In conversation with Radisson Hotel Group's Elie Milky
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In conversation with Radisson Hotel Group’s Elie Milky

In conversation with Radisson Hotel Group’s Elie Milky

The vice president of business development shares Radisson Hotel Group’s plans in the Middle East, its growing focus on Saudi Arabia and upcoming openings


Take us through your journey to becoming a successful hotelier.
I began my career more than 20 years ago in hotel operations in Lebanon while studying for my bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and tourism (Notre Dame University). This experience formed the base that is needed to venture into, and specialise in, hospitality real estate and finance, which I gradually developed an interest in. I obtained my MBA in Paris (ESSEC Business School) and then joined HVS in London to provide owners with feasibility and investment advice across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I then joined the Radisson Hotel Group in 2010.

Currently, I am responsible for driving development opportunities and leading Radisson Hotel Group’s strategic growth and hotel portfolio in the Middle East as well as Pakistan, Cyprus and Greece.

Our focus is to grow the group’s regional portfolio across each of its core brands: Radisson BLU, Radisson, Park Inn by Radisson, Radisson RED and Radisson Collection, Radisson Individuals and the recently launched prizeotel and art’otel brands.

How are you growing Radisson’s various brands (for example, Radisson Blu, Radisson, Park Inn by Radisson, Radisson Individuals, Radisson RED, and Radisson Collection) in the markets you oversee?
First and foremost, we continuously tailor each brand to remain relevant for our owners and investors. We keep real estate efficiency in mind and profitability at the core of our development and operations, while meeting our guest demands and increasing our loyalty base. Our brand architecture ranges from the economy lifestyle segment up to the entry-level luxury tier. Also, we are looking at various product types, as well as finding ways to secure strategic, creative agreements with key investors.

For instance, Radisson Hotel Group’s lifestyle hotel brand Radisson RED offers compact, urban efficiency with competitive development costs, while it injects new life into hotels with its vibrant social scene and bold design. The Radisson RED hotels are in dynamic, urban locations and offer guests endless opportunities to tune in and out – switching effortlessly between business and leisure is catering to the consumers changing needs.

There is also an interest in midscale and upscale resorts in saturated markets with upper-upscale and luxury resorts. Secondary cities lack quality supply, hence the drive by governments, funds, banks, and investors to capitalize on this opportunity. In general, brand penetration remains low in many regions, particularly for some products, hence the drive to invest in more branded properties to improve the offering in the market.

Radisson Hotel Group remains one of the preferred partners for investors and developers as we continue to grow our portfolio of hotels, resorts and serviced apartments in the region and globally to ultimately add value to our investors by remaining relevant to changing trends.

Each hotel is determined and driven by the following criteria:

  • The brand that determines the positioning and DNA of the product
  • The design that defines the look and feel of the hotel
  • The local elements that make this design more relevant and appealing to the target market
  • The management team that injects a personal and human flair into the operation, its staff and its guests
  • The social and environmental conditions that the hotel operates in
  • The right and strategic partner, investor and owner for each development

Can you share insights into your performance, growth and milestones of Radisson Hotel Group in the UAE over the last two years?
Both 2021 and 2022 have been strong years for signings and openings across the region, reiterating the aggressive growth and movement of the group, and we are on track for further developments in the months to come. We will be announcing more hotels with plans to open another 400 keys before the end of the year, closing the year with almost 1,000 keys signed and almost 1,500 keys opened this year alone across the GCC and Levant sub-regions.

We also look forward to capitalising on our expanding development team across the Middle East and to the opening of our office in Riyadh, reaffirming our strategic shift to the kingdom.

Tell us about the emerging trends and market size of the region’s hospitality industry.
In the past, luxury and upper upscale hotels, resorts and serviced apartments dominated the scene in the region. Today, there has been a drastic shift towards branded midscale hotels, beach resorts, more branded serviced apartments, lifestyle hotels, agro-tourism and wellness resorts. The pandemic has accelerated that trend, coupled with a changing mindset amongst many investors as well as rising demand for these new asset classes from consumers.

 One interesting trend is how more and more serviced apartments became part of our portfolio, a pattern driven by investors and consumers alike as this asset class proved to be the most resilient hospitality model today. In our region alone, almost 50 per cent of our portfolio has a serviced apartments component. Another trend is how resorts have become more popular, driven by rising leisure demand, strong average rates and reduced seasonality. Around 90 per cent of our resorts were signed in the last 10 years alone, while this segment now makes up almost 40 per cent of recent openings.

RadissonRadisson Hotel Group recently appointed Oussama El Kadiri as director of business development. How will the appointment support and reinforce Radisson Hotel Group’s development and growth strategy in the region?
The appointment of Oussama El Kadiri as director of development reinforces Radisson Hotel Group’s development and growth strategy in the Middle East and the ambition to double its portfolio by 2030. Oussama will be a part of leading the expansion of the company’s presence throughout the Middle East region, with a particular focus on Saudi Arabia, where he will identify and evaluate business growth opportunities and build on the success of the Group’s five-year expansion and transformation plan.

Oussama has vast experience in the hospitality real estate sector. His knowledge of hotel transactions, established relationships with a strong investor base, and extensive understanding of the Middle East markets, particularly Saudi Arabia, make him a great asset to the team as we continue our ambitious growth and development plans in the region

 Tell us about the rapid expansion of its portfolio of hotels and resorts.
The addition of our new and upcoming resort properties as a natural evolution to an all-encompassing brand and product offering for developers is tailored to accommodate the growing demand for staycations and local holidays among residents, as well as leisure demand from international travellers. Almost half of recent signings and openings have been in the resort category, reinforcing our commitment to our owners and our guests.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia remain the leading markets in the Middle East.

Investors are becoming further interested in developing and investing in budget and midscale hotels since the market offers a gap in this segment, but there is also a significant interest in lifestyle hotels to remain competitive in a segment facing a growing demand for edgy, trendy concepts to cater to.

What are some of the future plans that the Radisson Hotel Group has for the region?
Our portfolio in the Middle East stands at 75 hotels, resorts and serviced apartments with 16,000 keys in operation and under development, most of which were signed and opened in the last 10 years alone. Recent and upcoming openings in the region include Mansard Riyadh, a Radisson Collection Hotel, Radisson Riyadh Airport, Radisson Resort the Palm and Radisson Resort Ras Al Khaimah, to name a few.

We have been active in the Saudi market for 20 years and launched our expansion strategy for the kingdom in 2010, helping us adapt to the various changes. We had been working on recent developments to boost tourism and diversify the hospitality offering long before the execution of this shift in strategy, which we were ready to complement with our strategic development plan.

Today, we continue to expand our portfolio with key owners across Riyadh, Jeddah and the Holy Cities, as well as the secondary cities identified for expansion. Our portfolio now covers our entire brand offering, from the midscale Park Inn by Radisson to the luxury Radisson Collection with two iconic properties in Riyadh.

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