BIG ASPIRATIONS

Oman 2020 | TOURISM & RETAIL | INTERVIEW

As the largest owner of hotels and resorts in Oman, OMRAN is planning to launch an IPO to give local and international investors the opportunity to invest in one of the fastest-growing tourism markets in the Middle East.

Peter Walichnowski
BIOGRAPHY

Peter Walichnowski joined OMRAN as CEO in 2017. He has over 35 years of experience in international real estate development, investment, and corporate management across Australia, the UK, North Asia, and the Middle East. Just in the Middle East, Walichnowski has 14 years of experience in holding CEO positions with large property companies including Majid Al Futtaim Properties. Before moving to the Middle East, he was CEO of Lend Lease Europe and Executive Director at Land Securities PLC, the UK's largest listed property group. He graduated with a degree in architecture and has completed post graduate programs at IMD and Harvard Business School.

Can you give us an overview of how operations have evolved in the past 12 months and the implication of recent developments?
We still have our ongoing joint ventures and partnerships with regional and international investors doing six large, long-term integrated tourism projects (ITCs). In 2018, we opened the Crowne Plaza OCEC; in 2019, we opened the W Hotel Muscat, targeting both the international and domestic market; and in 2020, there is the opening of the JW Marriot OCEC, as well as the start of a third hotel in Madinat Al Irfan. This means we will complete our plan of having a three-, four- and five-star hotel service the Oman Exhibition and Convention Centre (OCEC). The joint venture with Majid Al Futtaim at Madinat Al Irfan kicked off in 2019 and in 2020 we will see the start of Phase I, which will cover 250,000sqm of mixed-use developments. Another achievement in 2019 was the completion of the Omantel Head Office in our Madinat Al Irfan Business Park. We also opened two “Atana Stay" hotels in Al Ashkhara and Salalah.

Madinat Al Irfan is often dubbed the smart city of Oman. What is your definition of a smart city?
A smart city is when various software and hardware elements are built into the infrastructure of the city and are integrated to provide a sustainable business and social lifestyle for the community, and create an environment for entrepreneurship and innovation. A smart city enables people and systems to work together to allow people to design how they want to live, work, and socialize, and use resources more efficiently and sustainably. Smart cities are not isolated as they will be able to connect with other smart infrastructure across the country and the world.

Looking at the broader segment, what is your assessment of Oman as a tourist destination?
We will see more investment from the private sector in hospitality as well as growth in the number of SMEs servicing the tourism sector. OMRAN has been a major driver of new hotels in Oman and has opened up some strategic locations such as Jebel Akhdar, Musandam, and Salalah, which were identified in the 2040 Strategic Tourism Plan as focus areas for tourism growth. Private companies are now beginning to develop these areas, which means the government can use its resources in new areas. The government has given a lot of confidence to investors by investing in key infrastructure, including tourism anchors like the OCEC complex and ITCs. Oman is now looking at implementing a more convenient “one-stop shop" approach to provide investors with the kind of market information that will help them arrive at an appropriate investment decision.

What are the major trends in Oman, and how are you incorporating them in your asset management strategy?
Asset management looks at how our assets engage the tourism sector more. For this reason, our asset management strategy is both financial and experiential, since our hotels need to create an authentic Omani experience that connects tourists with the local culture, history, and people. We seek to create more in-country value in terms of supplying goods, services, and experiences, and Omani SMEs will play a major part in that push.

Where do we stand in terms of asset privatization in the real estate market?
OMRAN has focused its efforts on the hospitality sector and is now the largest owner of hotels and resorts in Oman. OMRAN has been developing new hotels and renovating old properties to create value and make them attractive for the private sector. Our preferred option is to create a new investment company that will own the largest and best hotel assets and then sell 49% of the shares to both local and regional investors. In three to five years, our plan is to launch is an IPO and be listed on Muscat Securities Market. A listed hospitality company would give local and international investors the opportunity to invest in one of the fastest-growing tourism markets in the Middle East.