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Interview - Mark De Cocinis, CEO of Boutique Group

Interview - Mark De Cocinis, CEO of Boutique Group

BTN - What are your core areas of focus when it comes to investment? I.e. in the areas of innovation, sustainability, human capital and/or technology?

MDC - Boutique Group’s investment focus aligns closely with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 objectives and the broader trends shaping the global hospitality industry. Our aim of introducing a new concept – converting palaces and royal residences into ultra-luxury boutique hotels – to the hospitality landscape is an investment in the Kingdom’s future. Through these efforts, we contribute to Saudi Arabia’s economic diversification and the growth of the tourism and hospitality sectors, as well as the people who operate in the industry today and those who will lead it going forward.

Our concept is inherently innovative. We are reimagining the hospitality sector by offering unique, culturally rich experiences that blend ancient tradition with modern luxury. We also share contemporary travellers’ commitment to more sustainable practices, and have integrated the idea of “responsible luxury” into business model, which gives culturally significant buildings a new lease of life. We have also adopted innovative eco-friendly practices, complemented by a comprehensive ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) framework implemented across our properties and operations. Through these measures, we are working towards achieving LEED Gold status for all Boutique Group hotels.

Finally, we are investing in people, because we believe our team holds the key to our success. We’re deeply committed to supporting the development and integration of Saudi talent, and to date over 80 percent of our employees are Saudi nationals – more than double the country’s average. We also partner with leading institutions at home and abroad to train our employees to the highest levels of service. This not only aligns with Vision 2030’s economic diversification goals but also ensures an authentic guest experience rooted in local hospitality and culture.

BTN - What is your outlook for the hospitality industry in Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East in 2024 and beyond?

MDC - The outlook for Saudi Arabia’s hospitality industry is extremely optimistic. The country’s ambitious plans to diversify its economy, coupled with substantial investments in tourism and cultural sectors, indicate significant growth potential. With a projected $110 billion investment in the hospitality sector and a surge in hotel room developments, Saudi Arabia is poised to become a leading global travel and hospitality hub. Boutique Group forms part of this bigger movement to grow the industry.

The world is curious about the Kingdom, and the Ministry of Tourism recently celebrated its 100 million visitors milestone at the iconic Tuwaiq Palace – its final public event before renovations started. By opening our palaces to the wider world, we have the opportunity to tell authentic Saudi stories about everything from the Kingdom’s culture and heritage to its famed generosity.

Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector is on its way to break through the top ten globally. Having contributed five percent to the economy last year, it is on track to account for about 10 percent by the end of the decade. The wider Middle East region, driven by similar economic diversification efforts and a focus on tourism, presents similar opportunities for sustained growth and development in luxury hospitality.

BTN - What does your panel/presentation/workshop at FHS focus on and what will delegates be able to take away from your session?

MDC - We have a truly unique approach to hospitality at Boutique Group and will be honored to showcase it during my upcoming panel discussion, titled Transforming Palaces: Embracing Heritage and Showcasing New Luxury. During the talk, I’ll shed light on our efforts to create ultra-luxury experiences that offer the highest international standards of service, steeped in Saudi Arabia’s distinct brand of hospitality. What makes our properties so special is that they allow us to immerse guests in an authentic interpretation of the Kingdom’s vast culture and heritage. As the world calls for more sustainable and responsible hospitality models, we believe others can learn from our approach towards rooting experiences in a sense of place, and integrating properties into local communities.

In addition, our Chief Hospitality Officer Marco Franck is also joining a discussion titled Brand Dilemma: Navigating the Pros and Cons of Launching New Brands – A Strategic Exploration for Hospitality Decisionmakers. I’m a firm believer that every challenge contains within it an opportunity, and this is something we’ve certainly experienced at Boutique Group, as we’ve developed a new type of hospitality model for Saudi Arabia. With that said, we’re also looking forward to hearing what others have to say, and what we can learn from their experiences. 

Lastly, we will also have a presence at the Global Restaurant Investment Forum. Hicham Hassouni, our Chief Strategy and Business Development Officer, will participate in a panel titled New Horizons in Food & Beverage: Unlocking the Potential in a Transformational Marketplace. Where he will tap into Boutique Group’s culinary strategic vision, highlighting our innovative approach to the ever-evolving food and beverage industry.

BTN - What are you looking forward to most from your attendance at FHS Saudi Arabia?

MDC - I always look forward to collaborating with and learning from my peers on a dedicated platform such as FHS. Apart from networking, the event offers unique opportunities to engage with industry leaders, investors and policymakers. Events like this bring the whole industry together, and remind us that we are working towards a common goal – developing the hospitality landscape for a brighter future for everyone.