With Arabian Hotel Investment Conference – the premier hospitality event in the Middle East – now just days away, Breaking Travel News sat down with Ed Fuller, managing director for international lodging, Marriott International, to discuss what delegates can expect.
Breaking Travel News: What are main challenges for the Middle East in 2011-12 and how are you addressing them?
Ed Fuller: Even as political uncertainties in some parts of the region are attracting world attention, the Middle East is emerging from the down-draft brought about the economic turmoil of the past two years.
The challenge now is to ensure that the region is not viewed as a monolith and that the positive momentum in terms of travel and development continues.
Marriott International continues to take the long view and have just announced six new additions to its aggressive development pipeline in the region and plans an advanced purchase promotional rate for all hotels in the region for travel between June 17th and September 4th, 2011.
BTN: What are key growth areas in the Middle East 2011-12; opportunities for potential investors?
EF: The World Travel & Tourism Council estimates a significant interest in visitor travel to the region over the next five years.
We see a major opportunity to broaden the types of hotels serving different market segments so as to give these travelers a wide choice from which they can select.
For example, complementing our luxury and deluxe portfolio in the region, we now have eight upper-moderate Courtyard by Marriott hotels in development or construction in the region and expect to introduce our first Residence Inn by Marriott property for extended stay travelers by the end of this year.
BTN: What do you see as the impact of political unrest on tourism in key markets?
EF: As we noted earlier, we take the long view.
Countries like Egypt have a strong historic and cultural significance that have lured visitors for centuries.
Its recovery from the current unrest will take time, but once the situation settles down, visitors will return.
BTN: What effect do you think the current political instability will have on the investment climate?
EF: This question is better answered by the financial experts. All we can say is that with an estimated 60 million individuals joining the world’s middle class every year, we will continue to see a huge annual increase in travel and the desire to taste and sample other cultures among this emerging market.
BTN: What impact do you think the Japanese tsunami will have on the Middle East?
EF: The Japanese travel market is among the world’s largest and most important. Japanese travelers like to experience antiquity and to immerse themselves in history.
The tragic consequences of the recent tsunami naturally is consuming national attention in Japan; but life gradually will assume a new normality and we’ll see Japanese travelers once again immersing themselves in all the best and interesting that the world has to offer, including in the Middle East.
BTN: What do you think the regional impact will be of Qatar hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022?
EF: Global sports events like the FIFA World Cup always draw widespread attention. This World Cup historically puts a spotlight on the host destination in the run-up to, and during, the event and gives the destination a wonderful opportunity to showcase the best it has to offer to attract future tourism.
BTN: What are your long and short term goals?
EF: We are concentrating on growing our portfolio in the region.
We are positive about our pipeline of 43 hotels now under construction or in development in the region and that our portfolio in the Middle East & Africa will consist of 74 hotels and resorts and more than 17,600 rooms across seven lodging brands over the next five years.
Today we operate 31 properties in the region.
BTN: What are your latest developments?
EF: As we noted earlier, in mid-April 2011 we announced six additional properties to our development pipeline in the region including a Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Cairo which opens in 2012 and will be the first Courtyard in Egypt and a Courtyard in Algiers which will open in 2014; We also announced new luxury Ritz-Carlton hotels in Riyadh which opens later this year and in Rabat, opening in 2013.
Our first Residence Inn by Marriott property for extended stay travelers will open in later this year in Bahrain and will be the first of this brand in the Middle East. We also announced a Residence Inn by Marriott for Algiers which will open in 2014.
BTN: What are your predictions for travel and tourism trends in the Middle East in the next five years?
EF: We’re bullish on the future of the region. There’s too much positive energy in the region; the WTTC predicts significant increases in tourism to the region over the next 5 years; the run-up to the FIFA World Cup’ the region’s historic and cultural attractions; its hospitality all bode well for the future.