Travel Adventures & Retreats

By Shereen Shabnam

The recent Arabian Travel Market and the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference reflects travel and hospitality remain a priority for the region


Travel and hospitality professionals from from around the world ventured into Dubai recently for the 24th edition of the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) held at the DUbai World Trade Centre and the 13th edition of the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) held at the Madinat Jumeirah.


With 2,600 exhibitors representing more than 150 countries, across 65 national pavilions, the Arabian Travel Market is now a leading, international travel and tourism event in the Middle East for inbound and outbound tourism professionals.


We met with key players in the industry from the hotel and aviation sector at ATM and hotel investors, owners, consultants and operators at AHIC and in both events exhibitors and speakers shared a positive outlook for the Middle East hospitality industry in 2017, with strong market fundamentals in place and attractive investment opportunities on the horizon.


The conferences I attended at AHIC were thought-provoking, topical and covered promoting hospitality investment in the Middle East and beyond. The experts acknowledged that while aspects of both development and operations were challenging in 2016, the market remains robust with investment potential.


In this cover story we bring you highlights from our interviews with different exhibitors we interviewed during the two major events.


Hyatt Centric

Expansion Plans of Hyatt Hotels Corporation


During the ATM I met with Mr. Eric Brun, Senior Vice President - Brand and Commercial Strategy and Mr. Christian Pertl, Regional Vice President Sales Operations – Middle East & Africa together with other key members of the Hyatt team.


The Hyatt team spoke about the debut of the Hyatt Centric brand to the GCC region, with the first Hyatt Centric hotel slated to open later this year on The Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, U.A.E.. This opening will be followed by Hyatt Centric West Bay Doha in Qatar in 2018.


Eric Brun mentioned that bringing Hyatt Centric to the G.C.C. is a key milestone for the brand’s global expansion plans as since its launch in 2015, Hyatt Centric has proven to be one of the fastest-growing lifestyle brands.


At Hyatt Centric hotels all the must-haves that guests expect from a full-service hotel are there, but in the most intuitive and simple way (e.g., express dispatch service allowing guests to enjoy gourmet food in their room) and enjoy in-room technology designed to connect seamlessly with their devices and media.


Hyatt Centric hotels intends to collaborate with regional food and beverage partners to provide guests and locals with cuisine crafted by in-demand chefs. Additionally, the brand will introduce high-quality amenities such as salon-quality hair dryers, soft hooded bathrobes, and renowned bath products. 


Globally, Hyatt expects to nearly double its Hyatt Centric portfolio by the end of 2019.  Following the recent U.S. growth spurt of the brand with the opening of Hyatt Centric Waikiki Beach and the transitions of Hyatt Centric Arlington and Hyatt Centric Chicago Magnificent Mile, at least 13 more hotels are expected to join the brand portfolio by the end of 2019.


Hyatt’s expansion plans announced at ATM revealed the signing of management agreements by a Hyatt affiliate for 14 Hyatt-branded hotels across the Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Regency, Hyatt Centric, Hyatt Place, and Hyatt House brands. There are currently 14 Hyatt-branded hotels open in the Middle East and GCC, and the expected openings of these 14 Hyatt-branded hotels would double Hyatt’s brand presence in the region.


According to Peter Norman, senior vice president, acquisitions and development – Europe, Africa, and Middle East (EAME) and Southwest Asia (SWA) for Hyatt, the growth opportunity in this region is a testament to the global appeal of Hyatt’s entire brand portfolio as it continues to expand worldwide.


Beyond Luxury

Maldivian Resort, Velaa Private Island


It is always a delight to meet with the Velaa Private Island team and at ATM we were invited to a VIP event to get introduced to the resort’s new General Manager, Mr Michal Smejc.


Having spent the past six years in South East Asia, and being the younger brother of the property’s owner, Jiri Smejc, Michal has all the premises to take over the lead of this ultra-luxury resort in the Maldives. As a family member, Michal has spent countless days at Velaa Private Island from the very beginning, witnessing the origins of this unique resort as a construction site to conversion into what is today known as one of the top private islands in the world.


His culinary passion, knowledge of luxury travel as well as love for nature, diving and the South Asian culture were essential decision factors when the General Manager role became available earlier this Spring.


We met at the capital Club and sampled delicious canapés and signature beverages prepared by the resort’s very own Executive Chef, Gaushan de Silva, former chef for the Jordanian royal family, who was flown in directly from the island.


Velaa means turtle in the local Maldivian language, after the generations of turtles who nest and hatch on the island, and the turtle shell design can be seen throughout the design of the villas and resort. 


Velaa Private Island is a tropical paradise destination for offering the luxury Gulf traveler a very private and relaxing holiday at this boutique island hideaway. The resort offers an exceptional range of watersports and island-based activities to keep both adults and children of all ages entertained.  


Created out of a passion for the Maldives, the Owner Czech Businessman Jiri Smejc and his wife Radka have overseen every last detail, working closely alongside award-winning Czech Architect Petr Kolar. From the exquisite interiors of the Villas and Private Residences, to the Lha Velaa (Little Turtle) Kids Club to a pristine 9 hole Golf Academy, shaded Tennis Court, Squash including a submarine for exploring the rich marine life.


There is a Clarins Spa to retreat to when you need some downtime or just enjoy world-class diving and deep-sea fishing while on holiday. 


Refined Hospitality

Taj Hotels, Resorts, Palaces and Safaris


Arabian Travel Market this year was when I really learned a lot about the Taj brand and their exquisite hospitality offering. I was invited by the brand for lunch and thus began a journey of discovery about Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris, which is a brand established in 1903 and now is one of the finest group of hotels with 99 properties in 62 locations across the globe.


During the lunch with Chinmai Sharma, Chief Revenue Officer and Rakhee Lalvani- AVP- Public Relations for Taj Hotels, I discover that Taj Dubai is their flagship hotel in the region and that the Taj Group is keen to expand its footprint in the Middle East. The other hotels in the pipeline includes a 207-key hotel located at Jumeirah Lake Towers in Dubai which is being developed by Signature Zinc Holdings Ltd. and a 325-key hotel located at The Palm, Dubai, which is being developed by the Arenco Group in Dubai.


The expansion of brand ‘Taj’ in the MENA region will begin with key gateway cities - Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Muscat, Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah, Khobar and Bahrain.


During ATM, Taj announced a portfolio transformation, grouping its brands under a single branded house identity: Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris. This aligning of brand architecture is driven by the strong legacy of Taj across decades and reinforces the deep resonance of brand Taj with its guests, and embodies the vision of its founder Jamsetji Tata.


It also connects back to the recently unveiled Tajness philosophy, which takes the best from the Taj's past and redefines it for the future. The new brand identity reflects guest insight and research with all stakeholders including associates, owners and partners, all of whom indicated a stronger emotional connect and affinity for brand Taj.


Taj is keenly exploring opportunities for both business and leisure products in the hotels, resorts, palaces and the extended stay segment for Greenfield projects or properties ready for conversion.


Luxury Retreats and Resorts

Giardino Group


The Giardino Group, comprised of four properties in Switzerland, includes three five-star-superior hotels and one boutique hotel. I met with Sophie Breiderhoff, Director of Sales, Giardino Retreats and Resorts who tells me "Giardino", means garden in Italian and takes its name from its flagship property in Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland.


According to Sophie, charismatic design, superior service and a casual ambience define the Giardino retreats and resorts. The parent-property Giardino Ascona, Giardino Lago (Minusio near Locarno), Giardino Mountain (Champfèr near St. Moritz), as well as Atlantis by Giardino (Zürich), complete the portfolio.


The Giardino hotels have been awarded numerous times for their unique guest services. Giardino Retreats and Resorts takes inspiration from the garden and offers a fresh interpretation of luxury hotels and creative cuisine, which includes the Michelin-starred Ecco restaurant.


The restaurants Ecco in Ascona, St. Moritz and Zürich are renowned for characterful mixtures of virtuosity and taste purism. Executive Chef Rolf Fliegauf cleverly combines natural flavours of seasonal ingredients and creates the unmistakable and multiple award-winning aroma cuisine.


Sophie reiterates that Giardino unites the most attractive facets of Switzerland with a dose of sunny hospitality. In celebration of its 30th anniversary in 2016, the group launched Ayurveda by Giardino, making Giardino hotels the first and only five-star properties in Switzerland to offer Ayurveda cures in a vast menu of treatments.


For a pampered experience, dipiù Spa promises a world full of vitality, beauty, well-being and balance, and Ayurveda by Giardino offers a vast programme of Ayurvedic cures and treatments – a unique experience in Switzerland’s five-star hotels.


Sophie mentions that the spas offer guests the opportunity to find inner peace and to strengthen body and mind plus the spa’s products and treatments are dedicated to authenticity, quality and sustainability.


All Giardino hotels combine casual ambience, superior service and charismatic design, whether in sunny Ticino or the alpine altitudes of St. Moritz at Giardino Mountain resort.



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