Le Meridien unveils expansion plans
With several major hotel projects underway, and more in the pipeline, Le Méridien Hotels and Resorts is committed to its expansion strategy in the Middle East and West Asia region where it will double its presence within five years.Regional managing director Sami Zoghbi confirmed the green light for projects in the UAE, Kuwait and the CIS, emphasising the potential for growth throughout the region. "Whatever problems have emerged in the short-term, we know that this is one of the most dynamic environments for the hospitality sector in the world, and Le Méridien will grow in tandem with the economic development here," he said. The showpiece of the recently announced expansion is a six-project deal in conjunction with Kuwait-based A'Amal Holdings, under which Le Méridien has taken over management of the 75-room Ritz Kuwait Hotel and will supervise an extensive refurbishment of the property. Following this refurbishment, the hotel will be re-branded as Le Méridien Kuwait and a second 120-room tower and convention centre will be added to the complex. Two designer Art+Tech hotels will also be constructed in the emirate within two years, as well as a residence tower in Salmiya. Meanwhile, Le Méridien will also manage the first hotel on the Dubai Marina, scheduled to open in late 2004, and named Grosvenor House Hotel and Hotel Apartments, West Marina Beach by Le Meridien. "Grosvenor House, Dubai will be a landmark in the newest development area of Dubai. This 46-storey tower will offer unrivalled views in this prime leisure and residential project, and we are also looking at other plans for expansion in the city as it continues its headlong growth," said Zoghbi. Meanwhile, the luxury hotel group will introduce its premium Royal brand to the UAE capital later this year when the Abu Dhabi Grand is renamed as Le Royal Méridien Abu Dhabi following a nine-month renovation and expansion programme. Zoghbi explained: "Abu Dhabi also offers considerable scope for expansion as the federal capital of the UAE. Le Royal Méridien Abu Dhabi is well placed to exploit its potential with a location on the corniche, which is currently the focus of development as an entertainment, heritage and leisure centre too." The hotel complex will have an additional 120 extra rooms in a second tower, as well as a new lobby and banqueting and conference centre, while a separate entertainment centre will introduce new food and beverage concepts, and an extensive pool and leisure complex is also under construction. In addition, the existing tower of the Abu Dhabi Grand will be renovated as part of the overall project, with a final completion date of early 2004. In the downtown business district of Dubai, the group will add a second all-suite property, Dar Al Sondos Suites by Le Meridien, to complement its hugely popular Al Sondos Suites by Le Meridien. Farther afield, the group has signed an agreement to take over management at the oldest hotel in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekhistan, relaunching the 256-room property as Le Méridien Tashkent Palace in April. Recently been refurbished to five-star standards, the hotel enjoys a prime location on the Broadway opposite the grand opera house, and includes a full range of business and recreation facilities including a rooftop restaurant, jazz bar, large courtyard, health club and pool, ballroom and meeting rooms. "A major strategy for Le Meridien has been to pioneer development in both new destinations and new accommodation sectors, and this is amply demonstrated in our recent openings," said Zoghbi. "Not only have we opened an all-suites property in Dubai recently - Al Sondos Suites by Le Meridien - but last year we also launched the first full resort on the east coast of the UAE with Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort." He said the group would continue to explore all avenues for growth with investors in the region's hospitality sector: "With the experience of Le Méridien and the buoyancy of the regional economy, it's a win-win situation for all concerned." Zoghbi confirmed that negotiations are ongoing with regard to new properties in the UAE, Riyadh, Makkah and Doha, plus Trivandrum and Hyderabad in India.