Marc Descrozaille, the newly-appointed President for Movenpick Hotels & Resorts for Middle East & Africa region during an interview at the Movenpick Ibn Battuta Gate hotel, Dubai. Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

DUBAI: When Marc Descrozaille is not busy laying down future growth plans for Swiss hotel chain Movenpick Hotels & Resorts, he is either taking his private boat out in the Dubai waters, going dune-bashing in the desert or cooking for his friends and family.

And if not that, you will find the newly-appointed President of the hotel’s Middle East & Africa region sitting down with a bunch of young minds brainstorming on how to best adorn their hotels’ “Living Rooms”, or lobbies as they are generally called.

Keeping the needs of the millennials and of the younger generation at the core of its strategy, Movenpick’s plan to transform its hotel lobbies into a living room concept was a brainchild of “Generation Y”.

The Swiss operator recruited a team of Gen-Y employees and entrepreneurs who work together with the company’s executive team as it seeks fresh and innovative ideas on how to attract millennial guests and talent.

“The idea behind Living Rooms originated as they want a casual and an easy interaction with people. A big factor in this regard is the community angle, wherein people want to be in the lobby to be able to connect with others and meet new people,” Descrozaille explained.

“And in this regard, we bring together our designers and people from our Gen-Y committee – which constitutes of young and talented people – together into discussions, so that they can tell us more about the needs of the younger generation, who are our customers of today, and definitely 100 per cent of our customers of tomorrow.

“What they are telling us is that connectivity, community and sociability elements are huge. And we have created a concept around all of these elements for our lobby, which we are calling the ‘Living Room’. This is something which we want to develop and expand on.”

Movenpick is looking at some renovations to establish this concept into its hotels besides building it into some of its upcoming properties in the region as well as global markets.

The company moved its headquarters from Zurich to Dubai around nine months ago in order to expand to Asia and Africa markets. Today it boasts 27 hotels in the Middle East, much more than its home base in Europe, where it has 18 hotels in operation. “Being in Zurich was perceived to be a little too far [for that],” Descrozaille said.

50% revenue from Mideast

It’s thus not surprising that the Middle East accounts for a chunky 50 per cent of Movenpick’s global revenues at present. And the company expects a three per cent jump in revenues from the region this year over last. Asked about future growth, Descrozaille said: “If we could keep a three per cent increase, that’s very good over the next five years. And I am talking about organic growth.”

This year alone, the company plans to open 11 hotels in this market, its highest ever in a year.

Saudi Arabia remains Movenpick’s biggest revenue generator in the region with 11 properties in operation and five under construction. The UAE follows closely with five functional hotels and three more to open by next year - all of them in Dubai.

The plan now is to expand the brand into other emirates.

It’s currently in discussions with regards to a city centre hotel attached to a mall in Umm Al Quwain as well has a resort under construction in Ras Al Khaimah, set to open in 2021.

Movenpick has no presence in Abu Dhabi yet, but is in advanced discussions for opening hotels in the capital. “We are looking in the city centre, on some of the islands and various places including around the Louvre,” Descrozaille said.

Focus on Saudi Arabia

With the Saudi market opening up, hoteliers are sensing a whole new set of opportunities.

“In many ways Saudi Arabia has been big on the map of hotel developers for a few years now because there was a lack of good quality hotels.

“But with the new changes taking place in the Saudi market, such as opening up of the entertainment industry and women driving etc, it creates new opportunities which we want to embrace,” Descrozaille said.

With 11 hotels already in operation there, Movenpick has a number of properties coming up in Riyadh and Jeddah as well as some secondary cities. It will have five more hotels opening in three years’ time in the kingdom. “It’s the kind of place, where we will need to have more hotels. There are a lot of opportunities,” Descrozaille said.

Regional challenges

Like for most businesses, the main challenge to growth in the region for Movenpick is geopolitical tensions, according to Descrozaille.

The company had to put on backburner a couple of properties in the affected markets as a result. “We will be careful not to enter markets that are extremely unstable. There are places where war started and thus Movenpick had to shut down its hotels such as in Yemen,” he said. In Syria, meanwhile, the company had a site on which construction started before the war broke out and it has been put on hold since.

“However, we are ready to reopen as soon as it’s perceived as safe enough. We are also getting into places which, two or three years ago, nobody wanted to consider, for instance, Basra,” he said.