Saudi Arabia expands hospitality offerings
Travellers increasingly seek branded extended-stay accommodations
Saudi Arabia is looking to increasingly attract both international and domestic travellers by expanding its hospitality offerings to offer visitors a greater range of long-stay options, hospitality experts have said.
Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts recently revealed plans to open its first hotel and apartment property in Jeddah in 2017 in a bid to meet strong demand for branded extended-stay accommodation in Saudi Arabia's booming seaport city.
The Swiss hospitality firm has signed an agreement with prominent real estate and investment company Hadia Abdul Latif Jameel Group to manage the 164-unit Mövenpick Hotel & Apartments Al Tahlia Jeddah, which will command a sought-after location on Hail Street, close to Jeddah's major commercial, financial, consular and shopping districts.
With the modern-day corporate traveller in mind, the property, part of a high-profile mixed-use development, features predominantly suites, an all-day-dining outlet, a casual fine-food Indian restaurant, a gym with two spa treatment rooms and four meeting rooms.
"It's a flexible hotel and apartment model that caters to both short and long-stay clients, capitalising on the gap in the market for branded extended-stay accommodation," said Andreas Mattmüller, chief operating officer of Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts for the Middle East and South Asia. "The hospitality industry in Saudi Arabia is expanding significantly over the entire country, which sets the perfect scenario for us to further increase our portfolio within the kingdom."
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the total contribution of travel and tourism to Saudi GDP was SR218 billion in 2014, accounting for 7.7 per cent of GDP. This is forecast to rise by 4.4 per cent to SR356.6 billion, and amount to nine per cent of GDP in 2025. This projected increase is due to Saudi Arabia's impressive tourism attractions and the ongoing growth of religious tourism.
Speaking on the latest travel trends in the country, Mattmüller said: "There is an important increase in Saudi nationals travelling within the kingdom for business and relaxation. The kingdom's drive to promote domestic tourism, encouraging Saudis to holiday at home, is achieving increasing success. Mega investments in the public and private sectors are generating more international business travellers. There are important investments being made in religious tourism projects, in both the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, which will eventually increase demand."
"We anticipate that Saudi Arabia will experience a significant growth in religious tourism over the coming five years, due to the expansion of the grounds surrounding the holy mosques of Makkah and Madinah, and the added infrastructure around religious sites, including the important railway project linking the cities of Makkah and Madinah via Jeddah," he added.
Signing Mövenpick Hotel & Apartments Al Tahlia helps to consolidate MHR's position in Jeddah, where the company currently operates two properties, but now has three pipelined, taking its total number of keys in the city to 923 across five hotels by 2018. Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts also has plans to increase its Saudi footprint by one-third, from a current 10 properties with 3,907 keys to 15 properties with 5,204 keys by 2018. Upcoming projects include Mövenpick Hotel City Star Jeddah, opening this year; Mövenpick Residences Al Khobar due in 2017; Mövenpick Hotel Financial District Riyadh also due in 2017; and Mövenpick Hotel Heraa Jeddah due in 2018.
Rocco Forte Hotels makes foray
Another brand that has identified Saudi Arabia as an important tourism market in the region is Rocco Forte Hotels, which has announced its first property in Jeddah, marking the start of the luxury hotel group's expansion into the region.
With construction already complete, the Assila Hotel will open in September this year when it will join the Rocco Forte family of multi-award winning luxury hotels and resorts, each characterised by a unique sense of style inspired by its location.
With a prime site on Jeddah's fashionable Tahlia Street, the Assila Hotel will be a landmark building that adds 210 rooms and suites to the growing need for hotel accommodation in the rapidly-expanding hospitality sector of the region's largest market.
Speaking in an interview, founder Rocco Forte revealed that Jeddah will be the stepping stone for the brand's reentry into the Middle East market. He also noted that there were no concrete plans for any other hotels opening in the region anytime soon, but that expansion is not something that has been ruled out.
"We are excited about our return to the region, and are looking forward to welcoming visitors once the new hotel opens," he said.
In addition to the 210 hotel rooms and suites, Assila Hotel offers 94 residential suites, the first fully-serviced apartments in Saudi Arabia, with a choice of one bedroom, two bedroom and four bedrooms apartments available.
The design of the Assila Hotel is contemporary, punctuated with traditional Arabic elements in the lighting, colourful materials, and artwork. Art at the hotel has taken centre stage, with over 2,000 pieces of handpicked original art, both contemporary and traditional, all from Saudi Arabian artists.
"It is important for the hotel to reflect the culture of the city that it is located in," Forte, who looks for ways to capture the essence of the culture of a place and exhibit it in his hotels, noted.
"You can do this in special little touches consistently over time, and not just limit it to the designer creating the design for the interior, and then leaving it at that. This is something that I feel is very important in the hotel industry."
He also highlighted the importance of customised service as a means of distinguishing yourself in the industry. "In theory, all luxury hotels offer the same sort of service, but treating the customers as individuals is more difficult, particularly when the hotels are very big. We train our staff to sense the needs of the customers and address them before the customer has to ask for anything. The importance is in the little details, which all add up to create the ultimate experience for the customer. We care about our customers and we want our customers to know that."