Elie Milky, Vice President Development, Radisson Hotel Group, Middle East, Cyprus, Greece and Pakistan, is responsible for driving expansion opportunities and leading Radisson Hotel Group’s strategic growth and hotel portfolio across his territories. His responsibility is to grow the Group’s regional portfolio to over 100 hotels and 20,000 rooms by 2020 across each of Radisson Hotel Group’s core brands: Radisson Blu, Radisson, Park Inn by Radisson, Radisson Individuals, Radisson RED and Radisson Collection.
A Lebanese national, Elie has almost 16 years’ experience in development and asset management with international hospitality consultants, as well as a global hotel operator. Elie was formerly part of the HVS team based in London and in Dubai, where his focus was on conducting feasibility studies, valuations, ROI analyses and strategic advice. He joined Radisson Hotel Group in 2010 as Business Development Manager quickly rising to his current VP role within the organisation. His ability to forge enduring cross-cultural relationships has proven to be a key attribute in a career that has included mandates for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Elie has a BA in Hospitality Management & Tourism from Notre Dame University in Lebanon and an MBA in International Hospitality Management specialising in Hotel Real Estate and Finance from the renowned IMHI – ESSEC Business School in Paris.
A passionate hotelier, he began his career almost 20 years ago in hotel operations immersing himself in all facets of hotel management before specialising in hotel real estate, finance, and development.
Radisson Hotel Group has been extensively expanding across the Middle East – even amid the challenging global climate – what is in the pipeline for 2022/2023?
While many hotel groups have put their development plans on hold, we and our investors, remain committed to our ambitious five-year plan and our mission to be recognised as one of the top three hotel companies in the world and the group of choice for owners, guests, and talent. Agility and flexibility, while still delivering the profitability needed, are going to be critical for everybody to succeed.
Despite the ongoing challenges, the Middle East – and especially Saudi Arabia – thrives with opportunities. The Middle East is a key development area and our ambitions across the region have remained the same. In the past months we have announced the opening of the Radisson Hotel Dubai Damac Hills and the Radisson Blu Hotel, Riyadh Qurtuba. Looking ahead at Q3 and Q4, we aim to open three additional hotels in Riyadh as well as announce our entry into Ras Al Khaimah with the 408-key Radisson resort.
We expect 2022 and 2023 to witness more signings and openings as we tap into various conversion opportunities in the market, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Please tell us more about your industry outlook. Are you seeing a recovery and, if so, what would you advise potential investors who are looking at delving further into this domain?
Like a shaken snow globe, the post-COVID-19 landscape may be as good or even better than it was before the pandemic. One key opportunity as the tourism and hospitality sectors continue looking to innovation is capitalising on emerging consumer trends in order to cater to changing needs and demands.
As from an investor’s perspective, the recovery is more prominent in certain types of hospitality models across various markets, with resorts and serviced apartments leading the way during the pandemic and as we recover from the pandemic. My advice to investors is to not only focus on these resilient models which have been the most successful, but to also look at markets in the region that still lack basic hotel supply across all segments.
Pockets of opportunities remain across the Middle East for various product types, and we’re happy to sit down with owners to help identify the optimal investment opportunity in each market and location.
Which Radisson brands are the most successful in this market and which ones would you say have the most potential across the Middle East – specifically in Saudi Arabia?
We see the upscale Radisson as well as the upper upscale Radisson BLU brands as the most successful in the region as they lead our signings and openings portfolio in the region. These brands sit in the 4-star and entry-level 5-star categories where most of the opportunities remain today as the industry develops in the region. In Saudi Arabia, many locations and cities remain under-supplied, which gives rise to these two brands to enter these markets before we start considering our other brands.
Park Inn by Radisson remains attractive for portfolio deals in several locations as it competes in the midscale category, while we see select but very attractive opportunities for our lifestyle select Radisson RED brand mainly in Riyadh and in Jeddah.
Our premium Radisson Collection brand offers select opportunities with key partners and in prime locations across the Kingdom. Radisson Collection operates in Riyadh today with the luxury retreat, Nofa Resort, and with the planned opening of Mansard Riyadh of almost 200 keys later this year.
Radisson Individuals is a very interesting brand – can you tell us a bit more about its approach?
For us at Radisson Hotel Group our focus remains on adjusting our short- and long-term plans to cope with the rapid changes, allowing us to find proactive solutions for our owners and investors. Over the past months we have continued to work towards becoming more relevant to changing owner needs and to remaining one of the best conversion-friendly partners in the industry.
Radisson Individuals is our response to a market that is becoming relatively mature and as a conversion solution for unique, independent hotels and serviced apartments looking to benefit from a brand affiliation. It is also for owners looking to brand their properties under one of our core brands, where they could benefit from our affiliation while they undergo a renovation.
We are seeing plenty of serviced apartments popping up across the region, and many in Saudi Arabia, what is the appeal and how has Radisson joined this important industry trend?
Serviced apartments remain at the heart of our expansion drive, not only in the Middle East but across EMEA. That’s our group strategy since we recently launched and formalized this proposition for our investors, a product we have had in our portfolio for 20 years. Our competitive value proposition offering an attractive development cost, real estate efficiency, state-of-the-art design, strategic positioning, and high profitability margins is already starting to gain interest from investors in the market.
The COVID-19 pandemic was further proof of the resilience of this hospitality model as the product remained profitable amid lockdowns and airport closures, while many hotels lost money. Investments poured into this sector as investors saw the lower risks associated with the product when compared to conventional hotels.
There have been plenty of discussions over a possible drop in investor/owner interest in the industry in the wake of the pandemic. What are your views on this topic?
I personally have not seen a drop in investor interest overall. It may be a temporary drop in building a new hotel in a saturated market, or another 5-star in a market flooded with 5-star city hotels. There may have been delays in openings, but that is mostly driven by airport closures leading to supplies and equipment not reaching the hotels on time, and by waiting for the lockdowns to be lifted.
What I have seen is these investors are rushing to open properties to benefit from the post-pandemic boom. More investments are going into resorts and serviced apartments, as these products lead the recovery across regions. More independent operations are looking now more than ever to brand their hotels as a result of the standards, hygiene and distribution reach brands offer.