatar but also in key international destinations. With an aim to become one of the world’s leading hospitality organisations, we are focused on acquiring and further investing in properties that have set the standards in the industry, as we strive to create an enviable collection of iconic hotels around the globe.

Katara Hospitality's global portfolio includes 12 operational properties in Qatar, France, Switzerland, Egypt, Singapore and Thailand. A further 14 properties are under renovation or in development. Are you considering opening hotels or resorts in other high growth areas such as the Far East and South America?

Actually, our collection of operational properties has now grown to 18 hotels since we opened up the spectacular Peninsula Paris and acquired five other iconic hotels in key European cities this summer. With the addition of the InterContinental Carlton Cannes, the InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam, the InterContinental Madrid, the InterContinental Frankfurt and the InterContinental De La Ville Rome, our operational properties now offer almost 4,000 rooms internationally.

With regards to the markets we plan to focus our future investments and developments in, we are open to exploring opportunities in some of the world’s most attractive tourist destinations.

Our current presence in Europe is strong and we are continuing to acquire, develop and open several iconic hotels across the continent. We currently own and manage properties in France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Germany and The Netherlands, and are continuing to explore investment opportunities in other markets such as the United Kingdom. North America is also a possibility and, of course, we intend to further expand in Asia.

Qatar, of course, is and will always remain a high priority for us and we intend to maintain our position as market leaders in the local hospitality industry.

Our investment strategy is not just determined by a hotel’s location – when engaging in a project, we always look for something special, something extraordinary that sets that property apart. We are continuously looking to invest in a collection of unique properties in key sought-after international locations while partnering with some of the world’s finest hotel brands, given that they are aligned with our ethos and brand values. We acquire and further invest in properties that have set the standards in the industry, creating an enviable portfolio of iconic hotels.

In Europe, Katara Hospitality redeveloped the Peninsula Paris and the Excelsior Hotel Gallia Milan. Why were such major renovations required and what will this iconic properties will bring to the brand and company once open?

The Peninsula Paris opened its doors to guests on 1 August 2014 and has received tremendously positive response since then. The hotel represents a true hospitality gem in our collection, one that is set to become one of the world’s landmark hotels and is a real icon not just in France but across the world.

At Katara Hospitality, we use our resources and expertise to invest in heritage properties such as The Peninsula Paris, which represent both a legacy and a future. We take immense pride and pleasure in rejuvenating these iconic hotels, restoring them to their former glory and ensuring their hospitality heritage is secured.

The Excelsior Hotel Gallia, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Milan has recently welcomed its first paying guests during its soft reopening this December. Following the completion of the full renovation by renowned Milanese architect Marco Piva, this spectacular project will officially reopen in February 2015, following four years of meticulous redevelopment work.

Similar to The Peninsula Paris, the Excelsior Hotel Gallia is an esteemed heritage property that strategically fits in Katara Hospitality’s portfolio of iconic properties. Merging contemporary design with the Belle Époque architectural style, the hotel’s new architecture and design concept – led by Studio Marco Piva – has already won an Italian tourism industry award, recognising its outstanding combination of historical and contemporary elements. With a sophisticated Italian interior decoration, the hotel will be the perfect fit for the world’s fashion capital.

In June, the company acquired the InterContinental Carlton Cannes, the InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam, the InterContinental Madrid, the InterContinental Frankfurt, and the leasehold interest in the InterContinental De La Ville Rome. Is that the start of further acquisitions or projects with the InterContinental brand and why?

We are always looking to invest in iconic properties around the globe, given that they fit in well with our existing portfolio and are well-aligned with our ethos and brand values. The investment in the five European properties operated by the Intercontinental Hotel Group have significantly extended Katara Hospitality’s footprint in new markets and allowed us to partner with an internationally recognised brand.

We work with some of the world’s finest hotel brands, and the Intercontinental Hotel Group is definitely one of those trusted partners that have supported our success and that we would consider establishing further partnerships with for future projects.

What are the criteria when acquiring properties?

At Katara Hospitality, we aim to develop a portfolio of exceptional properties that are celebrated hospitality icons in key global markets. We acquire properties that offer something extraordinary, something that sets them apart.

We aspire to create exceptional legacies that are aligned with our commitment to preserving heritage. We take immense pride and enjoy the challenge of converting buildings that carry history into splendid hospitality complexes.

Our vision is to have our hotels represent both a legacy and a future. This presents the challenge of preserving the heritage of the historic properties we acquire, while implementing a fresh look and strategy to make our customer experience even more desirable and memorable. We accomplish this by undertaking significant renovation work to bringing these hospitality jewels back to their former glory and turn them into thriving businesses, while maintaining their historical tradition.

Given Katara Hospitality's global presence, how is the brand helping to promote Qatar, and tourism in Qatar, internationally?

We are very much committed to our role in strengthening the country’s tourism infrastructure and developing peerless hospitality environments that will become internationally recognised landmarks. 

We have been at the forefront of our industry sector for more than four decades, pioneering the country’s hospitality development. We intend to maintain this leading position by developing world class hotels in Qatar that are relevant not only for our portfolio, but emblematic for the country as well.

One of our current developments includes a hospitality icon in Lusail City, a flagship project that is of immense importance to the Qatari tourism sector. Once complete, the spectacular Katara Towers, Lusail Marina District will hold 604 rooms with hotel accommodation in one five-star luxury hotel and one five-star ultra-luxury hotel, private offices and branded residential space. An architectural translation of Qatar’s country seal, the iconic project will be recognised throughout the world.

In tandem with such developments, we also encourage private investors to participate in building a solid hospitality network in the country. Qatar is our homeland and we believe we have a duty to bring our contribution to developing a strong and healthy nation. Moreover, our Qatar portfolio ensures a sustainable base of hotels that will always support our international ventures.

Can you tell us about your Merweb brand, which is your pilot project as an operator? What are your plans for Merweb, will it mainly be aimed at business travelers and which challenges as operator and how they differ from owners?

Merweb is our home-growth operator brand which is based on a concept intimately related to the history of our country. Under the umbrella of the Merweb brand, Katara Hospitality has launched its operator business, managing some of our local properties in Qatar.

In December 2013, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to manage a new hotel in Doha under this brand. The new Merweb Hotel, expected to open in the first half of 2015, has been designed to cater to the growing number of business travelers who seek a high-quality business hotel in the very heart of Doha.

As we continue to grow, we intend to maintain focus on the operator side of our businesses. In fact, this year, we have also signed letters of intent to manage two additional properties under the umbrella of the Merweb brand, both currently under development in Doha.

Katara Hospitality owns five international branded operational hotels in Qatar: Sharq Village & Spa; The Ritz-Carlton Doha; Sheraton Doha Resort & Convention Hotel; Doha Marriott Hotel and Mövenpick Hotel Doha; and the Sealine Beach Resort. With myriad properties opening in Qatar, how do you see the 4/5 star market developing and what are Katara Hospitality’s plans for the local market?

Qatar’s hospitality sector is tilted towards serving the upper end of the market. At the end of last year, four and five star hotels made up more than 80 per cent of the rooms in Qatar with total revenue of QAR3.58 million.

As Qatar prepares for the strong demand for premium accommodation, we see an unprecedented growth in high-profile hospitality projects. In fact, more than half of the new hotels being planned in Qatar over the next five years will be five-star properties.

I strongly believe Qatar is set to become a leading global hospitality destination, offering a variety of attractions for both business and leisure travelers. As tourist numbers climb steadily and more and more international visitors are attracted to Qatar’s winning combination of world class hospitality facilities along with a rich cultural heritage, the hospitality market will further develop in Qatar especially in the luxury sector.

At Katara Hospitality, our diversification strategy aims to introduce a network of four and five star business hotels and leisure resorts in Qatar. We will focus on the luxury market as well as the corporate and leisure segments, covering a wide area of tourist requirements. This strategy will support Katara Hospitality’s ongoing development by enhancing cash flow projections and ensuring a balance is met across assets of short and long term profitability.

As I have mentioned, Qatar will always remain a priority market for us, no matter how far and wide we fly our flag. Qatar is our homeland and we believe we have a duty to bring our contribution to developing a strong and healthy nation.

You have refurbished Doha’s most iconic hotel, the Sheraton Doha Resort & Convention Hotel. What can visitors expect?

The Sheraton Doha Resort and Convention Hotel is has undergone major renovation and refurbishment to fully modernise the property’s facilities. Aiming to bring the property back to its former glory, the project has seen the full renovation of all guest rooms, public areas, recreation facilities and the conference and meetings space. 

With this renovation the hotel will immediately regain its position as Doha’s most iconic property, with the highest standards of luxurious facilities in all aspects of its operations. The design of the newly renovated property reflects perfectly the synergy between the striking 1970s architecture of one of Doha’s most recognised landmarks, with all the functionality that is expected of a leading 21st century luxury hotel.

With the Hamad International Airport now open, what impact do you think the airport will have for tourism in Qatar, and for Katara Hospitality?

Qatar hosted 1.3 million international tourists in 2013, who were charmed by the country’s hospitality attractions which offer upscale facilities, grand leisure amenities and cultural landmarks. These visitor numbers will only rise with the opening of the new airport, which has a capacity of handling 8,700 customers per hour.

As the airport traffic increases and more international passengers travel through Doha, we expect hotel occupancy to continue growing.  Qatar is well on its way to establishing itself as a global tourist destination, attracting visitors from all over the world. Qatar Airways, for instance, operates on a network of more than 130 destinations worldwide and the airline’s continued success enhances Qatar’s position as a major global hub for passengers passing through the Middle East.

As Doha and Qatar are further established as a multi-faceted destination for global travelers, we will witness rising demand for hotel facilities in the country. At Katara Hospitality, we are proud to be playing a key role in this vision and honoured to welcome more guests from across the world with our authentic, Arabian hospitality.

 

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