ROBBIE NASSER

Oman 2021 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Robbie Nasser, General Manager of Ramada Encore by Wyndham – Muscat, about the new hotel in the capital, competitiveness, and the regional hospitality sector.

Why did Al Khaleel Group decide to build a new hotel in Muscat, and what challenges did you face when executing that idea in the middle of a pandemic?

The process of building the Ramada Encore by Wyndham started years ago. Nevertheless, the construction closing phases had their fair share of drawbacks due to the logistical challenges across the globe in 2020, namely a lack of building materials, hiring team members, and many other operational difficulties. On another note, the hospitality industry was deeply affected by the pandemic due to the lockdown, the closure of airports, and travel bans. These factors had a direct impact on occupancy levels and rate structures, which impacted overall revenues. Nevertheless, Al Khaleel Group did not cut any corners in order to construct a landmark for years to come.

What key characteristics of the hospitality industry in Oman did you incorporate into the property and what are the features of the hotel?

Al Khaleel Group always believes the soul of any building remains in the artwork on display in public areas. Wanting to exude and represent the essence of a true Omani, the group was honored to work with a female Omani artist who crafted custom-made paintings for every room of the hotel, in addition to the public areas. Each of these works of art provides a strong Omani flavor in every corner of the hotel and helps communicates the Omani culture and feel to guests. The Ramada Encore Muscat Hotel is a 163-room property with an Italian cuisine specialty restaurant and a craft coffee shop. The rooms are spacious and come with hardwood floors, flatscreen TVs, and a high-tech control panel for the lighting system and air-conditioning. There are also 23 premiere and executive suites, a fully-equipped fitness center, and a rooftop pool. The hotel's location in the middle of the city, in addition to its ease of access to the airport and various government offices and companies, makes it ideal for both business and leisure travelers.

How will the hotel fit within the Muscat hospitality landscape and remain competitive?

With the economic effects of the pandemic on businesses, companies are now looking at significant savings across the board. We have lined up our selling strategies accordingly, giving companies that choose the Ramada Encore Muscat value for their money. We have included breakfast for all companies that sign a corporate rate with us and are providing them with additional benefits such as drop-offs to their local offices in the area, free Wi-Fi, and others. When it comes to international hotel chains branded products, the local market is extremely heavy on upscale and upper upscale properties, which constitute more than 70% of the available rooms inventory. The Ramada Encore by Wyndham is positioned in the upper-midscale categories at an attractive price point for travelers.

What opportunities do you see in the midterm for the regional hospitality industry?

The pandemic brutally ravaged the hospitality sector. In the years to come, new trends will emerge to fill the gap of group travel or conventions that have disappeared. This will mainly come from companies that are reducing their office footprint and will start relying more on convention hotels to conduct quarterly meetings. Some of these businesses will even use the work-from-hotel model to provide a reliable, private office space in lieu of longer rental arrangements. In addition, the work-from-anywhere culture will spur a new type of business travel, where remote working will result in a new source of revenue. Remote employees around the region will increasingly be required to attend company-wide in-person meetings. In some corporations, it will become frequent to address company cohesiveness. On the other hand, a growing segment of travelers are now choosing to take trips closer to home instead of flying. The emphasis will be on safety, sustainability, and profound experiences while getting from point A to B without destroying the climate or the local quality of life in the process. Travelers seek coastal drive-to destinations, as well as wellness and outdoor-oriented rural areas, and cultural experiences within 100 miles of their home. Domestic tourism is not a new concept for the regions, but it will be more relevant in the near future. Finally, the hotel industry has been taking notes from the airline sector's playbook on rebuilding after a pandemic. Services that were once included in the room rate will now be charged on an a la carte basis, especially in economy-scale hotels.

How will technology impact the tourism sector and travelers' patterns in the long-term?

Since 2020, the tourism industry has started focusing on integrating technology for safety and ease of use, namely by reducing the touch points travelers have to go through while on the road. It started with boarding pass scanning from a device at airports to now checking into a hotel through an app and allowing guests to use their phone RFID signals to open up hotel room doors. Ordering a meal on one's phone after browsing through the hotel room service menu all while staying in the room is now a common thing. The industry's digital advancement is looking even brighter with the latest focus on integrating all travel services onto a single platform where flights, car rentals, and accommodations are all interconnected. With one press of a button, one will be able to change their flight, triggering their car rental reservation to shift and match their new flight details coupled with a change in their accommodation arrival time. This will save the consumer multiple logins or calls to work around changes in their schedules or flight cancellations.

How do you expect demand for travelling to evolve in the medium term, and how will that impact your services?

People still want to travel, and being locked up at home for a while has given everyone additional reasons to want to break away. Safety and security measures should continue being at the heart of the guest experience so that they feel confident returning to the same property over and over again. With the easing of restrictions and the vaccines rollout, tourism will return slowly but surely. We anticipate a better recovery in 4Q 2021 and much better perspectives for the beginning of 2022.