ELAF Group, one of the leaders in travel, tourism and hospitality in Saudi Arabia has been responsible for premium-quality hotels as well as world-class tourism services being offered worldwide. The group reaches out to a global audience in Morocco, Egypt, Turkey and the United Kingdom, providing tourism for religious goals and services to and from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Elaf Group, which is a member of ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents), IATA (International Air Transport Association) and ISO (International Organization of Standardisation), maintains eight hotels in Makkah, Madina Al Monawara and Jeddah in KSA with a combined capacity of 1,600 rooms. Sheikh Ziyad bin Mahfouz, president of Elaf Group speaks to TTN about their ambitious plans for the kingdom.
How close are you to achieving your target of four hotels by 2013?
We are ahead of our plan. We have completed the acquisition of a new hotel that will be operating by the third quarter next year. This new hotel will provide more than 1500 rooms to our existing portfolio. Also by the fourth quarter of 2012 we will complete the development of one of our new hotels, additional 800 rooms will be added to the portfolio; so we are pleased to announce that we are ahead of schedule.
What can we expect to see and in which cities?
Within the coming two years we are expecting to launch three new hotels in Makkah, in the three and four-star categories and another five-star hotel in Jeddah. Within the same period we have plans to launch two new hotels in the three-star category in Al Madinah al Munawwarah in addition to major renovations to our existing hotels there.
How has business fared at the hotel in the year so far? What are your expectations looking ahead?
As we reach the fourth quarter of 2011, our business performance remains very encouraging, this will be crucial in giving us a great head start for 2012. Overall, we are on track to achieve more than 10 per cent of our growth targets for this year. Our preparations for this year’s Umrah season have helped us achieve better than expected results. We are now looking forward to the Hajj season where we expect the same level of success.
Coming out of a global recession and regional political tensions, how much was arrivals/RevPar affected? Are you seeing a healthy bounce back now?
We have prepared contingencies in anticipation of unforeseen events in the region and around the world. We have also set reasonable business goals each year, so we were really never in trouble of missing our growth targets. Moreover, we also have short-term plans that give us greater flexibility to adjust to unforeseen challenges.
How much of the group’s business is driven by the domestic market vis-à-vis the regional and international markets? What are the new trends?
The local and international markets are both key focus areas for us. We have an entire team dedicated for each market, whether domestic or international. These teams consist of experts who have long experience and extensive knowledge of the local market dynamics. This system enables us to offer personalised professional services to our customers. Moreover, the Saudi Commission of Travel and Tourism has been encouraging domestic tourism, although it is the travellers who ultimately decide where they want to go.
With the large number of hotels opening in the kingdom, what kind of brand positioning does Elaf Hotels have in Saudi Arabia today?
Since starting operations in 1981, Elaf Group has established itself as a leading local operator with international standards in four and five-star hotels and related services. Elaf Travel has been a premier specialist in travel and tourism, particularly in Hajj and Umrah services. Providing diversified and integrated services such as being a General Sales Agents (GSA) for number of airline companies which considered to be an addition to our inbound services which has been the core of our business to corporate services travel solution as well as travel and tours, holidays, ticketing solutions.
Do you believe the country can sustain demand for the large number of hotel rooms opening across the kingdom?
We expect the demand for hotel rooms to continue to increase. However, to achieve success we should be able to provide products that satisfy market preferences in terms of quality and range of offerings.
Are there plans to take the property outside Saudi Arabia?
The Group is working outside the Kingdom through dealers and authorised agents by Elaf. As for the Group’s properties, in the next two to three years, we are planning an aggressive growth and expenditure within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but we don’t have any plans to expand internationally at moment.
How closely do you work with the travel trade and what are the biggest challenges?
There are various challenges just like any other business, but Elaf Group has created teams of experts to handle such problems and help us focus on our main goal, which is customer satisfaction. We are able to tailor our packages based on customer needs and this is an important factor that boosts our sales through travel agents.
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