‘These are exciting times for Mövenpick’

ANDREAS MATTMULLER, senior VP, Middle East, MH&R, reveals the company’s expansion plans to SHAFQUAT ALI
Mattmuller … upbeat

TTN: Now that Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts has opened a corporate office in Dubai, what’s on the agenda?
Andreas Mattmuller: We have set up a base here in Dubai with a vision to grow in the Gulf countries.

These are exciting times for the company in the Middle East because we have managed to secure our position as a major player and, over the next four years, we will be making our mark in the hospitality industry in Dubai in particular.
Since the brand recognition is very high in the Middle East, we decided to expand our brand in the region. We opened a hotel each in Beirut, Kuwait, Bahrain and Doha and we took over a hotel here in Dubai. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we have opened several properties – two in Jeddah, two in Madina and we are currently working on a new project in Al Khobar – and there are several others in the pipeline. The big picture is to have a network of hotels in key destinations in the Middle East though we are also looking at secondary destinations in the region. We believe that when we are growing, it is good to grow in a cluster because in every area there is a lot of inter-regional travel so it’s good to have a good network in a particular region rather than going all over the world and spreading ourselves very thinly. That’s also good for building brand awareness and to capture more business.
There are probably just a few destinations left in the Middle East where we would like to go into. Amman is one of them since we have four hotels in Jordan. We would also love to have a hotel in central Cairo and we would like to be in Abu Dhabi. We are also exploring possibilities in Oman, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah.

But, I believe, you have very exciting plans for Dubai?
Yes, we have recently signed four additional hotels here. Besides the existing property in Bur Dubai, we have a hotel each at the Pearl Dubai and the Jumeirah Beach Residence.
In addition to the above, we have recently signed two hotels on the Palm Jumeirah – Mövenpick Resort Oceana Palm Jumeirah, located on the trunk, with 200 guest rooms and another 400 apartments and Mövenpick Resort & Spa Palm Jumeirah, an Asian-style resort located on the crescent, with 291 rooms, a spa, plus 400 one- and two-bedroom apartments. Also coming up is the 600-room property next to the Ibn Battuta shopping arcade and one in Deira with 245 rooms.
We plan to open the Mövenpick Deira Hotel in March 2007, Mövenpick Resort Oceana Palm Jumeirah is May 2007 and Mövenpick Resort & Spa Palm Jumeirah July 2007. Mövenpick Ibn Battuta will open in July 2007.

That’s a lot many properties. Won’t these hotels be competing with each other?
Dubai, I believe, is a place where you can have several hotels, and they will complement each other not compete with each other. That’s because in Dubai you have destinations within a destination.
Moreover, in our strategy we are also going into the residence market. We have already signed up our first residence hotel or apartment hotel called the Mövenpick Residence in Doha. It’s a 25-storey building with fantastic views overlooking the bay.

Why have you decided to focus all your attention on Dubai?
Well, there is no doubt that Dubai is a key destination – it’s the hub of the Middle East. A lot of business goes through Dubai and a lot of international companies are setting shop here. The city also caters to business travellers and leisure market, which is interesting. Dubai has airport hotels, resort hotels and city hotels… it has  them all.
Dubai is growing and, as I said, there are different destinations coming up, so it’s good to have a network of hotels here. More importantly, we strongly believe in the future of Dubai.
Also, we saw through our regional offices in Germany, Switzerland and France whereby apart from Egypt, which has been our hub so far, there has been an increasing demand for Dubai as a destination, which our existing Bur Dubai hotel could not satisfy. So, the expansion also comes to cater to the demand from the overseas markets.

Beyond Dubai, or the Middle East for that matter, what is the thrust area for growth?
Now, as we look at the big picture, once we cover the Middle East, we would like to go further East as a company and we have put together a strategy to go to India. We are looking at a joint venture with an Indian partner.
India is particularly interesting because there is a large Indian community travelling to Hong Kong, Singapore, London and, of course, Dubai so it’s a natural stepping stone as we go to the East.

Talking of partnerships, what do you look for in a partner before signing on the dotted line?
It is very important that we align ourselves with good partners because we have a very strong company and we have values which are very Swiss: reliability, openness, transparency, cleanliness, politeness, etc. We look for people who share these values with us and who appreciate our culture, which we call our Swissness.

How do you differentiate Mövenpick from other hotel brands?
We differentiate ourselves from other brands because of this Swissness, which we practice every day. Also, the company has a background of food and beverage and we want to create a lifestyle in hotels. Some other companies say ‘we don’t care about F&B, because the big money is from the rooms – the profit margin from the rooms department is about 80 to 85 per cent while, in F&B, it’s about 30 to 45 per cent, depending on the country. In Europe it’s below 10 per cent. However, we say, at the end of the day, we want to create a guest experience in the hotel and let’s face it, we need to sleep and we need to eat, so we want to create a lifestyle through F&B. We put a lot of emphasis on F&B.