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Rotana Hotels: ‘ 2017 was a good year for Lebanon and region’

Rotana Hotels enjoy both a business and lifestyle reputation among this region’s travelers

The following interview was conducted with Joseph Coubat, Rotana Area Vice President for Qatar, Lebanon, Kuwait, Turkey, Congo and Syria, and also General Manager for Gefinor Rotana Beirut.

“Despite the political turbulences in the last quarter of the year, 2017 was in general a good year for Lebanon and the region,” he said, adding 2017 was a successful year for Rotana hotels in Lebanon, closing with an average 80% occupancy.”

He said that when it comes to the Free Independent Travel (FIT), the hotels are doing better than the budgets set.

“At our hotels in Turkey, there was also a 30% increase in occupancy compared to 2016 and as for Kuwait there was an occupancy increase of 5% facing tough competition in Q4.”

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AMEinfo asked: What are the most challenging issues facing the hospitality sector in Lebanon and the region?

“Regardless if it’s a business or entertainment trip, a family getaway or even a domestic staycation, all travelers nowadays look for quick services, high tech support and easy access, in addition to memorable experiences.

Most travelers plan their trips according to what they research online about a certain hotel or destination, a challenge all by itself.

I manage leading properties with strong market penetration by building an interaction between those, focusing on service strategy and close human relationships rather than what hotels call a “personalized service”; this is backed by a solid, passionate, warm and dedicated team sharing the same vision.”

When it comes to opening a new hotel in a virgin market, the challenges are inevitable at the beginning. Whether they are political or economic, my team and I remain focused on enhancing our performance and increasing our productivity to reach desired outcomes.”

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AMEinfo: Can you tell us what awards the hotels received, if any?  

 “Gefinor Rotana received 4 awards during 2017.

We got “Luxury City Hotel” & “Luxury Hotel and Conference Centre” with World Luxury Hotel Award, “Certificate of Excellence” by collecting 4.5/5 on Trip advisor from the worldwide guest reviews and “Guest Review Award 2017” with with a review score average of 8.1/10.

Raouché Arjaan by Rotana received 3 awards during 2017. We got “Luxury Family Hotel” & “Luxury Rooftop View Hotel” with World Luxury hotel Award and “Travel & hospitality Award”.

City Centre Rotana Doha received “Qatar’s Leading City Hotel” with World Luxury Hotel Award.”

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AMEinfo: As an Area Vice President, what are the business challenges in: Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Turkey?

We are looking forward to a 2018 free of any political and economic clashes, for these affect the image of the Middle East dramatically, resulting in a decrease in tourism activity hence a drop in hotels’ occupancy.

While we have built trust with our frequent travelers who already know Rotana, we had to bring the same trust in our service and loyalty to the corporate accounts; which we believe will take time.

Beirut is an attractive destination for all types of travelers: medical tourism, domestic exploration or even the recent eco-tourism trend. Despite the frequent ups and downs, the market is very active and the spirits are always positive. Both our hotels in Beirut have exceptionally unique locations; Gefinor Rotana and Raouché Arjaan by Rotana ran on an average of 80 percent in 2017.

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We are currently running 4 properties in Qatar – The Oryx Rotana, City Centre Rotana, Capital Centro and Sedra Residences by Rotana.

Today, the challenges are quite similar to other markets as many oil and gas companies, along with many construction firms, have reduced their production in Qatar. Regardless, we always manage to find new opportunities that will keep us going.

As for Kuwait, Al Manshar Rotana will very soon be linked to a mall. There will also be an opening of a fourth refinery that will for sure attract more business especially that the hotel is located in the famous Fahaheel area. Even though the market in the city center is suffering, with the renovation plan, the opportunities and the world class service, we are always in line with our budget.

To maintain our ranking and to meet our budgets, we are focusing on revenue by tackling all income generating opportunities, such as building our strategies around indicators, using an aggressive sales force, not diluting rates and leveraging the global sales offices for international travel.”

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AMEinfo: Where does Rotana stand today in Middle East?

“Rotana was founded in 1992 – a period when the hospitality sector in the UAE was in a nascent stage and many years away from the enviable status it enjoys today. A year later in 1993, we opened our first hotel – Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi, and over the next few years after that we concentrated on building our domestic portfolio before setting plans to expand in the wider region, which happened with the launch of our properties in Beirut, Lebanon and Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt in 2000.

From those initial years when we had to overcome many challenges including facing tough competition from international brands that dominated the scene

Today, we are one of the leading hotel management companies in the region and our success in being a prominent player in the industry is supported by our rigorous expansion in the region and beyond, with 58 operating properties in 22 cities across 13 countries in the Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

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We operate a total of 15,522 rooms across its operating regions, and 11,163 people, from different nationalities and backgrounds, proudly work for Rotana from 101 countries around the world.

In addition, we host more than 6 million hotel guests and more than 9 million F&B guests across our 241 dining outlets per year.

And, we are not stopping here. We are looking ahead to grow our room count to 27,000 by 2020, as part of our plans to operate 100 properties worldwide by 2020.”

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AMEinfo: What are the future expansions planned by the company?

“The UAE is one of the fastest-growing markets for Rotana. We have three hotel openings scheduled for 2018 and 33 properties in the pipeline for the country. Saudi Arabia is another key focus market for us, where three properties have been lined up for opening in the first quarter of the year and we have 4-strong pipeline for the Kingdom.

As part of our strategy to aggressively expand our footprint across the Middle East, Africa and Turkey to exceed our goal of operating 200 hotels by 2030, we have more than 48 hotels under various stages of development in different markets, including Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, among others.”