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Hamra Hotels checks in to alternative growth markets

Nikolaos Chatzipetros Vice-President Operations, Hamra Hotels & Resorts. (SUPPLIED)

By Sean Davidson

With an eye on driving business in and from emerging markets that few have dared to explore, Ras Al Khaimah's Hamra Hotels & Resorts remains bullish on growth. It hopes to add more charters into the emirate and is confident the addition of more rooms to its portfolio will not dilute profits. Nikolaos Chatzipetros, Vice- President Operations, Hamra Hotels & Resorts, speaks to Emirates Business.

What occupancy levels are you experiencing at the moment? How did it fare last year?

Within our group, the occupancy is between 60 and 70 per cent. On the weekends it's much higher. Our convention centres drive a lot of business on the weekends and Dubai contributes a significant amount of this. Typically, we experience an influx from Thursday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. We did extremely well last year. Of course, the crisis affected us, especially in the last quarter. But we see rebounding of the business right now.

Have you moved away from your traditional strategies to drive business?

Yes. We are seeking alternative markets to fill the room nights we have. Business for the past 10 years was coming mainly from specific areas locally and specific countries from Europe. Now we are looking at other countries to not only tackle the crisis but also have a nice and healthy mix of market segments. These are existing markets that have not been accessed by many others. They are new, opening markets that have visa restrictions in other areas such as Europe and at the same time they have disposable income. We're talking about countries such as Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Turkmenistan and those that belong to the Commonwealth of Independent States. And of course, we are also focusing on specific segments coming from well-known markets such as Germany.

Has it been tough bringing people to your properties in Ras Al Khaimah?

Not really. The distance from Dubai is only 45 minutes and that has worked to our benefit. We have pristine beaches, a safe environment and all the facilities and activities that travellers would like to have. At the same time, we also have the Um Al Quwain airport so if somebody would like to experience skydiving or have pilot licenses, he can do that too. We have water sports and slides going live in two months. So we have the right mix.

That's all well, but other emirates offer the same mix. Did this mean competing on price?

We are definitely competing on price. As operators, we are trying to be very flexible and competitive. It would not be realistic to maintain the prices we had a few years ago. But we didn't drop our rates considerably because that is against our philosophy. We added a lot more value instead.

What projects do you have in the pipeline?

We are looking at projects locally and internationally. Through our sister company Rakeen, we are active overseas. We own these projects and have international companies as operators. We are increasing our portfolio and you will see more development in 2010. Our subsidiaries have projects in Georgia. We own the Sheraton there. We have another project planned in Georgia outside Tbilisi. In Congo, we are operating a hotel under the Radisson hotels name. We have a residential and hotel mix-use project in Kyrgystan. And we are constantly looking for other opportunities. As a land bank, Rakeen has more than a dozen locations in order to have it master planned. At the moment, we have a huge shopping mall under construction in Yerevan, Armenia, and another mall in Georgia. We are looking for potential sites to build shopping malls because at the end of the day it's a matter of characteristics. In some countries, it's too cold in the winter and too hot in summer so a shopping mall is a perfect opportunity for an area that has a stable and growing economy and opportunities we can capitalise on. These are the areas we are looking to invest in.

How crucial will a fully functional airport and airline in RAK be to your plans?

It would be very beneficial and that is something that is being looked at. Soon we will have solutions and announcements. Everything is moving in the right direction. The best scenario is to have an airline that brings an influx of clients. At the moment, the airport is functional for charters who we have deals with. We hope to have more frequency with the charters.

What are your projections for this year?

We expect growth this year. Not only in the occupancy but also with the properties themselves. The room nights will increase because of the number of hotels we are opening. So our room count will definitely grow. It's hard to put a figure to it because we are constantly discussing several deals and projects.

PROFILE: Nikolaos Chatzipetros Vice-President Operations, Hamra Hotels & Resorts

Before he was appointed to this present post, Chatzipetros was general manager of Al Hamra Fort Hotel & Beach Resorts. And prior to moving to the UAE, he worked in different capacities for various hotels in the US, Italy, Greece, Caribbean and Switzerland as well as for luxury cruise liners.


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