Dubai-based Hospitality Management Holdings (HMH) has been expanding its wings and recently forayed into South Africa. The group is also looking at the Asian countries in the next stage of its expansion plan. In an exclusive interview with Emirates Business, Michel Noblet, CEO of HMH, says the group will see an addition of 17 hotels across the region and three of them will open in the UAE. The hotel group intends to recruit 600 more employees and more than one-third will be in the UAE. Below are the excerpts from the interview with Noblet.
One of your brands, Coral Hotels and Resorts, recently opened a new hotel in Cape Town, Africa. Does it mean you are expecting slowdown in the UAE hospitality sector and consequently reducing exposure?
We are a Dubai-based company and we want to export this Dubai model outside the UAE. We started first in the Arabian Peninsula and then realised that in our business, the most important thing is to build up network to tap international business travellers and leisure tourists. In order to be visible, you need to expand your name/brand in the important tactical markets which are contributing to the success of our company. That's the strategic plan of our group. For doing that, we have particular synergies in terms of marketing, positioning and visibility to maximise the exposure. During financial crisis, you have to reinvent and readjust yourself. Gulf and South Africa have strong economic ties. We were excited that we are up and running six months before the Fifa World Cup which will definitely give us additional exposure.
How many hotels are in the pipeline to open this year for HMH?
We have signed 60 projects. They are in different phases of developments. By 2012, we wish to sign 100 hotels. By the end of the year, we are going to have an additional 17 hotels, taking the tally to 50. These hotels are coming up across the region including the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Syria. In the UAE, we have six hotels, and another three are coming up this year.
How many more employees will you be hiring for the new projects?
We have overall 2,200 staff and need around another 600 people to manage these new hotels. In the UAE, we will hire around 220 new employees.
HMH has four brands; which one is seeing the highest growth?
All brands are doing well but Coral Hotels and Resorts and Ewa Hotel Apartments are doing exceptionally good. They are mainly for the GCC and Middle East markets as you know all of our brands are alcohol-free. Ewa, which has 20 properties, has seen exponential growth. We are also opening three new Corp Executive Hotels later this year – one each in the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. We want to tap every segment as there is demand for each and every segment – from low to high-end. We want to be flexible. We want to be recognised in every segment of clientèle.
What is the occupancy rate in hotels under HMH umbrella ?
The hotel apartment is doing exceptionally well. Ewa-serviced apartments have more than 90 per cent occupancy. The people coming to this brand are mostly Saudi and Bahraini families. Overall, our hotels brands have an occupancy level of around 70 per cent.
When do you see Dubai hotels going back to over 90 per cent occupancy?
We saw higher occupancy level during Dubai Shopping Festival, beating our expectations. Our hotels recorded 100 per cent occupancy during the festival. The occupancy was high across the industry. Now clients have a huge variety to choose hotel from and a choice on rate.
What was the drop in room rates of HMH hotels?
Room rates dropped around 20 and 25 per cent in the international market, and we are also in the same range. Now the whole world is connected, so you can't hide the rates. You log onto the internet and you can check rates for a great number of hotels.
Which regional market will see the highest growth?
Saudi Arabia will see the highest growth rate.
The beauty of the Saudi market is that it has huge domestic market with a population of 25 million people. You take a flight to any inter-Saudi city, you will find that the planes are full.
So is India – a huge domestic market. Foreign tourists in India are very small just few million tourists which is nothing compared to Spain at 65 million and Dubai at 50 million.
Are you planning any new brand?
I think, four are enough for now.
What are the immediate major challenges for the industry?
I think the UAE is definitely on the right path.
The hospitality industry here is good in terms of product offering, able to organise any international event in terms of size, uniqueness and logistics support. The marketing is also top notch in terms of promoting.
We are proud to be a UAE brand; and feel proud to export this brand outside the country.
PROFILE: Michel Noblet CEO, HMH
Noblet's journey began at 15. Paris was the first stop on his long march to success. By the time he turned 25, he had already worked with some of the world's most prestigious hospitality brands including Eiffel Tower, Café de la Paix – the most celebrated meeting place in Paris for more than 120 years – and Grand Hotel, a landmark in the centre of Paris.
Noblet has launched four distinct hotel brands in six years under HMH. In September 2003, Noblet created Coral Hotels and Resorts – the Middle East's first alcohol-free hotel brand.
With a career spanning over four decades and across five continents, he has probably lost count of his achievements.