HEADING into hospitality.
Aiana Hotels and Resorts is a brand new tourism property management company with an Indian ethos, set up in Doha to focus on the four star hotel and resort segment. The company will first open a flagship hotel apartment property in Doha, which is currently under construction, before expanding into India. Aiana Hotels and Resorts was set up as a joint venture between H.E. Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani, Chairman of Al Sawari Holding and the Qatari Business Association and Amruda Nair, Joint Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Aiana Hotels & Resorts in early 2015.
EXPANSION IN THE GCC
"The basic premise of the brand was that we would set up a flagship property in Doha in a way that would reflect the brand and then replicate that model across the Middle East and India. We are looking at the other GCC countries to expand into and we are talking to owners in the UAE in particular," said Nair,
Aiana Hotels and Resorts is also looking at sites in Oman and Saudi Arabia to add to its portfolio. According to Nair, H.E. Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani wants to have Aiana's base in Doha and then build out to the rest of the region.
"We wanted to open in Doha because we didn't want to have the brand based out of India. Although it is an Indian inspired brand, we want to have a global footprint. Qatar was chosen because being registered and licensed by the Doha financial centre was part of our strategy. It gave both partners great comfort to be listed in the QFC, partly because it is governed by international English law, so it also gives a lot of comfort to our future partners, whether they are owners in India or south east Asia," said Nair.
The first of Aiana's properties is a Doha hotel apartment project, which was announced in early 2015. Aiana is in the process of converting the property in Doha into the Aiana brand and it should be operational by early 2016. Aiana is also working on properties in India. Aiana Hotels and Resorts currently has a MoU signed in India for multiple properties and will be announcing its expansion strategy in India within the quarter.
"In India we are looking at existing properties that are currently operational but can be converted to our brand fairly easily," said Nair.
Nair said that Aiana will be developing seven hotels in India over the next five years. Most of the properties under the MoU are Greenfield, so Aiana would start construction in 2016 and they would come online between 2018 and 2019.
"Our focus in India will also be on identifying two separate conversions in the next two years, one will be operational in 2016 and another which is an existing property will be converted, which will take a little longer, but we will look at operating in 2016 in India," said Nair. "The fact that we are focusing on the Middle East to begin with, and India in the first phase of development also made sense, particularly because we are looking at the up-scale segment. This is where we saw the most opportunity in terms of capturing the market, particularly in Doha and India," said Nair.
Aiana's rational behind entering the market was that both players come from a hospitality background and have been invested in the hospitality space for a long time. What sets Aiana Hotels and Resorts apart from its competition, according to Nair, is the fact that both partners come from a hotel ownership background. A lot of the property owners that Aiana is talking to get a lot of comfort from the fact both Aiana partners understand the hotel business.
"We are very clear that we are never going to make an announcement about doing 100 hotels in India, or 10 hotels in Doha overnight because that is not the model that we are looking at. We are very clear that we are going to be niche players, there is a local focus because I think particularly in the regions that we are looking at you do need to have a sensitivity towards local needs," said Nair. "While we do have grand standards and we are operating within guidelines would be comparable to any of your international hotel chains, at the end of the day I think we understand that it is important to adapt to the surroundings and I think that is something that fits the local focus I think it is something that will differentiate us."
Aiana is looking at creating a niche brand that has a strong Indian ethos, and that is a lot more accessible than what is currently available in the market.
"We are clearly not in the very luxury space, where a lot of the hotels and Indian hotel brands tend totradeat.Theideaistobea more accessible brand that trades in four star and entry level sites and therefore we see that there is a gap in the market for that type of operation," said Nair.
In both Doha as well as the UAE Aiana is developing hotel apartments, so customers will be able to rent residences as well as studios at both short-term and long-term rates. The properties both have every feature that you would want in a hotel, including a full floor of food and beverage, a spa, a gym and a pool. In terms of the services, the properties are equivalent to a full-fledged hotel, but they also feature long-term stay. The Doha hotel apartment property is a 38 story tower.
The joint venture agreement between H.E. Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani and Nair is a 50/50 agreement developed through one of H.E. Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani's investment entities. The entire corporate team and the CEOs office, head of operations, finance, development and sales will all be based out of Doha and will be using Doha as a foundation to build the business out.
"The idea for Aiana hotels and resorts will be able to upgrade and take forward the management model. We as Aiana hotels and resorts would never invest in a property directly, but that said, for example the first property that we are developing now is owned completely by H.E. Sheikh Faisal so he will own the asset 100 per cent and Aiana would manage it. That is the format we would be following across the region where we would partner with prominent real estate players who have access to brand locations of a hotel spec, and then operate the asset for them," said Nair.
WHAT MAKES AIANA DIFFERENT FROM OTHER INTERNATIONAL MANAGEMENT COMPANIES?
1. Local focus: With a base in Doha we are able to provide on the ground support to hotels in the Middle East.
2. Decentralised team: We are a fast growing company with a flat organisational structure. Our headquarters in Qatar houses domain specialists in the fields of Sales, Development, Operations and Finance and our hotel owners have a direct connect with me as CEO which is much appreciated in this part of the world.
3. Regional connect: In both the regions that we plan to focus on, namely the Middle East and South Asia, relationships are everything. As I come from an ownership background I find that I am able to connect with hotel owners better as we speak the same language.
4. Asset-light strategy:
Aiana Hotels and Resorts is a global hotel management company with a focus on managing hotel assets for owners and developers. We as a company do not invest in the asset directly or take equity positions as what we bring to the table is the expertise to run the hotels more efficiently than they would be if they were to be self-run due to our sales and marketing infrastructure, loyalty program and economies of scale in operations.
AIANA'S USPS ARE
1. Indian service ethos which underpins everything we do from every guest touch point to our training programmes.
2. A signature Indian restaurant concept that presents authentic tastes and flavours with a unique, modern presentation.
3. Ayurveda-inspired wellness and spa concept called Indriya which is based on the five elements and five senses.
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