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Interview with Michael Marshall, Corporate VP Sales & Marketing Rotana.
By Roland Wildberg at ITB, exclusive for 4Hoteliers
Monday, 6th April 2009
 
Rotana is a phenomenon: Starting in 1992 with one property in Abu Dhabi, the company now is operating almost 30 hotels and plans more aggressive growth in 2012 there will be 67 Rotana gateways with porters welcoming guests all over the Middle East and Africa.

The strategy is to have a property in each major city with business or leisure travel around the region. In other words: In the next three years, Rotana is to open ten hotels per year quite exciting, as Michael Marshall says.

The friendly Rotana Corporate Vice President Sales & Marketing (right) has been with the group two years so far and hopes to witness its expansion from first position long time more.

There is no trick in it like pump and dump or anything else; as Rotana even during crisis has an occupancy about 70 to 80 per cent. Michael Marshal, the friendly Corporate Vice President of Rotana gives an impression of how the cat jumps at his company. So an important reason for the outstanding success of the group may be found in their focus on both business and leisure travel. Clients rely on Rotana: The market share actually is bigger than of their competitors. "We are actually opening 6 in Abu Dhabi this year, between September and December, overlooking the formula one track."

So the common say about the main reason for top performance goes for Rotana as well: Location, location, location. "In Dubai we are situated in good locations, too so a lot of them are city related properties which are close to good business areas, to leisure, to shopping malls, so we can get a balance of business. And also we have a big infrastructure in the Middle East. We have 15 properties in Dubai and northern Emirates, we have 3 in Abu Dhabi."

And furthermore, Rotana early has diversified its portfolio into four different brands: There is the core brand Rotana Hotels & Resorts with the flag ship, the Beach Rotana in Abu Dhabi. Then there is the Arjaan Apartments offering facilities for long time staying people as business travellers. "The apartments brand is becoming more and more popular as people look for alternatives. If you are staying for a longer stay, you have a kitchenette, a larger living area, and it offers a bit more flexibility for people if they want to bring their family sometimes. It is also popular for leisure, because rather than having two rooms you can have a small apartment", Mr Marshall commented.

A new blossom on the Rotana tree is Centro, the upscale brand of the mid-market. Being in the enviable position to upgrade itself, with Centro the group created rather economic chain, a budget hotel brand, which is as the name does signal situated directly in the centre of the metropolises with business and commercial districts nearby.

A special feature one may experience only in a Centro hotel is "take away" service for inhouse guest who prefer to enjoy their meal in the privacy of their personal rooms. In addition too, public facilities at their best, i.e. swimming pool and gym on one hand, meeting rooms and business centres on the other hand, provide service you may not find inside of your room.

As Mr Mashall says, the first two Centro properties just opened this year in Abu Dhabi and Dubai do perform well. Until 2014, the group will open 25 Centro hotels across the Middle East region. Marshall: "So each one of these has a mixture of business and leisure guests. That is how we maximise our business"

The most exciting brand is Rayhaan, a hotel designed personally or Muslim people. "This brand, we believe, is going to be very successful. It is a niche market, but it can be very popular In the Gulf, obviously with guests coming from Saudi Arabia or the GCC states prefer not to stay in a hotel where there is alcohol. So that is a good market for us."

But what is good for Islamic people, may definitely not be bad for others, assumes the Vice President: On the ITB Berlin he was having meetings with a number of tour operators. "They have shown a positive interest because many people can stay in a hotel but they go out for dinner and maybe have a drink in other locations, so as long as we have a good quality product that offers good service, and these will be full service hotels, in Abu Dhabi we will be a luxury resort, and we had tour operators that are interested in sending their clients to this hotel."

The first Rayhaan is to open in holy city of Mecca, with access only for Muslim people. "Actually there is an undersupply with hotels in Mecca." It is close to the sacred and prayer locations. "It is also designed so that the rooms are facing out, so you can see the whole area from the rooms." Among the special features for example are a lot of escalators, for everybody is coming down to pray at the mosques during the same times.

And there is a special food catering that can be done with everybody coming at once, so the restaurants have to be large. Furthermore they are able to serve people very quickly because people are in a hurry to get to prayer times. "That is the reason why they go to Mecca but besides Ramadan the hotel will work all year round." All the staff there are Muslim, for there is access to the city only for Islamic people.

"We're transferring a lot of staff from other hotels to make sure that the standards are exactly as Rotana is in the rest of the group." A second property, a resort property, 3.5 hours from Damascus, at a place called Lattakiya is to open in summer as well, and this may go for a third property in Beirut / Lebanon, before the peak summer season.

Because there is no stable growth without partners, Rotana looks out for affiliates and already has some illustrious names in their agenda: the domestic carriers Gulf Airlines, Etihad and Saudi Airlines do partner with the group already, and there are close talks with Lufthansa and British Airways. Delta is also mentioned as a proactive candidate. "So as we are growing, and the number of properties that we have, with ten opening every year, our network is very attractive to partners like this. And we see this as definitely a growth area for us, with the European airlines in the future."

What is the difference, why should one stay at Rotana's according to Michael Marshall? "We have excellent hotels with all the international standards that you would expect from any 5 star, multinational group. But we also give a little of the local flavour."

To his opinion, that aspect differentiates Rotana from some of the big corporate brands. "In Lebanon you get a bit of a Lebanese atmosphere. If you come to the UAE, you have the UAE culture. In Syria as well. Syria is a very attractive place to go to now. I think we can offer you what you expect from an international brand with al the services and the comforts that you need, but with that local flavour and excellent food and beverage restaurants we are very well known for our restaurants, very high quality."
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