“We concentrate on authentic Arabian hospitality”

by  — 10 September 2014

‘We are new, yet historic’ may seem like an oxymoron to some, but Hamad Abdulla Al Mulla, chief executive officer, Katara Hospitality disagrees. To him, it is the essence of what the company is all about. In an exclusive interview with The Edge, Al Mulla talks through Katara Hospitality’s business philosophy, which integrates cultural diversity with élan and gives his take on the company’s prospects in light of the 2022 World Cup.

One of the company’s prestigious ongoing projects, mentions Al Mulla, is Katara Towers in the Lusail City district, Doha. The project has 614 rooms including five-star hotel accommodation and one five-star deluxe hotel as well as private offices and residential space.

Katara Hospitality launched its new brand identity and name in 2012. Describing this change, Hamad Abdulla Al Mulla, chief executive officer of Katara Hospitality, points out, “What we got was not merely a new name or brand. We also got a new strategic vision that clearly defined our philosophy and aspirations for the future.”

Explaining the historical context of the company’s name, Al Mulla says, “Our business philosophy can be explained through the etymology of our brand name.  The meaning of Katara – taken from the ancient name for the Qatar peninsula  – is attributed to cartographer Claudius Ptolemaeus in 150 AD.  The name reflects our curiosity to charter new territory and our spirit of discovery.”  

“We are redeveloping iconic, historical properties locally, and in new territories, such as the European and Asian markets.  We are also investing in the future by pioneering architectural and hospitality projects in Qatar and around the world,” says Al Mulla, establishing a connection between the historic context and how that translates into the business philosophy of Katara Hospitality. 

International operators run hotels that are managed by Katara Hospitality. The company operates on three different continents – Asia, Europe, Africa –  as well as the Middle East region. Commenting on how Katara Hospitality manages this diversity, Al Mulla says that instead of thrusting down a pre-decided identity on its hotels, the company encourages its hotels to keep their distinctness. He explains, “We work with operators such as Starwood, Merweb, Ritz-Carlton whose values and principles align with ours. However, rather than strive for a uniform identity across all our properties, we encourage the properties we have invested in to retain their own distinct character. We are mindful that the properties we invest in have their own unique position in the market, and, as an owner, we work with discretion in order to keep the property’s identity as authentic as possible.”

Given the diversity of brands that Katara Hospitality has under its ownership, it is a decision that has been thought through. Explaining the logic with which partnerships are struck across the world, Al Mulla says, “Partnerships with operating brands are established on a rigorous basis. We take into account the particularities and requirements of each property compared to the operator’s area of expertise to ensure optimum operational benefits for the property and best return on investment for the owner.”

Each opportunity, adds Al Mulla, is considered in close consultation with stakeholders against certain performance and opportunity criteria. “We have partnered with some of the most reputable operating brands in the world, including Ritz-Carlton, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Raffles Hotels & Resorts, Marriott and Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts to manage our portfolio of hotels,” says Al Mulla.

Ownership model and business size 

Katara Hospitality owns the majority of properties in its portfolio. Commenting on their ownership model in foreign markets, Al Mulla says, “When we decide to acquire a property, we generally look for hotels that have created a legacy in their respective markets and have a special resonance within the local market.”

Focusing on the local market, Al Mulla says that domestic competition in Qatar is intensifying with investors identifying growing opportunities in the economy. “Qatar’s economy presents sound growth prospects for the hospitality sector,” explains Al Mulla. 

Commenting on how the local market conditions impact the way Katara Hospitality plans its projects, Al Mulla says, “Renovation of our current Qatar properties is important to ensure that we remain the market leaders.  Our ability to think ahead and generate new trends ensures that we are consistently delivering high-quality service and growing our business at a comfortable pace.”

Al Mulla mentions that Katara Hospitality is also developing its operations arm – the Merweb brand in Doha – with four hotels set to open within the coming two years. 

Commenting on the total business size of Katara Hospitality, Al Mulla says, “The business is now worth more than USD50 billion (QAR182 billion) with more than 6000 rooms operating or under development, making us an increasingly major player in the markets in which
we operate.”

2022 World Cup and its business impact 

The anticipated increase in the volume of visitors to Qatar over the next few years is ramping up local efforts to not only accommodate guests but to also surprise them with a comprehensive leisure and tourism offering, according to Al Mulla, who adds, “The 2022 World Cup will give us the opportunity to showcase to the world a country that has developed into a world-class destination, embracing modernity while nurturing its
cultural heritage.” 

Commenting on how Katara Hospitality is planning to take advantage of the prospects in light of the 2022 World Cup, Al Mulla says, “We are looking forward to playing a key role in providing the authentic and famous Arabian hospitality to all visitors to the State of Qatar.”

One of the company’s prestigious ongoing projects, mentions Al Mulla, is Katara Towers in the Lusail City district, Doha. The project has 614 rooms including five-star hotel accommodation and one five-star deluxe hotel as well as private offices and residential space. “Katara Towers will provide Qatar with an architectural symbol that will be recognised throughout the world,” says Al Mulla.

Business lessons 

Asked what lessons the company has learnt from the 2008 global recession, Al Mulla mentions, “Our global experience has taught us many key lessons about business. It has taught us a lesson in ‘thinking local’.”

Elaborating on the ‘thinking local’ philosophy, Al Mulla says that while Katara Hospitality partners with global operators to manage its properties, it is important that these partners understand the depths and heights of that particular market – the customers’ wants and needs, the competition and the core product’s strengths and challenges. Al Mulla adds, “We recognise that customers crave unique travel experiences and local insight when in new locations.”  

Having an international presence, according to Al Mulla, also opens up the ability of Katara Hospitality to think laterally and boost its overall performance. “Lateral thinking draws on creativity, reasoning and originality. The international exposure provides a continuous learning experience for us,” he says. 

Katara Hospitality has been named the region’s leading hospitality development company. Al Mulla outlines the factors which he believes have made this possible, explaining, “A hospitality organisation such as ours is only as good as the people who work there – they are the backbone of our operations and the engine of our success. I am privileged to work with an expert, multinational team in Doha who champion our own aspirational values of achievement in our day to day operations.”  

Al Mulla also talks of the high impression that he has of his team members whom he regularly meets at every level of the business in other markets when visiting hotels. He says, “Their tenacity for delivering exceptional service continues to amaze me and it is without doubt that our success as the world’s leading hospitality development company is indebted to them.”

Talking about the corporate ambitions for Katara Hospitality in the coming three years, Al Mulla says that his mission is to become one of the world’s leading hospitality organisations. “We have ambitious growth targets in place to ensure we achieve this,” says Al Mulla, adding that the next phase of growth across the coming three years is based on what has been achieved in the the past three years.

Al Mulla says that Katara Hospitality has achieved significant growth in the number of properties it has acquired, with major acquisitions in Europe in particular, as well as increased activity in its investments.  

“Success in three years’ time looks like a combination of profit growth, more hotels in our global portfolio, particularly in new markets; and continued satisfaction from our employees. We are also committed to the development of Qatar’s local talent;  and healthy returns on our investment. We have a target of owning 30 hotels by 2016, and a further 30 across the following decade – we are continuously thinking ahead and identifying new opportunities,” concludes Al Mulla.

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