On the fast track

Chris Moloney, COO for the Middle East and Africa, InterContinental Hotels Group, talks to CARRY HODGE about the company’s plans and more
Moloney ... 'brand is paramount'

As the hospitality sector in the Middle East is growing at a phenomenal rate, this is a particularly good time for top international hotel brands to make their presence felt in the region,” says Chris Moloney, chief operating officer (COO) for the Middle East and Africa, InterContinental Hotels Group.

“And at InterContinental, the world’s most global hotel company, we are keen to further consolidate our position as one of the top chains in the region.”
 “With new hotels being developed all over the city Dubai, in particular, is leading the way,” adds Moloney. “With InterContinental Dubai celebrating its 30th anniversary this month – it’s the longest serving five-star property in the country – we have much to cheer about. The success of the InterContinental Dubai reflects our ability to adapt and meet changing market demands and proves that we’ve got what it takes to be at the top of the game for 30 years.”
Not surprising then that a visibly excited Moloney is busy steering the company’s Middle Eastern operations to new heights out of the newly-opened divisional office in Dubai. Following an upbringing in Lebanon, Moloney – trained in Switzerland and the US, he has been with the Group through an impressive array of positions worldwide, from London to Oman to Egypt to Saudi Arabia – is ideally placed to promote the brand. “I certainly feel at home in the region and have a unique understanding of the sensitivities of the Middle East,” he adds.
With properties across the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Kenya, Eritrea, Zambia, Gabon, the group – which provides accommodation for 120 million guests per year – is looking to introduce new hotels from its brand portfolio to the growing Middle East and Africa market.
“Future growth is also being planned for Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Iran and Syria – destinations holding imminent potential especially for leisure, although it is still too early to understand how these places want to operate,” explains Moloney. 
With so much happening, it’s hardly surprising that the spotlight is firmly on InterContinental Hotels Group’s Middle East operation. Take the organisation’s recent awards ceremony that was part of the Europe Middle East and Africa annual sales conference, for instance. Held at the InterContinental Athanaeum, it recognised the outstanding achievements of committed sales team members across Europe, Middle East and Africa and the group’s Middle East sector scooped top awards.
“InterContinental’s plans in the Middle East incorporate the matching of Dubai standards across all properties in 10 years time because it is consistently evolving,” explains Moloney. “As far as hotels are concerned, today it’s no longer about technology; it’s about the size of the bathtub, the view from the window, keeping the competitive edge using the whole experience.”
So what is it about Dubai that makes it a trendsetter? “It’s difficult to define Dubai culturally,” says Moloney. “But what is happening here is interesting – with each new hotel, Dubai is rising the bar and creating a higher standard… a whole reclassification is developing that’s not government driven but product driven.” 
With major projects underway, InterContinental franchises a lot globally but is very clear on what the brand represents making the understanding between owner and operator a crucial stipulation. “Brand is paramount,” says Moloney. “One thing is clear: we will not do anything that will jeopardise the value of InterContinental. The value is in the brand and our reputation for consistency upholds that. With partnerships we can ensure that we are able to provide the product that can fit any specific location.
“We have put in a commitment to represent the Middle East and we have the ability to respond to an owner’s demands. We know what’s up, what’s down, what’s hot, what’s not. We can adjust accordingly so it’s important that we have the complete trust of the owners who will allow us do what we want to.” 
Moloney adds: “So, in a way, we continuously instil the importance of ‘distinct core values’ within each of InterContinental Hotels Group’s brands and that is what differentiates the company from other competitors.”
He explains that a shift in the market due to the growth of the middle class throughout the GCC as well as the retention of Pan Arab tourism calls for the kind of facility that the introduction of Express will make available: full, quality service at value for money. Targeted to what is now the largest sector in the travel industry, it will be placed at major arteries and industrial areas, with requirements specific to what will be provided there. “At present, all budget accommodation is non-branded, independent and privately owned,” adds Moloney. “The group is planning to launch the critical mass fast enough to establish brand recognition through a joint launch of Express in the GCC and Levant region. The result will be a rise of the most successful brand in the market.”
Moving on, Moloney feels the main challenge in the years ahead lies in consolidating the ground rules of hospitality. “We are striving to remove the aspects of the hotel experience that are unpleasant, to optimise fundamentals and create a hassle-free environment for guests,” he explains.