BY 2008, Rotana Hotels & Resorts hopes to have a dedicated programme for travel agents in place, says the company’s Daniel Hajjar, vice-president of sales and marketing for Rotana Hotels & Resorts.
The programme is currently being developed, and necessitates a major IT investment.
“We’re examining ways to build closer relationships with agents, who are quite often forgotten by the large companies. But in a market that thrives on the personal touch, agents are an integral part of our business,” he says. “It’s important for us to never forget how we started, and who our customers were in tough times.”
The hotel group will spend the summer developing its relationships with agents, in roadshows across its two main markets, the GCC, and Jordan and Lebanon.
Like almost every other hotel group, Rotana is expanding across the region – the difference, however, is that the Middle Eastern brand is seeking to exploit its own backyard before moving further afield into new markets like India and China. “Its very advisable never to say never, but we still have key opportunities in the Middle East. Because we are not a public company, we are not pressed to grow for the sake of stronger profits. Growth will happen in response to a market need,” says Hajjar.
Regionally, then, the group could well add another 10-15 properties to its 41-hotel portfolio, including hotels in Khartoum, Cairo and Saudi Arabia, to meet its stated goal of putting one hotel in every major Middle Eastern city, it will need an injection of finance, which could take the form of an IPO. “Saudi Arabia is a major market that we haven’t fully tapped. Iraq is another strong area for us.” These properties will be both Rotana and Centro, their limited-service brand that will see five properties in about a year’s time.
Although the group is seeing strong occupancy rates – with no rooms to sell in some cases – Hajjar says it isn’t sitting back waiting for business. “We’re strengthening our marketing in Europe, in the UK, Germany, Italy and France, and in the GCC. We are opening new sales offices in Saudi Arabia, India and are in negotiations to have representations in China and the Asia Pacific.”
Some of those guests, at least, will be attracted by their new spa brand, Zen, the first of which opens in Egypt before the summer, before being rolled out in Fujairah and Abu Dhabi. Standalone spas and restaurants, he says, are out of the question.
So where’s the money coming from to fund all the expansion? Might we expect an IPO? For the moment, Hajjar isn’t telling.