SOFITEL, the luxury brand of French Hotel Group Accor has reinforced its presence in the Middle East with the opening of a new regional office that will oversee operations in the Middle East and Africa (MEA), an area which includes Indian Ocean with two current properties in Mauritius.
Over the last two years, the brand has opened hotels in Bahrain, Cairo, Al Khobar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Mauritius. The growth plans continue with more hotels in the pipeline including two in Dubai – on Palm Jumeirah, scheduled to open later this year and in Downtown Dubai, a 350-room hotel close to Burj Khalifa, also scheduled to open by the end of 2013. Another strategic opening will be for a new hotel in Riyadh, scheduled to be operational in 2015. Sofitel is also planning to open properties in Qatar and Kuwait in the next few years.
Leading the way for the MEA operations is recently appointed senior vice president Sami Nasser, whose current focus will be on the operations, distribution and marketing of the new upcoming hotels in the region.
“A key element of our marketing plans will include our marketing plans in Arabic, specifically for the GCC market. And then of course to further develop our presence in the region. Our vision is to increase brand value and pursue targeted development in keys cities and major tourist destinations ultimately attaining a total of 150 hotels by 2015 in the world,” said Nasser.
“Africa is another key market for development. We are looking to open a Sofitel in Abidjan later this year followed by a second one in Morocco in 2014. With these two hotels we will take the number of hotels in Africa to 10 properties.”
“Next on our target is South Africa where we are looking to once again reinstate our presence,” added Nasser.
Speaking about business at the hotels, Nasser points out that while traditional markets like Europe suffered business new markets have kept business going. “Guests from markets like India and Russia are increasing in numbers which has been interesting.
“In the UAE, GCC continues to remain our strongest source market with international guests’ arrivals from Brazil, China and India seeing very strong growths.”
“Dubai of course did very well for itself. This may have been because of all the unrest in the region but also because of what Dubai is doing in terms of marketing and promotion across various segments like shopping, sports, art or events,” he added.
Nasser added that in 2012 the Sofitel Jumeirah Beach Residence recorded occupancy rates of over 80 per cent. With exception flight connections offered by Emirates he expects this to growth further in 2013.
Location remains a key element for the Sofitel brand. “Be it our property on JBR or the upcoming properties on the Palm Jumeirah – which a leisure tourist favourite or Downtown – for corporate travellers, we try to offer the best possible options for our guests.”
Bahrain is another market that performed much stronger as compared to the year before. “As a city, Bahrain hasn’t recovered its tourism market 100 per cent but having the Formula One last year helped immensely and we expect this year’s edition to further boost arrivals into the city.
“What is surprising is that it hasn’t stopped hotels from opening doors and there will be more rooms added this year. This is a good sign and is a sign of stability. We are very positive about the city,” Nasser further added.
Likewise Nasser is exceptionally positive about Egypt. “We have six hotels in Egypt and have faced some tough times in that market but we expect to see things turnaround for the better in the near future.
“Overall we are very confident about the Middle East market,” he added.
Looking ahead, Nasser adds that the focus will continue to remain on people, on diversity.
“This is very important for us at Sofitel. My target is to see more female management staff in our hotels. Diversity in general makes the company perform better,” said Nasser.
Sofitel also launched a new revamped website sofitel.com recently, accessible now in various languages including Arabic. “Our guest rooms and meeting rooms are state-of-the-art with technological facilities and this is something we plan to continue to adapt as we open our new properties,” he further added.
“Sofitel luxury hotels have achieved a monumental switch to becoming a great luxury brand proposition over the past six years; I look forward to having the opportunity to build on the strong foundation of the chain’s vision, driving the company’s regional growth creating the finest international French luxury Hotel Brand,” he added.
There are 120 Sofitel hotels in 40 countries across North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Middle East and Africa, and Asia Pacific. Sofitel expects to open hotels in China, Germany, Ukraine and Singapore in 2013 and 2014.