Following a significant downturn triggered by the onset of COVID-19, the global hospitality sector has undergone a robust recovery in the past 12 months. Hotel occupancy rates are gradually returning to levels observed before the pandemic, and there is a notable uptick in sector investment, with global transaction volume surging by 131% year-on-year to reach $66.8 billion in 2021, according to JLL. Among the markets demonstrating a noteworthy resurgence is the Middle East, and Guy Hutchinson, the President and CEO of Rotana Hotels, holds optimistic expectations for both his company and the region.
“The pace of recovery has been nothing short of fantastic,” asserts Hutchinson, whose company oversees a portfolio of 68 properties across the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. He further emphasizes that this region is evidently spearheading the global recovery in the tourism and travel industry.
Rotana’s home country, the UAE, is particularly thriving. Government data reveals that the Emirates attracted nearly 8.3 million hotel guests and achieved a 62% hotel occupancy rate in the first half of 2021. Hutchinson attributes the success of the UAE and the broader region to strong government leadership and world-class infrastructure. He underscores the importance of actively engaging with government stakeholders, recognizing their significant impact on the industry.
In addition to fostering engagement, the president-CEO details how he and his team are diligently reinstating the core principles of quality and service that the GCC is renowned for. Concurrently, they are investing in and fortifying the company’s workforce – the driving force behind Rotana’s expansion across the region. Another pivotal factor fueling growth for the Abu Dhabi-based company has been the much-anticipated Expo 2020 Dubai. Hutchinson explains, “It came at a time when pent-up travel demand was at its peak. So, we had to rapidly ramp up operations from that point.”
While managing an influx in demand, Rotana’s leadership remains committed to the company’s sustainability initiatives. Hutchinson emphasizes that sustainability is no longer a peripheral concern; it has become an integral aspect of business operations. Ahead of the curve, Rotana initiated the elimination of single-use plastics in its hotels several years ago. The company has also implemented water bottling plants, introduced sustainable produce in its UAE hotels, and incorporated sustainability into the design and construction of its properties. Hutchinson insists, “Sustainability is a tremendously important part of how we operate and will operate going forward.”
Certainly, growth is a crucial aspect, and Hutchinson is encouraged by the developments observed. He particularly highlights the swift reengagement of the development community with the sector since the pandemic. “We’re witnessing new properties emerge in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Additionally, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have emerged as two very important markets for us,” he notes, adding that Rotana has established development offices in both Cairo and Riyadh.
However, growth is not the sole focus. Hutchinson remains ever mindful that Rotana’s investment partners have weathered a global pandemic. For the company’s president and CEO, this underscores the need to carefully balance strategy with delivering top-tier returns.
Like its investors, the hospitality sector is emerging from an unprecedented crisis. Yet, if the past year is any indication, the future appears promising.