Saudi Arabia 2016 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Badr H. Albadr, CEO of Dur Hospitality Company, working with international investors, enhancing the tourist experience, and being the partner of choice for international firms.

Dr. Badr H. Albadr,
Dr. Badr H. Albadr is the CEO of Dur Hospitality Company, a Saudi joint stock hospitality company established in 1976, recognized for its extensive record in managing, developing and operating a comprehensive portfolio of hotels and residential compounds across the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Before joining Dur, Dr. Albadr was the MD of Cisco Systems Saudi Arabia. He currently sits on the board of directors of a number of companies. He was ranked 25th in the list of top 50 most influential hospitality professionals in the Middle East in 2015 by Hotelier magazine, and 65 on the list of top 100 CEO in the GCC for the year 2016 by TRENDS magazine and INSEAD – international business school.

What is the company's strategy to be the partner of choice for international investors and chains?

Partnerships lie at the heart of our businesses, and as Saudi's most established company in hotel and residential compounds development, our partners can always depend on us to shape the perfect combination of vision, capabilities, knowledge, skills, and resources. Our longstanding relationships and partnerships are key to our past success and future achievements. Together with Marriott, we first introduced five-star hospitality to Saudi Arabia, and we are expanding the scope together with many projects now under discussion. Our franchise agreements, represented by our partnership with IHG, are another example for this; several developments are in the pipeline with our operational arm, Makarem.

What is Makarem and how does it increase tourists' experience?

Makarem Hotels, the Saudi-grown hotel brand designed by Dur Hospitality, specialized in operating in the cities of Mecca and Medina. Makarem addresses the ever changing guests' expectations and needs, whether they are businessmen looking for a strategic location with practical services, or pilgrims seeking guidance and tranquility during their spiritual journey, or families looking for spacious rooms during their holidays. Makarem is always in the process of innovating exclusive services that aim at delivering a world-class hotel experience with a local spirit for travelers coming to Saudi Arabia.

How would you assess the opportunities for the private sector to cooperate with the public sector in the tourism industry in Saudi Arabia?

Vision 2030 stresses the importance of PPPs as a key to sustainability and boosting economic performance. Dur Hospitality recently signed an agreement with GACA for the expansion of the hotel at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh. Our relationship with the airport authority is also a long-standing relationship that we are proud of; it has spanned 25 years now. With the expansion of 20 years, we are implementing our new strategy of rebranding the hotel to an international name, which will be announced soon. We are building 100 rooms, and we are renovating the entire hotel to match the standards of this new brand. In a couple of years' time, it will be a valuable addition to the Saudi hospitality market.

How will the Vision 2030 affect Dur Hospitality?

Tourism is one of the focal points of the government's strategy to strengthen the economy and reduce dependence on oil revenue. Vision 2030 identifies several objectives such as establishing and developing tourism destinations as well as integrated entertainment and the protection, promotion, and awareness of national heritage sites, as well as the development of hospitality facilities and tourism services. These are enough to confirm our commitment to hospitality and the choices that we have made because they are in line with the visions that have been laid out. We see that the government has plans to increase the number of international visitors from 8 million to 30 million, and we already have a focus on Mecca and Medina. We are working toward achieving this vision by providing a larger supply of suitable hospitality for the guests coming to the Kingdom.

Do you have any specific goals or expectations for 2016?

We expect 2016 to be a challenging year due to the global economic conditions and the economic situation of the country, with the economy being tied to the price of oil which is declining. Nevertheless, we have good hopes for 2016 and some of the changes have been to our advantage, for example, commodity prices. The demands of contractors have declined, and we expect to find favorable conditions to continue developing our hotels. We have decided that we have to speed up the pace of our developments in the coming years, even though we are approaching a low business cycle in real estate and hospitality, which are both cyclical sectors. We will continue to invest so that we emerge a leader. We expect to be able to maintain the proper performance of our existing assets, as well as the pace of development.