Anton Bawab said the fact that Viceroy is a hotel operator and manager rather than an investor or property owner takes away from the risk associated with investing in a new market. Image Credit: Courtesy: Viceroy Group

Abu Dhabi: Talk to economists about Europe and the UK, and they’ll probably tell you how bearish they are about the Brexit, economic growth, and a possible Eurozone crisis. But for Anton Bawab, regional president at Viceroy Hotel Group, there are still opportunities in Europe.

Currently, Viceroy Group is getting to ready to operate a hotel in Algarve, Portugal, with infrastructure work there done, and plans to recruit the executive team there by mid-2017. The group plans to capitalise on the Algarve property as a gateway to enter other key cities in Europe.

“Europe’s capital cities continue to be a big focus for us because entering Europe allows us to position the company in the European market … and allows us to be present in our source markets. So, if I end up with a hotel in London, that allows me not only to position myself as a European hotel but allows me to position myself to the English market, who can then connect to the Viceroy in Abu Dhabi or Portugal,” Bawab said.

The examples he cited of Abu Dhabi and Portugal aren’t coincidental as the UK is indeed one of the largest guest markets for both destinations.

While the Viceroy Group is yet to finalise any deals in European capitals, the company is actively seeking both management and partnership opportunities there.

The fact that Viceroy is a hotel operator and manager rather than an investor or property owner takes away from the risk associated with investing in a new market, Bawab pointed out.

From a global perspective, the regional president for Europe and the Middle East expects Viceroy to open two properties a year in the next few years.

In the Middle East and Africa, the group is currently only present in the UAE with its iconic Yas Viceroy in Abu Dhabi, and will launch a new hotel in Dubai in April 2017.

“We’re looking at markets where we can use the human capital we have in Abu Dhabi. We have a full executive team here. UAE and GCC are the natural markets, so Doha is a great place of interest as is Saudi Arabia. We have a couple of near-definites there.

I’m looking in the Middle East, and I’m looking at opportunities with political stability — I don’t know where that might be now. Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt all have their risks and it all depends on us finding a good partner,” Bawab said.

In 2017, Viceroy will add three hotels to its portfolio; one in Dubai, one in Istanbul, and one in Chicago. The hotel in Istanbul was scheduled for opening in summer 2016 but plans were postponed due to the political unrest in the Turkish city.

Asked if Iran was on the radar for Viceroy, Bawab said he would prefer to see other hotels’ experience in that market first before going in.

That very argument has kept the Iranian market relatively closed so far despite sanctions being lifted earlier this year, with many companies not wanting to take the risk of being the first ones to operate there.