TTN’s publishing director Kim Thomson chatted to Alex Kyriakidis, president and managing director, Middle East and Africa, Marriott International, at the grand opening of Marriott Hotel Al Forsan, Abu Dhabi.
Tell us about Marriott’s regional project pipeline.
We are going to open about 30 hotels over the next nine months this year, averaging around 200 rooms per hotel, so about 6,000 to 7,000 rooms across all brands. The GCC is about two-thirds of this number with the balance being Africa. Around 35,000 rooms are under development by 2020.
You mentioned you have outperformed the competition - how?
All boats rise in a rising tide. Our mission is to constantly outperform the competition in terms of market share whether the market is rising or softening either due to oversupply or geopolitical factors. I tell my general managers you can’t control the market. You can’t control, for instance, that STR Global has reported that the Abu Dhabi market is down by 18 per cent in the first two months, but what you can control is to give me a revenue by available room index north of a 100, because that then tells me you are actually taking market share from the competition.
Can we talk about the travel trade – what percent of business comes from them? Especially in this region.
The focus on our loyalty programmes is delivering proof. Today in my region, if I take the total portfolio, somewhere between 35 per cent and 40 per cent of my room nights are loyalty programme driven, whether SPG, Marriott rewards or Ritz Carlton rewards. And that gives me a phenomenal baseline of business across the region.
The second thing, I would say, because of our focus on encouraging our loyalty programme members to come directly to us, because of our strategy of promoting rates to Marriott.com and Starwood.com that are more competitive than our retail rates, we actually manage to reduce the dependence on the online travel agencies (OTAs). I will tell you that our OTA percentage is just barely 10 per cent, which by industry standards is good. Put that alongside the fact by virtue of our size and scale now with Starwood, we have been able to renegotiate our commissions with the big OTAs to industry leading rates. It means that we have delivered a win-win to our owners.
So you don’t like OTAs?
We do not have an anti OTA strategy, absolutely not. OTAs are a critical partner to our success. They deliver healthy rates for that business. Our mission is to ensure they are paid a fair commission for that business and that as much as possible, we continue to build on our one to one relationship with our guest, through our loyalty programmes. At the end of the day, the more we can personalise a stay in every way, the booking, the experience, the after booking, the more value we can create for our company and our owners, the better.
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
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