Interview: Katara Hospitality’s CEO Hamad Abdulla Al-Mulla

Katara Hospitality’s CEO Hamad Abdulla Al-Mulla speaks to BQ magazine about their strategic expansion plans

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Katara Hospitality’s CEO Hamad Abdulla Al-Mulla
Katara Hospitality’s CEO Hamad Abdulla Al-Mulla

AT A GLANCE

Hamad Abdulla Al-Mulla, Chief Executive Officer, Katara Hospitality
Age: 43

Education: Hospitality Management & Tourism Studies, University of Salzburg, 1991

Previous positions held: Chief human resources and administration officer, Katara Hospitality; general manager within various Katara Hospitality properties in Qatar including Doha Marriott Hotel, Doha Club, Sealine Beach Resort and Merweb Hotel Al Sadd.

Katara Hospitality activities: Katara Hospitality currently owns properties across three continents in Qatar, Egypt, Morocco, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Singapore and Thailand. Standalone operating division – Murwab Hotel Group manages an international collection of boutique upscale hotels and brands offering contemporary hospitality steeped in cultural heritage. Three main areas of business: Murwab Hotels, The Bürgenstock Selection and a collection of independent non-branded upscale properties.

Achievements:
“Middle East’s Leading Hospitality Development Company” for the second year running at the prestigious 2015 World Travel Awards ceremony. “Middle East’s Leading Tourism Development Project” for Katara Towers development in the Marina District of Doha’s Lusail City.

Global hotel owner, developer and operator, Katara Hospitality, based in Qatar with over 40 years of experience in the industry, is actively pursuing its strategic expansion plans by investing in peerless hotels in Qatar while growing its collection of iconic properties in key international markets.

Working with the organisation for more than half its history, Hamad Abdulla Al-Mulla took over as CEO in February 2011 after his previous position as chief human resources and administration officer.

Since taking the helm, Al-Mulla has ambitiously grown their portfolio from eight operational properties in Qatar and Egypt to 35 properties operational or under development, in 12 countries across three continents, thereby exceeding their goal of 30 properties by 2016 two years ahead of their initial plans. As the country’s flagship hospitality organisation, Katara Hospitality supports Qatar’s long term economic vision.

Katara Hospitality, formerly known as Qatar National Hotels Limited, was established in 1970 by the government of Qatar to manage the Gulf Hotel, which at the time was the first five star property in Qatar – currently the Doha Marriott Hotel.

The company was then re-named in 2012 as Katara Hospitality to reflect the company’s heritage and international expansion plans. Currently, the organisation is worth more than tens of billions of US dollars with over 7,000 rooms either operational or under development. Al Mulla tells BQ magazine about his journey with the organisation since 1991 gaining over 20 years of hospitality experience and the upcoming projects and plans for Katara Hospitality.

What changes have you brought about since taking over as CEO?

When I joined Katara Hospitality as CEO, our only international hotel was in Egypt. Today, we have an impressive global footprint. We have reached and maintained our position as market leaders in Qatar, and are also focused on our international expansion, taking the pioneering spirit that saw us lead hospitality development in Qatar and applying it to iconic hotels around the world.

I am also proud to have introduced the Qatari youth to the hospitality industry through leading by example. Our culture is not very accepting of the idea of Qatari nationals working within this industry but through my accomplishments, I have been able to inspire Qatari students to explore the hospitality industry and have introduced companywide and hotel placements for university internships to hopefully see a growth in the number of Qatari employees within our hotels locally and on an international level.

Tell us more about your current strategies.

Katara Hospitality’s current growth strategy focuses on international expansion, while continuing to develop the hotel landscape in Qatar. We have surpassed our target of 30 properties by 2016 – two years ahead of schedule.

As we are Qatar’s flagship hospitality company, we are deeply committed to our role in developing the country’s tourism sector.

Could you tell us more about your MoU with the Qatar Pavilion at Milan Expo and what do you intend to achieve from this?
The MoU was signed in March by H.E. Sultan Bin Rashid Al Khater, undersecretary of the Ministry of Economy and Commerce and chairman of Qatar Pavilion, Expo 2015 – and myself, at the Ministry of Economy’s premises in Doha. This agreement was formed to extend mutual cooperation to showcase and achieve the success of Qatar’s participation at Milan Expo 2015.

The agreement framework signed between the two parties announced Katara Hospitality as the official hospitality partner for delegates, visitors and associates of the Qatar Pavilion Committee during the expo. Katara Hospitality has extended its support by offering hospitality related services and facilities at its recently opened Milan hotel; the Excelsior Hotel Gallia, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Milan.

The hotel originally opened in 1932, and has been fully renovated by renowned Milanese architect Marco Piva. With 235 elegant guest rooms and suites, luxurious facilities and amenities for today’s affluent travellers, the Excelsior Hotel Gallia offers unparalleled hospitality.

What is Katara Hospitality’s future plan for portfolio expansion globally and regionally? Any new regions?

Our focus now is on adding more properties to our portfolio by 2026 to reach our goal of 60 properties. We are always looking for new opportunities and investments in iconic hotels.

Our plan is to continue investing in and developing iconic hotels not just in Qatar but also in key international destinations such as those mentioned earlier. Katara Hospitality continues to explore investment in a collection of unique properties in key sought-after international locations.

What specific plans do you have for Qatar?

Qatar is of course our homeland and we intend to maintain our position as market leaders in the local hospitality industry by developing world-class hotels here. Europe as a whole is a strong focus for our planned international expansion and 60 percent of our current portfolio is made up of international hotels.

In Qatar, we currently have seven operational properties. These include Sheraton Doha Resort & Convention Hotel, Sharq Village & Spa, The Ritz-Carlton, Doha, Doha Marriott Hotel, Somerset West Bay Doha, Mövenpick Hotel Doha and Sealine Beach Resort. We also have many others under development in Qatar as well.

We recently opened Saraya Corniche Hotel in Doha under the Murwab Hotel Group.

2015/2016 will see the opening of an additional four Murwab Hotel Group properties in Qatar in addition to the rebranding of Sealine Beach Resort to Sealine, a Murwab Resort.

What do you foresee to be the next big thing in the travel/hospitality industry?
For us, it’s all about perfectly striking the balance between the new and the old. As with all of our properties, renovations have to carefully honour and protect the property’s inherent rich architectural heritage.

At the same time, it is important to discreetly modernise our properties with the latest luxury amenities and state-of-the-art facilities combined with exquisite historical design.

How much of a role does technology play in the hospitality industry?
Technology plays a huge role in the hospitality industry and all other industries for that matter. In the context of hospitality, technology works to allow businesses to have more convenient, informed and valuable relationships with their guests that will hopefully see them continue to visit our properties.

What are the criteria for Katara Hospitality to invest in a certain hotel brand?

We always aim to acquire spectacular properties that once set the standards in the hospitality sector and today represent a legacy.

We further invest in these historically iconic hotels to restore them to their former glory and turn them into thriving businesses, while ensuring their hospitality heritage is secured.

Do you foresee any challenges in the implementation of your strategies locally as well as internationally?
Potential challenges in the hospitality industry would usually occur in the renovation process. This is why at Katara Hospitality, we ensure that when we undertake hotel development and renovation – whether in Qatar or internationally – we work only with the best contractors, suppliers and partners to ensure each stage of the property is delivered on schedule and at the highest quality standards.

Could you explain about your alignment with the Qatar National Vision 2030? How will Katara Hospitality contribute to diversification of the economy?
As Qatar’s flagship hospitality organisation, we are deeply committed to our role in developing the country’s tourism sector. In line with the Qatar Vision 2030, Katara Hospitality is developing world class hotels in Qatar that are relevant not only for our portfolio, but emblematic for the country as well.

We are a government-owned organisation whose goals are naturally aligned to the country’s objectives. As the hospitality arm of the Qatar Sovereign Wealth Fund, we also identify strategic investment opportunities in other markets. We are optimising our international investments in order to make the best possible returns for investors and shareholders and safeguard our economic future at the same time.

We also follow a similar diversification strategy within our business operations, targeting the luxury market as well as corporate and leisure segments, thereby covering a wide area of tourist requirements for the growing number of visitors coming to Qatar every year.

We also pay special attention to the country’s Qatarisation policies. Training and equipping Qatari nationals for successful careers in hospitality is one of the tasks at the top of our agenda.

Talent development is and will always be a focus area of ours. Robust training and development programmes for all of our staff delivers high-performing teams whose combined international experience and local insight give them a wide ranging skill set and business ethos.

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