Ritz-Carlton plans to double Middle East hotels by 2014

By Claire Ferris-Lay  www.arabianbusiness.com

Luxury hotel chain Ritz-Carlton plans to increase the number of properties it operates in the Middle East to 24 by 2014, its head of worldwide operations said Tuesday.

Ritz-Carlton hotelThe luxury hotelier is in talks with a number of developers for properties in Abu Dhabi and Oman and plans to use The Ritz-Carlton Riyadh as a springboard for expansion in Saudi Arabia.

“The whole idea is to double the size of the existing hotels and grow even further; be in the major cities and then go to the secondary cities,” Bob Kharazmi, global officer, worldwide operations for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, told Arabian Business.

Plans for new hotels in Muscat and Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi are under negotiation with investors. The company is scheduled to open its third UAE property, The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, in late 2011.

“We are in conversation with Oman in Muscat, to be able to have one or two hotels there,” said Kharazmi. The chain is also eying a second property on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island.

“We are conversation [at the moment]. Whoever is interested in the name of Ritz-Carlton we are in conversations with them,” he said.

The move would see Ritz-Carlton go head-to-head with fellow luxury chains Park Hyatt and St Regis. Both brands are scheduled to open hotels on the Abu Dhabi island later this year.

Consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle warned Sunday that hotels in the UAE capital may struggle for occupancy until key tourism attractions, such as The Louvre and Guggenheim museums, open; a view dismissed by Kharazmi.

Abu Dhabi is a part that is going to grow absolutely rapidly,” he said. “There is no concern. With the [political] concerns around the rest of the Middle East a lot of businesses are coming to Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well, so no concerns from that side.”

The US operator, which is owned by Marriott International, will open its first property in Saudi Arabia this year in a bid to tap into the kingdom’s underserved tourism market.

The wealthiest Gulf state plays host to millions of religious tourists each year, who flock to the kingdom to undertake the pilgrimages hajj and umrah.

“Absolutely [we see more hotels in Saudi Arabia],” said Kharazmi. “Jeddah is another part we would like to have and outside of Riyadh there are a lot of golf courses, great amenities that we also be involved in.”

Ritz-Carlton has six hotels operational in the Middle East and a further six under construction.

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