Breaking Travel News interview: Mark Willis, area vice president Middle East, Carlson Rezidor Hotels

19th May 2014
Breaking Travel News interview: Mark Willis, area vice president Middle East, Carlson Rezidor Hotels

Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group recently launched the new Quorvus Collection with Symphony Style Hotel Kuwait welcomed as the first property.

Here Breaking Travel News editor Chris O’Toole sits down with Mark Willis, area vice president Middle East & sub-Saharan Africa, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, to discuss the development.

Breaking Travel News: Can you tell us a little about the motivations behind the new Quorvus Collection from Carlson Rezidor? Does this take the company into a new sector, or refocus the existing portfolio?

Mark Willis: The decision behind the launch of the new Quorvus Collection is in line with the redefinition of the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group’s global brand portfolio in the Europe, Middle East and Africa which includes the core brands of Radisson Blu, Park Inn by Radisson and the new Radisson Red.

We analysed the market, and with the emergence of trends such as mobile luxury as well as the changing lifestyles of our customers, we asked ourselves what kind of products we had to fit this market.

We have a substantial portfolio of strong reliable brands, but we found there was an opportunity for us to create something new to fit these needs.

Quorvus Collection is a new generation of expertly curated luxury hotels inspired by the lifestyle and sensibilities of the contemporary global traveller with strong growth ambitions within the luxury segment.

This new brand will fit demand opportunities in strategic locations around primary cities such as Cairo, Jeddah, Riyadh, Makkah, Madinah, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the properties we pick will be ones that fit the requirements and position of a Quorvus luxury property.

BTN: Among the first properties to be included is the Symphony Style Hotel Kuwait. Can you tell us why this hotel was singled out, and what it brings to the collection?

MW: Quorvus Collection member hotels are individual in style, design, heritage, history and architecture and are reflective of their location and culture through the Quorvus ‘Eidos’ - an essential expression of each hotel’s individualism. 

With its striking interior, stunning views of the Arabian Gulf and suite of hallmark services, Symphony Style Hotel Kuwait is a natural addition to the Quorvus Collection.

Its interior, designed by Rosita Missoni and echoing the colours of desert and sea: gold, sand and turquoise is a celebration of the local culture, a key differentiator of the hotels within the collection. 

The hotel also embodies the six core lifestyle elements unique to the Quorvus Collection – wellness, replenishment, style, inspiration, entertainment and connectivity.

In addition to six superbly equipped event spaces, ranging from exclusive board rooms to an elegant ballroom, an outdoor pool, and the sensational Six Senses Spa, the hotel also features three restaurants: ‘Cucina’, serving authentic Italian cuisine, ‘Luna’, offering Arabic food with a Mediterranean twist, and ‘Choco Café’, celebrating a true coffee culture.

Symphony Style Hotel Kuwait Lobby will be the first property welcomed to the Quorvus Collection

BTN: Carlson Rezidor is also rolling out the Radisson Red brand in 2014. Can you let us know a little about your aspirations for this programme?

MW: With the introduction of Radisson Red, we are creating a new industry category, ‘Lifestyle Select,’ an upscale, select service concept that boasts a forward-thinking focus on design and detail, the customer experience, personal interaction, personal choice and recognition of the increasingly important role that technology plays in facilitating the best of everyday life.

The Radisson Red focus on technology will include a mobile application that will not only allow guests to skip reception for check-in, but order a drink in the bar, food from the deli, flowers through an online concierge or a taxi for the airport; manage their own personal profile and preferences; and manage the environment within their Radisson Red room.

The brand, with a contemporary purpose-driven design focus, will convey an eclectic, modernist aesthetic.

From arriving in a gallery, to the bar and deli, to the guest connect spaces, to the guestrooms, everything will be designed from the customer’s perspective.

Every touch point and interaction has been considered and addressed with an extraordinary list of unique features and options.

Radisson Red will expand on our mid-market offering by tapping into secondary cities and sub-markets of primary cities in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East and expect to sign the first property in the region by 2015.

BTN: Can you tell us a little about the activities of Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group in the Middle East more generally? We heard a lot of buzz surrounding Saudi Arabia at Arabian Travel Marker this year, is that a destination which excites you?

MW: The Middle East is an important growth market for Rezidor.

We currently operate 30 hotels and have over 18 in the development pipeline.

We are fortunate to operate in countries where tourism and hospitality sectors have been identified as key drivers for the development and diversification of the economy.

Saudi Arabia is a key focus for us in terms of growth and expansion and our focus is very firmly on growing our portfolio in the Kingdom, particularly the key markets of Riyadh, Jeddah, Madinah, Makkah and the Eastern Province as well as secondary cities across the Kingdom.

We have almost 15 hotels set to open there within the next two to three years, almost tripling our portfolio.

Radison Red was launched earlier this year

BTN: Many of the more established destinations in the Middle East, Dubai for example, are famous for their upscale offerings. Do you feel there is now more potential for growth in the mid-scale and even budget market in the region?

MW: While Dubai has always been positioned as a luxury destination, there is an increasing demand for the midmarket and upscale type hotels.

I don’t believe that the city should lose sight of its positioning as a luxury destination, instead it should satisfy the increasing demand for midscale properties. 

If you look at London, New York, or Paris they all have a significant luxury product but they also cater to the upscale and mid-range markets.

Our positioning in the market is very much the mid-market and upper upscale range and this is where we see the majority of the growth in the next few years.

The government’s announcement to provide tax relief to develop mid-market hotels shows that the demand for properties in this sector is rising.

There is certainly a gap in the market that is not being adequately catered for at the moment and our Park Inn by Radisson and the Radisson Bu brands will fit very well into this new strategy.

The mid-market is most certainly a key area of growth for us in the coming few years and we will be focusing on adding more Park Inn by Radisson and Radisson Red properties in strategic markets such as KSA and the UAE to our portfolio.

BTN: Finally, a little about Africa. Reports from W Hospitality Group suggest you have the largest hotel property pipeline of any international organisation operating on the continent. Do you feel the continent is set to come of age as a tourism destination over the coming years?

MW: Africa is an important growth region for us. We believe in the great potential of this continent and are committed to becoming a key player in the travel and tourism sector.

Africa offers excellent opportunities due to its huge natural resources and workforces, improved infrastructure, and a growing middle class.

However, the continent still suffers from an imbalance between supply and demand for internationally branded hotels with world-class standards and services, and we want to change that.

It is not merely about growing the number of hotels – we also aim to be a leading employer in the region.

By creating new jobs for local talent and by contributing to the communities where we operate in, we can make a huge difference.

We are focused on growing our footprint in sub-Saharan Africa with Radisson Blu in capital cities, financial and economic hubs.

Park Inn by Radisson will grow in clusters in three of the 16 economic communities in Africa and into depth of the Nigerian and South African market.

Recent flagship openings of the group include the Radisson Blu Hotel, Maputo (Mozambique), the Radisson Blu Hotel, Lusaka (Zambia) and the Park Inn by Radisson Foreshore Hotel Cape Town (South Africa).

Most recently Carlson Rezidor also announced the opening of Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel in Freetown – the first five-star hotel in Sierra Leone.

Future openings include Radisson Blu hotels in Nairobi (Kenya) and Kigali (Rwanda) and Park Inn by Radisson hotels in Cape Town (South Africa) and Kigali (Rwanda). 

Interview: Chris O’Toole


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