Stategy: Hilton Worldwide and Al Hamra Real Estate [HotelierMiddleEast.com]
(HotelierMiddleEast.com Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The launch of the new $163.6mn Falcon Island development in RAK underlines a mutually beneficial relationship between Hilton Worldwide and UAE developer, Al Hamra Real Estate, that has so far spanned seven years. Hotelier finds out more.
The launch of Falcon Island, an exclusive 650,000 square metre gated community comprising 150 villas, including 11 mansions, with a starting price of $6.4mn (AED23.5mn), attracted a host of investors to Waldorf Astoria, Ras Al Khaimah on March 7, lured by the promise from Barry Ebrahimy, head of marketing & development, Al Hamra Real Estate, that investment in a Falcon Island property would allow them to "acquire a lifestyle many people can only dream of".
With the palatial Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah hotel the backdrop of the island, luxury living is clearly at the forefront, but Hotelier paid a visit to find out how the hospitality and residential elements will integrate for mutual benefit.
Falcon Island is the next phase in the development of Al Hamra Village, a three-year project encompassing 1.5km of beaches, more than 1000 villas and town houses, an 18-hole golf course, nearly 2500 residential apartments and five luxury resort hotels, four of which are Hilton-managed.
Due for completion in December 2016, the Island, according to Ebrahimy, will "provide the ultimate in sustainable five-star living and a fantastic complement to the collection already in place, such as the Waldorf Astoria".
The 346-room Hilton Worldwide operated Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah is a flagship for the brand and was the sixth Hilton Worldwide property to grace the shores of the emirate when it opened its doors in August last year.
Its 10 food and beverage outlets and spa have already become a hit with the locals according to general manager Andre Herrenschmidt, who says that he sees "quite a few" Al Hamra Village residents at the hotel's Japanese restaurant, Umi and Middle Eastern restaurant, Marjan.
He comments: "I think that when the Falcon Island project opens the residents will be very much the type of guests we'll be looking to use our food and beverage facilities and our spa so I think the projects complement each other very well."
Ebrahimy says that Al Hamra Village itself is experiencing "an influx of population" with a further 60 units having been added last month, 54 of which were sold almost immediately.
This has had an impact on the leisure and entertainment facilities in the vicinity, particularly the "five-star food and beverage offerings at Waldorf Astoria and Hilton Al Hamra Beach & Golf resort".
Marking another stage in the owner-operator relationship was the relaunch of the 265-room Hilton Al Hamra Beach & Golf Resort, formerly Al Hamra Fort & Beach Resort.
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The property was taken over by Hilton Worldwide in 2011; in the same year, the Ras Al Khaimah government announced plans to plough $100mn into the development of hotel and tourism projects over a four-year period in a bid to quadruple visitor numbers.
The property now has eight F&B outlets, a 500-metre private beach and a revamped 800-capacity convention centre, which is according to Mohab Ghali, country manager Hilton Worldwide Ras Al Khaimah, the emirate's largest on-site convention centre.
He adds that the extensive MICE facilities will "now have the backing of one of the most experienced international hospitality companies in the world."
Hilton Worldwide Middle East & Africa president Rudi Jagersbacher commented on the takeover: "The close relationship we enjoy with the owners of Hilton Al Hamra Beach & Golf Resort has served us well in establishing a strong and growing portfolio."
Handing the property over to Hilton Worldwide, according to Ebrahimy, however, demonstrated for Al Hamra Real Estate "a strategic move away from the operational side of hotels".
He adds that the group decided to concentrate on expansion and development: "We wanted to leave the job to the professionals. There's a lot of merit in appointing an international operator, not just for the standards and procedures they bring, but for the market base and brand."
Ebrahimy is confident in the impact the decision will have on the developer's reputation and admits that Al Hamra has benefited even more than Hilton Worldwide in terms of mutual reputation building, saying: "If anything, it will be the hotel that has a positive impact on the real estate development throughout Ras Al Khaimah — particularly on Al Hamra Village and Falcon Island. Guests visiting the hotel are normally very impressed by the surroundings and often enquire about investment opportunities," he adds.
Herrenschmidt comments that the seven-year relationship between Al Hamra Real Estate and Hilton Worldwide has been "very mutually successful", a sentiment echoed by Ebrahimy who describes it as "very long and very deep", adding that Hilton Worldwide has always had an advantage in Ras Al Khaimah.
He says: "We are happy with what Hilton brings to the table from their feeder markets to the tourism sector in Ras Al Khaimah."
Whether there is scope for further partnerships between the two remains to be seen, however, Ebrahimy suggests the allies may fly together again one day, hinting: "We're always looking at expanding our hospitality offering and we will always be looking for the best operators that add value to the emirate."
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