After having established its Middle Eastern presence for 12 years, Singaporean-owned and London-listed international group Millennium & Copthorne is set to enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).
In a press conference at the Gulf Incentives, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition, which has wrapped up a three-day run this week in Abu Dhabi, Ali Hamad Lakhraim Alzaabi, president and chief executive of Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, Middle East and Africa, announced: "We have approached about 20 properties that are to be opened in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; they are full-fetched under construction."
Lakhraim added that the hotel group has been focusing on its expansion to the oil-rich Arab state in the last three years, and that together with United Arab Emirates (UAE) it will be the driving force of the region's hospitality development.
"Our plan in KSA today stands at 20 properties; we are, however, expanding this in next two years to probably surpass 30 hotels. We have current negations with certain groups to finalise plans in KSA."
To show its commitment to the market, Lakhraim said, has obtained relevant licenses from Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) to establish a branch as a foreign company in the country to manage its properties there, with corporate headquarters in Jeddah and a sub-office in Riyadh for sales purposes.
Jeddah, the gateway to Mecca and Medina, two of the holiest cities to Muslims around the world, is underserved by hotels, Lakhraim said.
"I don't recall any company that has done what we have done in the past 50 years," Lakhraim enthused, adding that the group's presence in the region is now comparable to many major international brands.
When asked about whether travelers from other parts of Asia would make up a big part of the expected clientele of the group's KSA properties, Lakhraim pointed out that Millennium and Copthorne's Singapore connection means there is already well established brand recognition in Southeast Asia. "We are strong in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and China – we have a massive expansion in the Chinese market."
While Malaysia and Indonesia are naturally good sources of religious tourists because of share Muslim faith, visitors to KSA from China are more likely to be business travellers.
Last week, Saudi Arabia and China signed four agreements to facilitate investments and strengthen bilateral cooperation, in areas that include the political, economic, industrial, scientific and technological fields.
Millennium and Copthorne manages numerous hotels across the Gulf region, with three properties in Abu Dhabi, four in Dubai, three in Doha, and others in Sharjah, Oman, Jordan, Kuwait and Iraq. Eleven new Gulf hotels under the group are to open in the next 18 months, with four of them in KSA, namely Millennium Hotel Tabouk, Millennium Hotel Hayel, Millennium Jizan and Copthorne Hotel Nobola Makkah.