x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Dubai’s Hospitality Management Holdings plans expansion in Sudan

Hotel openings planned despite upheaval in the country's south.

Dubai-based Hospitality Management Holdings (HMH) plans to double its presence in Sudan this year despite the country’s troubles with its southern neighbour.

HMH is also looking to strengthen its budget offerings in its home city with an eye on Expo 2020.

HMH has a hotel in each of Port Sudan and Khartoum, and will increase its market there with another in each of the two cities.

In the second half of the year, the company expects to open the 64-room Ewa Nile Tower in the Sudanese capital, and the 60-room Ewa Port Sudan.

“It can be a land of opportunities in future,” Laurent Voivenel, HMH’s chief executive, said yesterday. “Sudan is one of the largest countries in Africa. It is safe unless you go to South Sudan, and we want to get in before the bigger guys go in. And you would be surprised by the tourism in Sudan.”

Sudan’s number of tourists last year was forecast at 5 million, and its tourism revenues were estimated at US$600 million in 2012, reported the Sudan Tribune in March, quoting the country’s tourism minister.

HMH was started 10 years ago. The company’s founders include two member of Sharjah’s Al Qassimi royal family.

Under its upscale Coral Hotels and Resorts brand, HMH manages two properties in Sudan. At its 114-room property in Port Sudan on the Red Sea, almost 35 per cent of the guests are leisure travellers and the rest comprises corporate and government travellers. At its 272-room Khartoum hotel, the corporate and government travellers make up 85 per cent of the guests. HMH took over management of the hotels five years ago.

HMH is one of a handful of international hotel operators present in Sudan. Abu Dhabi’s Rotana manages a property in Khartoum, while Corinthia Hotels (owned by International Hotel Investments, in which Dubai’s Istithmar World is an investor) likewise has a property in the capital.

“International operators are not averse to taking on risk, so long as they are suitably remunerated and supported by their governments as indicated by the flags flying in Baghdad and Kabul,” said John Podaras, a Dubai-based partner at the consultancy Hotel Development Resources, referring to high-risk regions.

“Where there is strategic government support and a special relationship between countries, UAE home-grown operators are often encouraged and rewarded for entering these markets.”

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July 2011, but after a brief period of peace, troubles began in the southern neighbour. Since then, Sudan has dropped in the “ease of doing business” rankings from the World Bank, falling to 149th position out of 189 economies this year. In 2009, the UAE was Sudan’s second largest export market, after China, according to the United Nations.

Outside Sudan, HMH is looking at markets including Malaysia, Indonesia, India and China besides an expansion outside Baghdad, where it has a Coral hotel.

In the next quarter, HMH expects to open Coral Muscat Hotel and Apartments with 88 one and two-bedroom apartments.

Around the same time, it expects to announce a 304-room Coral International Sports City in Dubai.

This year, the company would also focus on developing the home market, and is looking at reviving its budget brand Ecos around Expo 2020.

“Coral has been developed outside the UAE and when I came in I proposed that it should expand in the UAE as well to tap into the key feeder markets of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia,” said Mr Voivenel, who took over in October. Of HMH’s 14 Coral hotels, three are in the UAE.

HMH is also working on three Ecos projects, of which two will be in the UAE, including one in Dubai. The properties would have at least 120 rooms.

“It is a part of the Expo2020 plan,” Mr Voivenel said.

In Dubai, 16,629 rooms across 53 properties are in the pipeline as of November, according to STR Global.