Quick Q&A: Louay Sarrage, SRG Holding

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Louay Sarrage, head of hospitality and asset management at SRG Holding, talks to SAN about the company's forthcoming extended stay projects in Dubai.

• Tell us about SRG Hospitality and the type of assets the company owns.

"SRG Hospitality is the hotel asset management and operating arm of SRG Holding (established in 1958), one of the leading family-owned trading, investment and property development companies in Dubai. The company’s current portfolio encompasses a multitude of properties, ranging from residential buildings and villas to mixed-use commercial skyscrapers which include hotels and hotel apartments. The portfolio has some of the city’s most recognisable towers such as Burj Al Salam and Sheraton Grand Hotel Dubai, Marina Heights, Marquise Square Tower in Business Bay. There are also two iconic towers on Sheikh Zayed Road which will be home to our upcoming serviced apartments, Staybridge Suites Dubai Financial Center and Staybridge Suites Dubai Internet City."

• What made you opt for Staybridge Suites when looking to convert two of your Dubai hotel projects?

"Our structure allows us to fully manage these serviced apartments directly, so we first needed to evaluate whether we’ll operate them under our own home-grown brand or through a franchise partnership with an international hotel group."

"The home-grown route can be an interesting option for many developers, however, it does come with various challenges, especially if that brand does not have the scale of a confirmed pipeline of at least five to six similarly positioned assets. Therefore, we felt that a franchise partnership could bring the scale benefits of an international hotel group whilst allowing us to maintain management control. Such advantages include lower distribution costs, a wider reach and brand recognition, a solid international loyalty program as well as various technical and operational standards and tools available to us as a franchisee."

"After evaluating several franchise offers and brands, we opted for Staybridge Suites by IHG based on various commercial and strategic factors. Firstly, the brand and concept of Staybridge is highly compatible to our two locations and the intended repositioning of both properties. It’s also a conversion-friendly brand which was essential. We also appreciated its efficient operating model and the fact that it had an impressive guest satisfaction rating internationally. Of course, there were a few other important commercial and strategic considerations."

• What do you anticipate will be the guest demographic at the Staybridge properties, in terms of business v leisure guests, nationality, length of stay etc?

"Staybridge Suites was essentially specifically designed as an extended stay hotel concept, so we’ll definitely be in an excellent position to cater for the requirements of these extended stay guests. We’re also quite fortunate as many short-term and frequent visitors from top source markets like the GCC, prefer to stay in apartments over standard hotel rooms. These guests have always appreciated our locations in the vicinity of Dubai’s main leisure and shopping attractions. This is why our properties will also feature some additional food & beverage concepts, a spa and some flexible meeting rooms that will cater to the expectations of transient guests. Therefore, we can anticipate quite a diverse mix of extended stay and short-term guests."

• Do you see further opportunities for extended stay properties and would you expand your relationship with the Staybridge Suites brand or look at others if you were to grow your extended stay portfolio?

"Staybridge Suites is an upper-upscale brand which will be in line with the intended repositioning of our properties on Sheikh Zayed Road. We can certainly consider this brand again for other future projects whenever such compatibility is there, bearing in mind that such projects will equally need to fulfil IHG’s technical and development criteria for the brand. For our very next project, we will explore some untapped opportunities in communal living (or co-living), which is essentially based on the idea of providing contemporary “hotel-like” features and services, designed and packaged for a carefully curated community of residents."

• Post Expo-2020, how do you see the hospitality development landscape in Dubai? Will we see an increased emphasis on rebranding and renovation rather than an extensive new-build pipeline?

"We’ve seen tremendous growth in hotel supply over the past years in Dubai. I’m quite confident that the officials at Dubai tourism have been evaluating effective ways to manage and control the future supply growth. As for the existing hotel landscape, I believe many hotel asset managers will take the opportunity to revamp and reposition some of the older or underperforming assets either before or right after the six-month Expo event. It’s also likely that such initiatives will be more strategic in nature. In other words, such reinvestment plans will need to consider rebranding and repositioning possibilities and not just the standard refurbishment scopes of work. We should also expect more innovations in design and operational efficiency as well as new partnership models with third parties in the areas of F&B, spa & wellness and so on.

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