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Budget brands to be next growth market, say Hotel Chiefs

Travel News Asia 20 March 2006

Both regional and global hotel groups are targeting budget travellers with the launch of economy brands throughout the Middle East, and leading hoteliers are predicting the new sector will spur intra-regional and inbound travel.

According to Chris Moloney, regional chief operating officer for InterContinental Hotels Group, there is a huge gap in the market for branded budget hotels that, he believes, are essential to maintain visitor growth during the next 10 years in the Gulf.

At InterContinental, we have traced the rise and profile of inbound tourists and noted the growth in the mid-scale segment in the GCC as well as a boom in pan-Arab tourism this made us realise that it was viable for us to introduce Express by Holiday Inn to the Middle East to provide quality service with value for money.

The first Express by Holiday Inn will open at Knowledge Village in Dubai next year with 240 rooms, and the group has plans for up to 20 properties in the Gulf, as well as a further 20 in Lebanon and Syria, an expansion plan mirrored by that of Centro by Rotana, the UAE hotel groups new economy brand.

Chief operating officer, Imad Elias, said the group had a target of 25 Centro properties across the region within two years, starting with two hotels in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi opening in 2007.

The average room rates across the region and specifically in key markets have been rising steadily but there are no branded three-star economy hotel chains operating across the Middle East, he said. Travellers have to pay a high rate and stay at a full-service four/five star hotel, or pay the economy price and stay at a sub-standard hotel.

Both operators agree, however, that budget hotels in the region will adhere to different standards to those elsewhere.

Express by Holiday Inn will be adapted according to market needs in the GCC, with properties including larger sized rooms, additional cupboard space, larger bathrooms, laundry service and high speed Internet connections, said Moloney. There will be a reception, bar lounge, all-day dining along with meeting rooms, plus mini-gym, business centre, connecting rooms and shuttle bus to the airport.

Meanwhile, the Centro formula features rooms of 22 sq metres, all-day restaurant, bar, deli take-away shop, gym and pool, plus business and meeting facilities including wireless Internet connectivity.

But, while the full service but low cost model is the route taken by some of the leading hotel operators Accor has announced plans to add 200,000 new rooms over the next four years, of which half will be in the budget sector several mavericks may revolutionise the low-cost hotel sector with radically different products.

Chairman of the Easy Group, Stelios Haji-Ioannou has announced he will launch his budget hotel concept in the Middle East, starting in Dubai in a bid to slash the cost of accommodation in the emirate.

When negotiations are finalised, the low-cost franchise is expected to operate offering rooms as low as US$20 a night.

Meanwhile, the Kuwait-based IFA Hotels & Resorts has made a major investment in the small-capsule room style hotel brand, YOTEL, with launch properties scheduled to open at Heathrow and Gatwick airports in the UK this summer raising the spectre of the concept moving in to the Middle East.

The market for such facilities and potential for expansion is on the agenda at the second Arabian Hotel Investment Conference, taking place in Dubai this May, where the industry will be reviewing current developments, future trends, sustainable tourism policies, timeshare regulation and other issues affecting the industry in the region.

Speaking at the session on economy lodging will be Easy Groups Stelios Haji-Ioannou; Imad Elias from Rotana; Chris Moloney of InterContinental Hotels Group; Christophe Landais, regional managing director for Accor and Thierry Loue, managing partner of the RSP group.

The Arabian Hotel Investment Conference will run from April 29 - May 1, 2006 at Dubais Madinat Jumeirah conference centre. 

See other recent news regarding: Dubai, Arabian Hotel Investment Conference, Travel Trade Shows

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