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Rotana Group expands Middle East holdings

Abu-Dhabi-based Rotana Group of Hotels said it has completed a raft of new management contracts throughout the Middle East which will significantly boost its holdings in Lebanon. The company also said it is moving forward with plans to purchase hotel properties in addition to operating them.

Rotana, which currently manages the five-star Gefinor hotel in West Beirut and a four-star hotel in Hazmieh, will open two new properties in Lebanon, one in Raouche this year and one in Beirut Central District in 2008.

"We are confident in Lebanon's future," said Rotana executive vice president Imad Ilias. "We believe that after the elections, this year will be as strong as last year."

Tourist numbers, which reached a record high of over 1 million in 2004, plunged in February when former Premier Rafik Hariri was murdered.

Last week, Rotana opened its first property in Syria, called Queen Center Rotana Suites in Damascus, and reported 50 percent occupancy rates for the first week.

"Syria has tremendous potential," Ilias said. "They are more open toward international investment and they are planning to introduce more laws to promote tourist investment. Syria is looking for a tourism boom."

Ilias said Rotana has signed 13 new management contracts for properties in Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Damascus, Doha, Dubai, Khartoum, Kuwait, and Sharm el-Sheikh. The company is currently in negotiations for properties in Bahrain, Cairo, and Saudi Arabia.

The company has in the past said it would consider expansion to South East Asia, but Ilias said the focus for the near future would be on the Middle East market.

"The closest markets to us are Iran, Pakistan, and India. We have people from those countries working for us now," Ilias said. "But we are now focusing on Saudi Arabia. We are in negotiations now for big properties in Mecca, Medina, and Jeddah."

In Lebanon, the 170-room Raouche Rotana Suites is set to open in late 2005 or early 2006, and the 160-room Solidere Rotana Suites is scheduled to open in 2008.

Rotana also said it is set to launch an initial public offering for its investment arm to finance property acquisitions. The company's president and CEO Selim al-Zyr told Gulf News last week that it hopes to own hotels in addition to managing them.

"Shuaa Capital [Rotana's advisors] are currently studying the process of our IPO and it will be ready in six months," Ilias told The Daily Star.

Beirut,05 09 2005
Will Rasmussen
The Daily Star
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