It’s all about service – Swiss-Belhotel

Refurbishment is ongoing at the Sohar Beach by Swiss-Belhotel

Swiss-Belhotel International Hotels & Resorts management and consultancy group has had a presence in the ME for almost a year. CHERYL MANDY spoke to Philip Norman, regional director of operations, Middle East

How has business been so far?
We have two hotels currently under operation in the Middle East. Our Swiss-Belhotel Plaza Kuwait recently received an award from Expedia recognising the efforts it had made to develop and upgrade its website for bookings.
Refurbishment continues at our Oman property at Sohar Beach.  We commenced operations in January earlier this year, and new facilities include 48 new guest rooms (including eight suites) which will bring our room inventory to a total of 95 keys. A new lounge/bar, and meeting and business facilities able to cater for groups of up to 240 people are being worked on too.
We are bringing in chefs from Lebanon, from Asia and other different cultures. Sohar is a growing city – an airport and a dry dock are being built. We realised there were many opportunities here so we wanted to be ahead in terms of quality and service. Our location is still “the location” as we are the only hotel on the beach. We hope to introduce watersports soon to the hotel, run by an experience operator from Turkey.

What expansion plans do you have in the region?
Swiss-Belhotel Middle East is growing. We are focusing on hospitality – it is all about service. That’s our primary business. Gold Swiss-Belhotel Dubai off Al Mina Road is due to open the third quarter of this year. It is a four star hotel with 184 spacious rooms.
We anticipate that the Swiss-Belhotel Doha Suites & Residences, which is also four star and features 185 rooms, will open in the fourth quarter of this year.
In 2009 the Swiss-Belhotel Sharma Resort Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, is a huge development on the Red Sea, has a scheduled soft opening of first quarter 2009. The 109 room hotel takes up 8,000 sq m and there’s another 6,000 sq m for villas.

What is your involvement in the hotel school due to open in Dubai in 2009?
When it comes to human resources, we have an alliance with Orion Hotel Schools which has offices in Asia and Europe. We are setting up a hotel school here jointly with the Al Hai Group – this is our contribution to society.
There are a lot of investments and multi-investments in hotels going on in Dubai but unfortunately that will all be put in the shade if we are not investing in people. The school will be totally independent of Swiss-Belhotel International. I think this is a good policy as students will be free to choose where they go on from here. Of course, it will be a bonus if they come to work for Swiss-Belhotel, and we will be offering work experience training and placements.

Looking further ahead? What other properties do you have in the pipeline in this region?
Swiss-Belhotel’s other properties are in Sharjah, where a four star hotel is due to open 2010, Al Seeb, Muscat, Oman, opening 2010 and the Dead Sea, Jordan, with an anticipated opening of 2010.
We have so many projects in the pipeline. We are talking to investors at Dubai Investment Park, talking to other investors in Biotech City, so that will shift our attention from the leisure to mainly corporate and business markets because of the location. This is still in the early stages but it is looking very promising.
In Biotech City there are investment opportunities for three and four star properties. Here there will be a lot of stopovers, investors are already thinking let’s not go to five star - lets make it accessible to the airline companies for overnight stays – so again we will be looking at a different market here.