Asian-based hotel chains are finding fertile ground for expansion in Middle Eastern and African urban hubs, particularly Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Jeddha and Cairo.
Mandarin Oriental, which just announced the management of a new luxury resort and branded residences on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, joins a small but growing circle of adventurous operators that include Dusit, Shangri-La, Banyan Tree, Centara and Anantara.
Leading Thai brand, Dusit, was the first to enter the region in 2001, opening Dusit Thani Hotel Dubai (pictured), the first of its current four properties in the United Arab Emirates gateway. Its portfolio also consists of Dusit Residences Dubai Marina, Pearl Coast Premier Hotel Apartments Dubai and Dusit Princess City Centre Dubai, which opened in December of last year. It has even gone as far as Cairo with the Dusit Thani Lake View. It continues to cut an aggressive growth swathe with the Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi (2011) and the latest management trophy, Dusit Thani Jeddha (2013).
Close competitor, Shangri-La, launched Shangri-La Dubai in 2003, followed by the mid-range Traders Dubai in 2004, the Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa in Muscat (Oman) in 2006, Shangri-La Abu Dhabi in 2007 and Traders Abu Dhabi in 2009.
Banyan Tree of Singapore has two resorts in the region, the newly opened Banyan Tree Al Wadi, a 45-minute drive from the Dubai International Airport, and the Banyan Tree Desert Spa and Resort Al Areen, Bahrain. The Banyan Tree Al Gurm in Abu Dhabi and Banyan Tree Sifah in Oman are expected to boost its presence some more when they open 2011 and in 2012 respectively.
Centara, which has only lately started to move out of Thailand with properties in the Maldives and Himalayas in India, is migrating further to Egypt with its Centara Grand Beach Resort & Spa in Ain Sokhna along the Red Sea poised to debut in April.
Anantara, likewise a well-known Thai hospitality name, soft opened last year its second Middle East property, the 150-room Qasr Al Sarab resort in the Rub Khali desert, after the Desert Islands, which are both in Abu Dhabi. Al Madina A’Zarqa, Oman is set to open early next year.
Jennifer Cronin, Dusit International vice-president, sales and marketing, told Business Traveller that "2010 started out more optimistically than we anticipated". She cited their two serviced residences in Dubai – Dusit Residences Dubai Marina and Pearl Coast Premier Hotel Apartments – that had enjoyed a 100 percent occupancy for five nights from February 11 to 15 and its Dusit Thani Dubai which ran at a 100 percent occupancy for two nights from February 14 to 15. "To achieve these strong occupancies in this market, when other markets around the world are softer, gives us hope that we can also do well in the months ahead," she said.
Cronin added that Thai hospitality, promoted by Dusit, appealed to Arab travellers who valued "a warm and gracious welcome". This was the reason that nearly 30 percent of the staff in Dusit's Dubai properties have been Thai. While labour laws in Egypt and Saudi Arabia may not allow as large a number, the chain has adapted by making sure that Thai or Asian individuals will be placed in key guest contact points.