It has been a record year for the Radisson Hotel Group in the Middle East & Africa as the hotel company announced 21 new hotel signings and seven hotel openings this year – a fastest growing record. Today, with over 100 hotels in operation and 70 under development in the region, Radisson Hotel Group is right on track to reach its target of over 250 hotels in its Middle East & Africa by 2025. The hotels will be spread across key markets such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Egypt and South Africa.
Tim Cordon, Senior Area Vice President, Middle East & Africa at Radisson Hotel Group spoke to ArabiaTravelNews.com about how purpose-driven planning has helped the hotel company transition into its recovery phase and catapult its developmental growth as well as strengthen its commitment to sustainability and technology.
What was the impact of Covid-19 on business globally and in the Mena region?
At Radisson Hotel Group, we are of the firm belief that our purpose must guide every decision we make, and so too with the pandemic. In 2020, many hotels faced closures, furloughs and decreased occupancy. In fact, predictions were that tourism would not recover for at least three years. We knew our reaction to the pandemic would define us – both during and after the crisis. We didn’t know what lay ahead. One thing we did know, however, was that we did not want to actively close hotels or retrench staff. Instead, we focused on our purpose of making every moment matter – for our guests, our hotel owners and staff.
This has not been for naught. In fact, while profit is often seen as secondary to their purpose, purpose-driven businesses outperform their competitors by 42 per cent while 52 per cent of consumers prefer supporting brands that have a well-defined purpose. In 2022, these figures will only increase as people seek meaningful, engaging experiences and interactions, both at home and when they travel.
What are your growth plans for the region? Are you looking at new markets?
Today, we have 46 hotels, resorts and serviced apartments in operation in the Middle East. We will continue to grow across our key markets like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), with a portfolio expected to grow steadily in the coming years.
Our development strategy will see our entry into Ras Al Khaimah with the opening of our first Radisson beach resort, Radisson Resort, Ras Al Khamiah, Marjan Island (this December), and our first property on the Palm Jumeriah in early 2022. We also announced two new hotels in Riyadh -the Radisson Hotel Riyadh Airport and our second Radisson Collection in KSA, Mansard Riyadh, a Radisson Collection Hotel. Morocco is another key market where we have signed seven new hotels, of which five opened during the summer, adding 1600 rooms. Since the start of the pandemic, Radisson Hotel Group has achieved remarkable growth of more than 250 signings worldwide.
You announced strong occupancy in Dubai for Q3. Are these primarily leisure travelers or corporate travelers? What is on the agenda to sustain these numbers?
We have seen a significant boost in both leisure and business travelers lately. Although the leisure segment is still the dominant segment in our hotels it is great to see that corporate travel is returning to our hotels in MEA as well as the demand in MICE business although in different and new formats.
With the UAE and Israel peace deal, we have seen an increase in travelers from Israel, while the US, Germany, UK, and Russian markets remain strong. When the Saudi travel ban on UAE was lifted, KSA returned to be one of our most important markets together with the rest of GCC.
People’s perception of travel has also changed this year – what new travel trends do you see emerging?
Every year travel trends come and go, however, 2021 is set to be one of tourism’s most significant years to date. As the world slowly recovers from COVID-19 and borders gradually start to open, we expect travel to look a little different than it did pre-pandemic.
Bleisure travel (business travel combined with leisure travel) is a hybrid that we see is growing in popularity as the boundaries between work-life distort. For travelers of all ages, hotels are not anymore, a place where you only sleep but it is a place to work, relax, unwind and experience something new.
One thing that all travelers are looking for, is safety and a clean, sanitized hotel environment. In response to this, Radisson Hotel Group has partnered with SGS to develop one of the most robust safety protocols in the hospitality sector, and the only one validated by SGS at a global level. At present all our hotels globally have implemented these protocols. Additionally, brand trust is as vital as ever.
How is RHG positioned to adapt to the new tech-savvy guest ?
At RHG, we are constantly testing new enhancements to enhance our guests’ stay experience. This includes:
Hybrid Solutions: This was created to address the newfound need for a more flexible way of working. The solutions aim to combine the best of in-person and virtual meetings; think, reliable images, sound and video conferencing system, dual screens, wireless presentations to better meet the rapid lifestyle changes of today’s travelers and their evolving expectations when they stay, work and meet in our hotels. These incorporate Hybrid Rooms and Hybrid Meetings and Events, and are currently available at over 100 hotels in EMEA.
Partnership with Zoom: Our partnership with Zoom ensures a smooth experience for our clients’ virtual and hybrid meetings and events by offering a reliable image, sound and video conferencing system, dual screens, wireless presentation clicker, high-speed internet connection, and more.
Hybrid rooms: Hybrid Rooms perfectly combine the facilities of a state-of-the-art office with the comforts of a superior hotel room. Hybrid Rooms offer easy connectivity to second screen devices, video-conferencing facilities, printing services, stationery, quality chairs and desks, unlimited coffee and tea, access to on-site wellness facilities and many other benefits.
In September 2021, to illustrate our capabilities to deliver successful hybrid events, we have organized Radisson Live, a multi-site live broadcast event that took place Live simultaneously at four iconic RHG locations (Dubai, London, Stockholm and Frankfurt) and shared with an audience of over 1,000 remote attendees, conducted as a testament to our support for our clients.
What role does technology play in improving the guest experience, especially in a post-Covid environment?
During the pandemic, technology helped businesses stay in touch with their audiences but in 2022, it will become even more of an essential component of travel. Already, many countries have implemented digital vaccine passports while hospitality and tour operators have embraced contactless check-in and boarding.
The world has become accustomed to using apps for everything from booking accommodation, ordering takeout and hailing a cab, and travel and hospitality companies will soon introduce the ability to order food or services via an app, just as the Radisson Hotels app does. Additionally, I believe that concierge services and virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) capabilities will allow guests to access support via messaging applications and take virtual tours of their hotels and attractions before they even step out of their home or onto an aeroplane.
Today Radisson+ offers our guests access to these services for a flexible, efficient and a personalized experience. This builds on the Radisson RED hotels’ smartphone keyless entry and now allows guests at all Radisson hotels the ability to check-in online, check-in and head straight to their rooms on arrival in the lobby without waiting in line and use our e-concierge and live chat functions to request in-room and other concierge services and make requests during their stay.
How do you ensure the highest standard of service ?
Safety is a priority for everyone and we can all accept that travelers across the globe will continue to be much more aware and careful, even as more countries open up and more people are vaccinated. At Radisson Hotel Group, we’ve implemented the highest possible safety and hygiene protocols across our hotels in partnership with SGS, one of the world’s leading auditing and commissioning companies.
While many establishments will be looking to increase face-to-face events, ensuring your hotel has defined health and safety measures in place and that these are visible to your guests will provide them with assurance throughout their experience and will remain a large factor for many in the sector to get back to business.
RHG has always been committed to hotel sustainability and responsible travel. How has this changed recently?
The trend towards more sustainable travel is nothing new and was initiated and spurred by travelers. In recent years, more travel and tourism operators have realized that sustainability is not only great for the environment, but that it makes good business sense too.
In November, the World Travel and Tourism Council, the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance and leading hotel groups such as Jin Jiang International (Holdings) Co., which owns Radisson Hotel Group, amongst others, introduced the Basic Sustainability framework that will be officially launched in March 2022 and will be accessible to all hotel actors across the world. The framework reinforces and is complementary to the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance’s Pathway to Net Positive Hospitality, which assists hotels to improve their impact on our planet. This not only shows the industry’s move toward best practice but also a move towards a more sustainable future that will ensure our guests can enjoy travel for many years to come.
At Radisson Hotel Group, we’ve already embraced sustainability with our carbon-negative meetings and events that offset double the carbon emissions from meetings and events free of charge.