Mohamed Awadalla, CEO TIME Hotels tells Hotel News ME about launching the brand’s first non-hotel F&B concept, new target markets and why mid-market hotels are more popular than ever.
TIME Hotels and Resorts currently manages 11 properties in the Middle East, how well did these properties perform in 2015 and what growth do you expect to see?
2015 was a challenging year for everyone in the Middle East, not just us. Considering the decline in the Russian Ruble, political instability in neighboring countries and the weakening of oil prices, the entire hospitality, leisure and tourism sector felt the impact of these elements. In terms of occupancy at our properties, things haven’t been too bad. Sometimes the issue comes with the average room rate. We have to drop prices to remain competitive in the market, but you can cover the losses from room rates with F&B offerings, leisure packages and voucher deals.
In 2015 overall, I would say we maintained a steady level of business, each of our properties cater to a different market, so by their own standards they are performing well.
What are the key factors driving demand/occupancies at your properties and what are your key source markets for business?
TIME operates mid-range, non-alcoholic properties across the region, they are primarily business focused hotels but have the added benefit of being situated ideally close to main retail centres. Our apartment hotels are perfect for short term family leisure breaks, such as weekends and Eid breaks, and of course the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) and. Another factor is that low cost airline carriers such as flyDubai and Air Arabia are expanding rapidly around the region, driving in even more travellers including GGC families looking for value.
What areas of the UAE and the region will be your target going forward and why?
There is a growing demand not only in the UAE, but across the Gulf, especially in Saudi Arabia for new value brands with a quality pedigree from respected operators. One which travellers can trust to deliver on cost, comfort and connectivity.
TIME represents mid-scale brands, what potential is there for this type of property in the region and how will your upcoming properties cater to pent-up demand in this respect?
We believe that demand for mid-scale hotels within the region will grow more quickly than any other segment, especially the luxury segment. Middle East businesses and indeed business travelers are mindful of budgets and in many cases prefer non-alcoholic accommodation, which not only represent value for money, but are culturally comforting. In addition, TIME appeals to price sensitive markets such as transiting airline passengers and stopover budget tour groups, especially those looking for little more than a hearty meal and some last minute shopping.
Which factors would you say are driving demand forward for more budget and mid-scale hotels across the UAE?
Government initiatives and Expo 2020 are driving factors. With Expo expected to bring in over 20 million visitors are just a few of the factors which will drive demand going forward. Many experts see the mid-scale hotel sector holding the greatest growth potential, especially apartment hotels. There is also the factor of providing a wholesome family offering, where quality 4-star accommodation combined with the convenience of being located within walking distance to the metro, shopping malls and other family entertainment venues, will always drive demand.
Why is Saudi Arabia a key focus for TIME?
We are very popular with travellers from Saudi Arabia and we have seen an increase in visitors from the region because of the situation in Lebanon and Egypt, people from Saudi are choosing to come to Dubai now instead of their usual holiday in Egypt or Lebanon. We are also seeing an increase in visitors from Kuwait and Qatar, the European visitors remain stable.
There has been much buzz in the industry about Iran, are there any plans for TIME Hotels and Resorts to venture into the region?
Iran is an interesting market, we will look into the region and do an intensive market survey, I do see a big opportunity for us in Iran as we don’t serve alcohol and we already know how to turn over profits without beverage revenue, with Iran being a dry country, I see no reason why we couldn’t be extremely successful there, it is a promising market.
TIME Hotels recently launched its first non-hotel F&B outlet, O’Leary’s, why was the decision taken to open this venture?
O’Learys was founded by Jonas Reinholdsson, a Swedish restaurateur, inspired by the Bostonian restaurants where people came to watch games and to share their passion for sports. The Middle East is a prime target market for O’Learys, and with a proven concept and multi-segment consumer appeal we selected Fujairah Mall for our first outlet. We see further opportunities to place O’Learys in key high traffic, high value locations across the UAE. O’Learys is a great family venue, ideal for the young and the young at heart. If you just want to kick back and relax, there’s a multitude of TV screens showing US and international sports galore. For the kids and those ‘really big’ kids, there’s go-karting, Laser tag and of course, a menu of honest to goodness dishes.