Bahrain Hotels seeks to expand portfolio

As travel and tourism grows, it is imperative to build supporting infrastructure, Bahrain Hotels Company CEO Aqeel Raees tells K S Sreekumar
A new look for the Gulf Hotel Bahrain

What are Gulf Hotel’s plans to gain a major share of the travel and tourism market in the region?

We have been in the market from day one. The Gulf Hotel was the first serious project in Bahrain related to tourism, the first five-star hotel. This year we are celebrating the 40th anniversary and it has been the largest hotel for 40 years, with the largest number of restaurants.
We are undergoing a renovation process to ensure that we have the largest share of the market. We will achieve this by having the largest number of rooms.
It is very important for independent individual hotels competing with the giants of the chains who are all represented here to maintain a high share of the market and to maintain good image and standards.

Are you looking at expanding your portfolio?
Expansion is key to our strategy for the future. We will soon register our company in Oman. We already have a 10 per cent stake in and a management contract for the Ocean Paradise Resort in Zanzibar. We are also looking at various possibilities in Bahrain and abroad. All the GCC countries are our targets and at present our priority is Muscat. These opportunities come when they are least expected and we are now talking to two parties about three properties in Bahrain.

With the travel and tourism sector expanding, are the basic infrastructure facilities keeping up with it?
This is a question being asked for years. I think there is now a serious move towards building infrastructure thanks to the surplus of cash from the oil price hike. We see that the government is very seriously working on the roads. It may be a burden now but in a few years time we will start reaping the benefits of it. However, the transport system in Bahrain, unfortunately, has not been tackled effectively and seriously.
There are several other surprising anomalies. We are living in islands, we have the sea around us, but we don’t have a beach.
We should not allow the current lacunae to stop us moving into the future. We are competing with very developed tourist destinations like Dubai. In the past we used the weather as an excuse, but Dubai has shown this not to be the case. This needs a long term plan, Dubai did not happen overnight. We can also do it.

When will the current refurbishment of the hotel be finished? What was the nature of changes brought to the hotel? How much was spent?
The deadline for the renovation is the end of October. You must note that we started only on May one and in a record six-month time we brought a total new look to the hotel. The renovation undertaken at a cost of BD8.5 million ($22.5 million) has positioned the hotel as a mixed-use luxury hotel offering opulence, MICE facilities and the latest in technology and comfort.
The 240-room Tower Block was completely refurbished with a modern, new external facia and enlarged large renovated rooms to bring the hotel in line with the latest standards in the hospitality industry. By Eid we had an additional 140 rooms to sell. 
The Al Wafa Café Restaurant, the Palace Lounge and the Al Andalus Lounge all have a new look. Among the new elements are the all-new Platinum Lounge on the 13th floor of the Tower Block and the brand-new Typhoon Bar under the Royal Thai Restaurant.

Hoteliers across the Middle East posted their third year of double-digit revPAR growth in 2006. What about Gulf Hotel? And what are your projections for the current year?
The gross revPAR growth for hotels in Bahrain during 2005-06 was 10 per cent. For the Gulf Hotel it was six per cent for the same period. However for 2006-07 (till date) it has been 30 per cent for us, while the national average was 23 per cent. This is because we had fewer rooms to sell between May and November due to the refurbishment.