Middle East’s first Aloft hotel signed in Abu Dhabi

Brand: Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Spokesperson: Guido de Wilde, vice president, regional director, Middle East
An artist’s impression of the new Aloft Abu Dhabi

How has 2007 fared for Starwood?
Our numbers continue to show a healthy increase year over year.

Compared to 2006, our average rate (ADR) shows an 11 per cent increase; and our revenue per available room (RevPAR) grew close to 16 per cent in 2007 across the Middle East. This was mainly driven by the strong growth in the United Arab Emirates.
2007 was another great year driven by Starwood’s marketing and sales engines. This was complemented by a solid market growth and dynamic economies across the Middle East. Performance was particularly strong in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

What are the company’s plans for 2008?
We have just signed the first Aloft hotel in the Middle East, Aloft Abu Dhabi, with National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC) of Abu Dhabi. Construction will start in 2008, and the hotel is expected to open in late 2009.
We have also signed the fourth W hotel for the Middle East, W Amman with Saraya, a real estate development and asset management company investing in the travel and tourism industry. The hotel is scheduled to open in 2011, and will be developed in Amman.
In addition we are pleased to announce that we signed an agreement to operate the 300 room St Regis Bahrain, our second St Regis announcement this year.
Over the past year, Starwood had an aggressive pipeline. We signed 10 new hotels and opened two properties (Sheraton Aleppo and the Four Points by Sheraton Downtown Dubai); introducing new brands to the Middle East Region. We anticipate to continuously expand in the region.
Confirmed openings for 2008 include Four Points Sheikh Zayed (opening in February), Westin Mina Seyahi (opening in April) and W Doha (opening in May).
Several of our existing hotels have completed their renovations this year. Le Méridien Amman just finished a total refurbishment, as well as Le Méridien Al Hada in Taif and Le Méridien Medina. The Sheraton Oman is expected to finalise its total makeover by September 2008; Sheraton Bahrain is in the last stage of its renovations and Sheraton Deira started renovations last July. Next year, we have several hotels planning renovations, including Le Méridien Al Khobar, Four Points by Sheraton Bur Dubai, and the Sheraton Jeddah.

Are there plans to enter new markets?
Starwood has the best distribution and reach in the Middle East region compared to other hotel groups; so, we have very few markets untapped. However, we expect to announce one of those destinations very soon.

What is the company’s strategy in the face of competition?
We believe the tendency of the hotel industry to offer a price driven commodity rather than compelling consumer experiences gives us the opportunity to really differentiate Starwood from our competitors.  As such, we have evolved our strategy to increase our focus on driving top-line growth and profitability through brand development and by delivering superior experiences to our guests. 

Is Starwood bullish about 2008? If yes, why?
We are very optimistic for another positive year in 2008. Not only have we exceeded our “positive performance” in 2006; but we’ve, to-date, also exceeded our projections for 2007. Although our budget for 2008 is even more aggressive, we’re confident that, considering the area continues to operate without external threats, we’ll continue to increase our market share and position our brands competitively in the market place.

What can guests look forward to in the New Year?
Our development pipeline is robust, so 2008 will witness, both, familiar and new brands entering this region.
What will be the biggest challenges facing you in the Middle East in 2008?
I believe the stability of the region will always be a benchmark to the progress and the development of this industry. We hope that we will continue to operate within the positive industry dynamics that have driven the growth of the region over the past four years. In addition we are seeing a war for talent which will intensify over the years to come.