As leading hotel brand Le Meridien
looks set to take its “French flare” concept global, Russel Sharpe, Vice President Sales, Middle East & West Asia, tells Breaking Travel News about plans for the group in Middle East.
With occupancy levels averaging at 75%, the team in the Middle East, led by Sami Zogghbi, Managing Director, Middle East are set to expand. There are five new properties scheduled to open in the next two years, adding to the portfolio of 26 properties in the Middle East. According to Russel, “Le Meridien see potential for growth in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia”.
Hotel openings in 2004 included Le Meridien Kuwait, Le Meridien Tashkent Palace Hotel, Uzbekistan, Le Meridien Medina, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Le Meridien Al Hada Taif, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Russel commented: “Both for outbound & inbound highest yield, the huge investment that the Middle Eastern countries are making in infrastructure especially in the area of tourism is very exciting as a prospect for this region to see healthy growth”.
According the latest report by the WTTC the region is expected to reach US$108.5 billion in travel and tourism demand and represents some US$20.3 billion in GDP for the region. This is expected - based on the WTTC reports - to grow by 3.9% per annum from now until 2014.
Upcoming projects The Palm, The World and Dubailand, which have caused a surge of excitement throughout the industry, also seem set to raise the profile of Dubai:
Commenting on these innovations, Russel disclosed: “These projects are very exciting & visionary, part of a conscious effort by the government to attract even greater numbers of tourists as well as property buyers, healthcare industry professionals and banking and finance sectors.
He added: “Along with the huge investment in the Dubai airport projects this type of activity puts Dubai on the world map and the people travelling here need somewhere to stay!”
The Middle East West Asia Region has shown a contribution last year (2003) of 18% to the brands global revenues which translates to approximately GBP180 million With a healthy global revenue of GBP1 billion.
Although Le Meridien has felt the blow of the most difficult period in the history of the travel industry, reporting debts of more than $2 billion, over the last two years, it has taken proactive steps, introducing several new initiatives to differentiate the property from other brands and support its long term growth. The group recently introduced first Art+Tech “designer” property; a new concept which supports the underlying foundation of Le Meridien brand - design and service.
Le Meridien Cyberport in Hong Kong was the first such hotel to open. The recently opened hotel recently announced the addition of the new Apple iPod mini to its array of unique entertainment facilities
The Art & Tech “designer” properties will only be applied to certain city centre properties due to the nature of the design, which moves away from the more ‘traditional’ look of the brand. Russel informed ITN that there will be an Art & tech “designer” property opening in Kuwait.
Le Meridien seem to be moving in a Tech-savvy direction. Russel informed ITN: “All our hotels are moving towards wireless which will eventually become an industry standard”.
Russel sees the fact that the brand has a French heritage and is still perceived as French to be a main selling point for the brand. The company continues its worldwide expansion forming new partnerships throughout Asia Pacific, The Americas, Europe and the Middle East and Africa.
Regardless of the negative publicity that Le Meridien has received recently and the uncertainty surrounding the future ownership of the brand, Russel informs me that the company will remain stand alone.