Guy Hutchinson
What next for Rotana after London entry? The Abu Dhabi hotel operator wants to see the brand's flag in major European destinations. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Heat maps to decide which new market to enter into?

That’s part of the plan as Abu Dhabi headquartered hotel operator Rotana maps out new strategies and places to get into expand its Middle East network. And to which recently it added two new locations – in London.

Editing: Irish Belleza | Video: Virendra Saklani\Supplied | Reporting: Nivetha Dayanand

“London is still one of the tourism capitals of the world,” said Guy Hutchinson, President and CEO of Rotana. “Our guests are travelling there in significant numbers, yet there’s no outlet (of Rotana’s) for them.

“We firmly believe having a Rotana flag in a city like London would have a commercial upside, considering the very loyal following to the brand.”

The scarcity of branded hotel apartments in London further contributed to Rotana’s interest. Earlier this year, Rotana launched two properties under its affordable hotel and serviced apartment brand Centro – the Centro New Malden and Centro Kingston. Rotana also has plans to develop up to 1,500 keys across multiple sites in the greater London region, under Centro.

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Rotana definitely is putting its heat map analyses to good use. (A heat map is a two-dimensional representation of data with values shown by colours. A simple heat map provides an immediate visual summary of information. More elaborate heat maps allow users to understand complex data sets.)

While London serves as an entry point into Europe, Rotana will expand its presence to several Tier-1 European capitals. Rotana aims to replicate the what led to the brand’s success in the UAE, the Gulf and Middle East to European destinations.

The Sarajevo strategy

On choosing London over Asia for an international expansion, Hutchinson clarified that hotel development opportunities are not always a matter of choice but depend on suitable partnerships, projects, and potential value addition.

Rotana’s strategy revolves around destinations that exhibit strong demand from its customer base, creating a value proposition for partner developers.

“We have conducted an initial exercise of heat mapping,” the CEO said. “Sarajevo was a good example - 80 per cent of what’s going into Sarajevo, Bosnia across the summer is out of this region. That’s, that’s why it’s a good place for us to have a brand.”

“We are always quite cautious in terms of how we will look at growth,” said Hutchinson. “We have to maintain the same level of engagement in our hotels that we have today. If the geography becomes too broad, then we lose our point of differentiation as a brand and we lose the value we bring to investors.”

Sticking to Lebanon

Rotana has through the years had an established presence in Lebanon, through each trial and tribulation the country and its economy has been through. Despite the unprecedented challenges the economy faces, he affirmed that the group remains committed to the market and has observed stabilization amid the difficulties.

“We have seen some stabilization even though Lebanon is going through a difficult time,” Hutchinson said. “It’s an incredibly resilient market. We believe in it, and we will not only just stay there, but we would love to see an expansion at some point.”

Saudi remains central to growth

Hutchinson noted that Saudi Arabia has relatively limited hospitality offerings, presenting significant potential that Rotana intends to capitalize on. The company’s initial focus has been on Riyadh, recognizing the growing demand for both business and leisure travel in the city.

The holy cities of Mecca and Medina, with an expected target of 100 million tourists, present more opportunities for Rotana.

Beyond the major urban centres, the group is also interested in exploring the undiscovered parts of Saudi Arabia. The city of Abha in the south, with its landscapes, has caught its attention, and the company plans to introduce three properties there.