Accor planning mega-expansion

An artist's impression of the Novotel Al Dana Resort in Bahrain.

A mega expansion plan that will see an increase of 200 new hotels in Accor's portfolio worldwide will be the highlight of the France-based hotel group's presence at this month's Arabian Travel Market.

"ATM is an excellent opportunity to showcase our products and mega expansion plans," says Accor's director of sales and marketing, Middle East, Mohamed Taher.

The expansion which will boost Accor's portfolio by 8-10 per cent includes 14 new Sofitels, the group's upscale luxury brand, 22 Novotels, 42 Mercures, 55 Ibis, 45 Etap, nine Formule 1, 25 Motel 6 and seven Red Roof Inns.

One of the biggest hotel groups with 3,700 hotels and 415,000 rooms under various brands in 90 countries, Accor has been present at the ATM since 1998.

The European leader says it achieved the best results last year of any hotel chain reporting a 5.3 per cent growth in earnings per share and four per cent increase in sales despite the setbacks to the travel industry in the final quarter following the September 11 attacks in the US.

"Accor hotels attract a huge number of GCC travellers both in the region and overseas and has a growing presence in the region," says Taher.

He said that although the US, UK, especially London, Germany and Italy were some of the strongest markets for the group, its regional business has been growing and Accor has a presence in all Gulf countries.

Taher said regional industry was showing healthy improvement after the September 11 shock, adding that although leisure traffic remained slow, business travel had picked up since November.

"Dubai Sofitel saw good recovery since December thanks to Eid holidays and the Dubai Shopping Festival with occupancy of 90 per cent during Eid and 100 per cent during DSF," he said.

Dubai Sofitel City Centre which is part of the City Centre mall complex, is one of the six Sofitel hotels in the Gulf - the others being in Doha, Qatar and two in Makkah and one each in Medina and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

Taher said 500 new rooms were added recently at the Makkah Sofitel enabling the group to offer 1,200 rooms in the vicinity of the Holy Haram. Accor also operates one Novotel and two Mercure hotels in Makkah.

Saudi Arabia and Dubai are the best performing properties, he said.

New Accor properties to open in the region by next year include the Novotel Al Dana in Bahrain in September this year and a Novotel and an Ibis in Dubai next year at the World Trade Centre complex in time for the IMF meetings in September.

The two hotels will add another 600 rooms to Accor's portfolio in Dubai - 412 rooms at the Novotel which opens in April 2003 and 210 rooms in Ibis, which will be the first hotel of the brand in the region.

Taher said the Dubai hotels are part of the group's focus on economy brands - a sector so far ignored by major chains resulting in the saturation of five star properties in the emirate.

The Novotel in Dubai will be a four-star property offering high tech rooms ideally suited for business travellers and will be available at Dh550 ($145) while the Ibis will be a three-star property offering rooms at an economy rate of Dh180-Dh235.

A special selling point will be a family offer allowing two children to stay free with their parents.

Taher said Accor is offering two major promotions this year.

The first, the Accor Summer Sale, offers a 50 per cent discount at 500 participating hotels including several in the GCC.

The offer will include one rate for single or double occupancy, no minimum stay restrictions and breakfast.

The second promotion is an incentive based scheme specifically targeting Middle East travellers.

The promotion will appeal to regional travellers to popular destinations including Paris, London, Brussels, Bangkok, Switzerland and Australia and will offer extra night's stay including one night free for three nights stay; seven for five and 10 nights stay for the price of seven.

Taher said an increasing number of bookings at Accor hotels were through its website

The group received 1.2 million bookings online last year highlighting the growing influence of the Internet on its operations.

Accor also operates a toll free bookings network throughout the Gulf from its Dubai reservations office and Taher said Egypt would be linked to the network soon.

He said the group has launched a new Accor Pro Area on its website for corporate clients last month.

Corporates can now book at special negotiated rates at any hotel on the net and get instant confirmation. The site provides a secure customer recognition facility and faster hotel search option. It will also soon provide access to travel agents and tour operators.

Another online success story for the group has been the Accor Congress Guide for meetings and incentives sector. The site provides online planning advice for meetings organisers.

All brands have their own sites besides the common Accor site with each site offering virtual tours of the group's hotels.