ANDREW HUMPHRIES

Qatar 2021 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Andrew Humphries, Acting Chief Executive Officer of Katara Hospitality, about facing the pandemic, luxury hotels in Qatar, and the FIFA World Cup 2022.

Despite the pandemic, Katara has announced that new hotels will be opened. How would you classify these new openings?

50% of our hotels are in Qatar. We are an international hospitality real estate owner, and specifically for Qatar we have a diverse portfolio, including some major projects that are ongoing or recently opened. The most recent hotel that we have opened is Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas, which will be a cornerstone of the 2022 hotels. It is the first real resort in the country. The other beach hotels are all in the city, so they are a mix of corporate and leisure. However, Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas is the first true resort in the country and is a spectacular addition to the landscape. It opened in January 2021 and will be a major draw for the international tourist market. Again, that is something that is relatively new to Qatar, so it is a groundbreaking resort. We also have what was the Gulf Hotel under full refurbishment, which is an extremely large project close to the airport. It will reopen in 2022 and will be a great addition. It is an excellent location, near the airport, and it will be a major World Cup venue because of its proximity to one of the stadiums. Then, we have the Lusail Twin Towers, which are in effect two hotels in one. There is the Fairmont Hotel in one tower and a Raffles Hotel in the other, and both are Accor brands, so we are extremely excited to be moving ahead with those. Those will be handing over construction by 1Q2022, and both hotels will open around July 2022 well in time for the World Cup. Those two hotels and that destination will be the VIP hotels for FIFA, so we are extremely proud of that too.

How was the idea put together, and how will this hotel complement the already luxurious existing hotel landscape in Qatar?

The concept has always been to have two hotels, one in each tower, with one larger with about 361 rooms and a much smaller one of about 132 suites only. They are both brands that sit underneath Accor. Fairmont typically operates larger luxury hotels, and the larger hotel fits perfectly in there. There is no Fairmont currently in Qatar, though it is a strong brand in the Middle East. Raffles is relatively new to the Middle East, though it is a true luxury brand. We own the Raffles in Singapore, the parent hotel that started it all many years ago, and we also have two other Accor hotels in Paris and New York. We know the brand well and are extremely comfortable and pleased with our collaboration with Accor. The fit was excellent for those two brands into this one property in a flagship location in Qatar.

Qatar was the guest country for the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, where Katara Hospitality had a significant present as part of the Qatari delegation. What potential does Russia have as a destination for tourism investments?

The potential is there. Hotels, for us, are lifetime investments, and we acquire hotels with that in mind. As a Qatari company and a shareholding company of the Qatar Investment Authority, we do not really dispose often, as we buy special assets and retain them for the long term. Therefore, whatever investments we make they need to be carefully thought through and be the right ones. Coming to Russia is an option for us, as we have not been there before and have not looked seriously at the Russian market. The two key cities we would look at would be St. Petersburg and Moscow. It is a first step in a journey, but it is an exciting one.

How is Katara Hospitality preparing for the final run up to the FIFA World Cup 2022?

We are involved in the FIFA projects, and completing those projects is key for us to deliver some of the hotels that the country needs. All these projects will be ready for the World Cup. Delivering those is key, and our focus is mostly on that. We are working with some of the key hospitality providers that provide hospitality within the stadiums pre and post-match to provide some of their catering services. Overall, we are working closely with the Supreme Committee, and we are one of the key supporters of the World Cup. We need to deliver on behalf of the country. Our real focus is getting these projects done and being fully ready for the World Cup and beyond. Post World Cup, we also have a big focus in the coming years because there will be a significant supply of hotel rooms in the market. We need to make sure our businesses are right sized for that as well. It will be a big transition from being full and having that entire infrastructure working and then being much quieter for the initial period after the World Cup.