Qatar’s ambitions on the global hospitality market – exclusive interview Katara Hospitality CEO

In an interview to CPP-LUXURY.COM, Mr. Hamad Abdulla Al-Mulla, Chief Executive Officer, Katara Hospitality has spoken about his company’s ambitious development plans and its strategic approach to become a global recognized player.

You recently announced commencement of project construction for Katara Towers, Lusail Marina District Towers underway in Lusail City. How important is this ample project for your company and for Qatar’s tourism?

Katara Towers, Lusail Marina District is one of our most important projects as this is set to become an iconic landmark in Qatar.

To play its role in positioning Qatar as a world class tourist destination, Katara Hospitlaity are developing this hospitality icon of the 21st Century in the Marina District of the new Lusail city, the spectacular Katara Towers. Raising gracefully from the podium level, the arched towers will host a luxurious five-star hotel to cater to discerning business travellers, a lavish six-star hotel to meet the needs of those seeking sophisticated luxury accommodation and branded apartments to become home to permanent residents. The project also includes a spectacular man-made satellite beach-front island that will be home to an incredible mix of leisure and water sports facilities, food and beverage outlets as well as world-class water parks within a stunning, sun-protected garden environment.

Katara Hospitality is a strong supporter of the development of Lusail City and proud to be developing this century’s hospitality landmark in Qatar. With its striking design based on the crossed swords of our nation’s seal, Katara Towers, Lusail Marina District will be immediately recognized around the world.

Which ultra-luxury operators you consider for Katara Towers?

We are indeed considering world-class operators for the iconic Katara Towers, Lusail Marina Distrcit property, which is expected to open in 2017.

Katara Hospitality is a major investor in hospitality assets which operates on clearly defined business principles that apply uniformly across all our endeavors. Contracts for projects and services are awarded based on rigorous tender processes, ensuring that suitable partners are assigned to cover specific areas resulting from in depth analysis of comparable offers against measurable criteria.

This also applies when assigning a hotel operator for any of the assets under the company’s portfolio. In the process of assigning an operator for a property, the strength areas of each bidder will be considered as compared to the particularities of the hotel and the final decision is made in order to ensure optimum operational benefits, while considering the return of investment for the owner.

We will be speaking more about potential operators for this project in the months and years ahead.

In today’s increasingly competitive luxury hospitality market, what are the advantages and disadvantages of owning/operating vs. operating?

Katara Hospitality is a leading global hotel developer, owner and operator – so we see advantages in each category. The hotels we currently own and operate are profitable, thriving businesses that successfully compete in the modern marketplace.

For many of our properties, we partner with some of the finest global hotel brands to deliver world class hospitality services as our assets continue to meet the requirements of a highly competitive market.

We also aim to become one of the leading hotel management companies in the region. We own and manage the Sealine Beach Resort in Qatar, and are also developing our new hotel operator division under the home-grown Merweb brand.

In 2014 you announced the opening of two landmark luxury properties in Europe, The Peninsula Paris and Excelsior Gallia Milan. For both hotels you opted for long time established operators. Tell us more.

The Peninsula Paris will be one of the world’s great hotels.  The ‘grande dame’ of the Parisian hotel scene will be restored to her full glory and will become a must-visit luxury property.  As such, we are delighted to be working with our partner The Peninsula Hotels, marking the first European property for this outstanding brand.

Which are your target markets for the mid / long term? What is the criteria that motivates an investment by Katara Hospitality?

Our European presence is strong and next year will see the opening of several iconic hotels. With properties France, Switzerland and Italy, we expect to invest in other markets, including the United Kingdom, Germany and Mediterranean countries. North America is also a possibility and, of course, we intend to further expand in Asia.

Qatar will remain a high priority for us and we intend to maintain our position as market leaders here.

Katara Hospitality is continuously looking to invest in a collection of unique properties in key sought-after international locations while partnering with some of the world’s finest hotel brands, given that they are aligned with our ethos and brand values. We acquire and further invest in properties that have set the standards in the industry, creating thus an enviable portfolio of iconic hotels. When acquiring a property or engaging into a project, we always look for something extraordinary that sets the project apart.

As part of your strategic future development you aim to own 30 hotels and resort complexes locally and internationally by 2016 and a further 30 over the following decade. How many will be owned and how many operated? Could you estimate an overall investment your projects?

Our vision is to own 30 properties by 2016 and a further 30 over the following decade, so that target is clear.  How many we also operate will depend on a range of factors.  We already have a successful brand in the Bürgenstock Selection in Switzerland, which can be applied in other markets, and we believe our home-grown Merweb Hotel brand also offers opportunities for international expansion. The final mix will depend on the types of properties we invest in.

One thing is clear – we will always work with other international operators. We choose not to reveal financial details of our investments.

Which do you foresee as the biggest challenges in luxury hotel development in the mid to long term? Which do you consider the biggest opportunities?

The hospitality market remains robust, despite some challenges in the overall global economy.  Even during the global financial crisis, luxury brands performed well and this will continue.

The major challenge is competitive differentiation.  In every major city, major investments are being made into luxury hotel properties, with new brands extending around the world.

The major opportunity is also that global aspect.  We are looking to many new international markets and we believe there are strong growth opportunities.

Katara Hospitality is investing in education as part of the Qatarization program. Do you plan to establish such programs internationally?

In Qatar, we have implemented training programmes for promising high school graduates as well as setting up a sponsorship initiative at Stenden University to encourage young Qataris to enter the hospitality industry. Within our own organisation, we encourage multi-discipline training, creating highly motivated and deeply skilled individuals who are given a platform to develop their talents both locally and internationally.  So our programme already does have an international element.

Several luxury hoteliers have teamed up with luxury brands from other sectors, especially fashion. Do you envision such developments?

Such brand association is clearly an effective route to diversification.  The important factor is to ensure that such associations are chosen carefully and that neither brand is diluted in any sense.  There is a great value in globalising luxury brands, especially in many of the world’s major emerging economies, and hotels provide an interesting route.