“Marriott’s properties in Oman remain focused on not only hiring Omanis but also putting employees in the best position to grow within the company and contribute to Oman’s travel industry,” says Sandeep Walia, Chief Operating Officer for Marriott International in the Middle East.
Currently responsible for the operations of Marriott’s properties in the Middle East featuring over 200 operational properties and more than 100 properties in its pipeline, Sandeep spoke to the Observer about its expansion plans for Oman and the region in general.
What are your main target markets for 2022-23 and ahead?
The Middle East remains important to Marriott International’s current operations and expansion strategy. The majority of the markets in the region have eased travel restrictions and the demand for travel is increasing, both of which have been great for our operations in the region. Our hotels across the region remain focused on the guest experience and adapting to their needs following the pandemic. Looking at our upcoming development pipeline, we are seeing steady growth across the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar but also have exciting projects lined up in Oman, Jordan, Bahrain and Kuwait.
Concerning Oman what will be your plans and priorities?
Oman has always been a popular travel destination with its dazzling souks, stunning nature and culture. The country has a warm and welcoming hospitality and mesmerising charm that will always attract travellers from across the globe. We are fortunate to have a portfolio of four properties and more than 1,000 rooms across four of our renowned brands - The Ritz-Carlton, W Hotels, JW Marriott and Sheraton. Each hotel has its own unique positioning and remains popular choice for guests and local residents.
We expect to add another four new properties and 1,000 rooms to the market. This will not only create new jobs in the market but also give our existing employees the opportunity to grow their careers in the Sultanate of Oman. Our footprint and growth plans in Oman are a testament to our commitment to advancing and supporting tourism in the country, in line with the Oman Tourism Strategy 2040.
Can you provide a breakup for new upcoming properties in the GCC with Oman in particular?
We continue to see opportunities to further expand our portfolio across the region, including Oman. This year alone we expect to open over 20 properties in the Middle East.
We are excited about our pipeline in Oman and plan to introduce St Regis, Aloft Hotels and Courtyard by Marriott in the country. The St Regis Al Mouj Muscat is anticipated to feature the brand’s signature hallmarks and traditions, including its bespoke Butler service and avant-garde style; Aloft Muscat is expected to embody the brand’s ‘different by design’ philosophy along with innovative programming, and Courtyard by Marriott Nizwa Resort will plan to offer flexible spaces to work, network and relax, making it ideal for guests looking to stay connected, productive and balanced while travelling.
With jobs for locals a priority, what are your views on ‘Oman Vision 2040’ among Marriott properties?
In line with the long-term country vision and goals of ‘Oman Vision 2040’, Marriott International is committed to localisation efforts in Oman.
Our properties in the country remain focused on not only hiring Omanis but also putting employees in the best position to grow within the company and contribute to Oman’s travel industry.
Our hotel teams currently have ongoing collaborations in place with local institutions such as Oman Tourism College, National Hospitality Institute (NHI) and Sultan Qaboos University, to offer internship opportunities for students and graduates giving them valuable industry experience. Many of these opportunities then lead to full-time roles with the company.
Each individual hotel also participates in its own initiatives. For example, W Muscat is currently bringing on over 40 Omani graduates as part of the Midhyaf programme which was launched by Omran.
For Marriott International, it is important that we are giving all our people the opportunity to learn and develop their careers once they join the company. So, when we recruit Omanis into the industry, it is also important for us to highlight the opportunities they would have to grow within the company. This is where we showcase our internal programmes such as Voyage and Careers.
Statistics show a rise in hotel revenues and high occupancy in Oman till May 2022. What other factors do you feel led to this?
Cross‐border travel also helped drive strong second-quarter results in the Middle East and Africa. Second quarter RevPAR rose 16 per cent in the region compared to 2019.';
Overall, the Middle East continues to show meaningful recovery and we have been extremely pleased with the performance of the hospitality industry in the region. We are seeing demand increase across all customer segments and a major factor is the easing of travel restrictions across most markets, including Oman. The Sultanate of Oman has been a resilient market and the past two years have been challenging and Oman did an incredible job to safeguard its citizens and residents during that period.
Our hotels in the market have performed well. The leisure business continues to lead the way with domestic travel remaining steady and an influx of regional and international visitors when travel restrictions were eased.
European countries such as Germany and the UK remain key source markets for our hotels. We expect to see November and December to be a busy period for our properties with tourists opting to visit Oman and taking shuttle flights to Qatar.
We also continue to be optimistic about business travel in the country. Oman is becoming a preferred destination for conferences, meetings, sports events and weddings. The country has hosted delegations and official state visits since January which has been good for our business.
What has also supported the recovery of the sector is the expansion of Oman Air’s network of destinations and travel connections. We have also seen international carriers increasing the number of flights into the country.
This has helped in not only bring in loyal guests of Oman but has also supported in driving awareness among new guests across markets in Asia and Europe. Overall, we remain incredibly optimistic about travel to the region, and that the upward trajectory in Oman will continue.