LIVING, BREATHING HOTELS

Qatar 2016 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hamad Abdulla Al Mulla, CEO of Katara Hospitality, on developing properties while maintaining their heritage.

How would you describe the overall strategy of Katara Hospitality?

With 45 years of experience as an international hotel owner, developer, and operator, Katara Hospitality has always been at the forefront of the industry. Our goal is to leave an outstanding legacy for the future generations and to use our resources and expertise to invest in heritage properties around the world, each of which represents both a legacy and a future. Following the success we have achieved in 2014 and throughout 2015, we are now focusing on our next strategic target of expanding our portfolio of iconic hotels to 60 properties by 2026. We take immense pride and pleasure in rejuvenating historically iconic hotels, restoring them to their former glory, and ensuring their hospitality heritage is secured. One of our foremost priorities is ensuring maximum possible returns for a wide range of stakeholders; investors, operating partners, employees, and the guests at our hotels. This strategy has positioned us as an international forerunner in the hospitality sector, and earned us recognition as an organization that is pushing the boundaries of industry excellence.

How do you balance international expansion with domestic expansion?

We are very focused on international expansion. Simultaneously, however, we intend to maintain our position as a market leader in Qatar, while encouraging private investors to participate in building a solid hospitality network within the country. We are always looking to invest in a collection of unique properties in key sought-after international locations while partnering with some of the world's finest hotel brands, ensuring they are aligned with our ethos and brand values. We acquire and further invest in properties that have set the standards in the industry, as we work to create an enviable portfolio of iconic hotels around the globe.

What regions of the world are of major focus for expansion for Katara Hospitality and how does this reflect the macroeconomic conditions affecting these international regions?

Europe remains a key part of our focused international expansion. Our European presence continues to be strong and next year will see the opening of several iconic hotels. With properties in UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, we expect to invest in other markets in the Mediterranean countries. North America is also a possibility and we intend to further expand in Asia. The year 2015, we added The Westin Excelsior Rome, The Peninsula Paris and Excelsior Hotel Gallia, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Milan to our global portfolio, which brings us to a total of 35 properties in operation or under development.

What is the significance of the recent opening of Katara Hospitality's Peninsula Hotel Paris to the overall growth of the company?

The Peninsula Paris is an iconic property, not just in Paris but globally and is an asset to our growing portfolio. The opening is hugely significant for us as the property offers the quintessence of the French culture with state-of-the art services in iconic locations. Our guests visiting us from Middle East are very interested in cultural as well as historical heritage and look today for a holistic experience with tailored services in the most exclusive locations. France is renowned for its cultural heritage and has given the world fabulous cuisine, amazing artists, unique fashion trends, and memorable monuments. Middle East travelers appreciate this subtle mix of history, “Art de Vivre," and luxury sophistication, which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Europe on the whole has strong appeal as an aspirational holiday destination for travelers owing to the diverse and high quality of its tourism offering with the added appeal of cross-country travel. This is why Europe is a key focus for our international growth and The Peninsular Paris is a key property in our expansion journey.

What does this say about Katara Hospitality's ability to acquire key real estate and landmark buildings internationally and the company's attitude toward the local community?

Katara Hospitality invests in heritage properties that have set the standards in the industry worldwide. Our aim is to develop a portfolio of exceptional properties that are celebrated hospitality icons in key global markets. We aspire to create exceptional legacies that are aligned with our commitment to preserving heritage. We take immense pride and enjoy the challenge of converting buildings that carry history into splendid hospitality complexes. Our focus is not limited to acquiring iconic hotels; we also create hospitality icons by turning assets that were designed for other purposes into true hospitality gems. The Tazi Palace in Tangier, for example, was originally designed to become a royal residence and will be transformed into a luxurious palace hotel. A beautiful palace hotel will be created within the building shell and an extension has been tastefully added to complement the historic building refurbishment. We always ensure that we are respectful to local communities. We do this by preserving the heritage of these properties rather than re-inventing the wheel, so that they can remain very much part of local heritage.

What are your expectations for the year ahead?

We are well positioned for another successful year as we now focus on our next strategic target of expanding our portfolio of iconic hotels. We will continue with our expansion in some of the world's leading international destinations, while also further strengthening our footprint in Qatar. In Qatar, we are currently building the iconic Katara Towers in Doha's up-and-coming Lusail Marina District. An architectural translation of Qatar's country seal, the hospitality complex will host a five-star luxury hotel, a five-star ultra-luxury hotel, and branded apartments. The property, expected to open in 2018, will also offer facilities such as a man-made satellite beachfront island. As we expand the operator side of our business, we will open seven new hotels that are currently in the final stages of development. The recently launched Murwab Hotel Group, our standalone operations arm headquartered in Qatar, will become a key focus for our organization over the coming months alongside our core business of hotel asset management.