Dubai With its first hotel coming up in Abu Dhabi next year, Oetker Collection, the European luxury hotel chain, is eyeing a range of masterpiece hotels across the Middle East in the coming years and have initiated talks with potential partners in the region, according to a senior company executive.

"The Oetker Collection plans up to 10 hotels within the next 10 years in carefully selected destinations across the Middle East and Europe. We are currently in negotiations with prospective partners across the region, and definitely Dubai is not ruled out," Samir Daqqaq, Oetker Collection's senior vice-president-Development for Middle East and Africa, told Gulf News in an interview.

"We have aggressive growth plans in the Middle East and Africa region, which remains one of the fastest growing markets in tourism sector," he added.

The company's first property in the region — Palais Namaskar, is set open in April this year in Marrakesh, Morocco. This will be followed by the opening of Le Bristol Abu Dhabi next year, to be built in close partnership with National Corporation for Tourism and Hotels at a cost of Dh600 million. It would be complemented by a second 200-room property on Saadiyat Island, to be managed by Oetker Collection, with the company having signed an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding).

"We are looking everywhere — Dubai, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Istanbul, Beirut and other cities. The Middle East is synonymous with luxury and there is a great potential in the region for the bespoke luxury we are bringing in," said Daqqaq.

Arab Spring impact

Asked how the Arab Spring impacted company's plans in the region, Daqqaq said: "For us, the Arab Spring in some Middle Eastern countries has been primarily a ‘wait-and-watch' period. We are still closely monitoring the situation and how the various economies have reacted to the revolution.

He added that there is no dearth of potential in the Middle East and that the group is "extremely prudent" in choosing the market where it wishes to expand its masterpiece portfolio. "The Oetker Collection hotels need passionate owners and not someone who looks at profit and loss statements," he said.

Further, the economic and political turmoil did not result in any project cancellations for the group. "The reason why the region has managed to cushion the effect of the economic recession is due to the sound fundamentals of the economies here and the governments' commitment to ensure a sustainable business-friendly climate," said Daqqaq, adding that the hospitality sector is "resilient" to the econ-omic downturn.

"We feel the time is right for us to gear up for expansion so that we are ready to take advantage of the opportunities in the future. The tourism and hospitality business will be key drivers of growth in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the years to come," he added.

Dubai Asked if the luxury hotels segment in Dubai had reached a saturation point, Daqqaq said: "It would not be appropriate to say that Dubai market is saturated, especially in the context of Oetker Collection offering. And I believe the range of latest attractions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are meant to attract the new generation of luxury travellers."

Offering uber-luxury, tariffs at Oetker Collection hotels range from ¤500 (Dh2,395) to ¤16,000 for a very large suite, said Daqqaq. "We have an average of 2.6-2.8 employees per room. Take Le Bristol in Paris where we have 190 rooms, and we have over 550 employees … an average employee-to-room ratio in a five star hotel is about 1.2," he explained, adding that this does not dent the revPAR (revenue per available room- an industry benchmark for performance).