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Alan Watts: Asia Pacific to the Middle East

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What does your new role as COO for Asia, the Middle East and Africa entail?

In my role as COO Asia, Middle East and Africa I oversee operations across nearly 250 hotels in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It is my responsibility to ensure the teams managing hotel performance systems and processes are working efficiently and effectively and delivering to IHG’s globally recognised brand standards across the region.

How will your role differ to and complement that of Pascal Gauvin, chief operating officer, India, Middle East and Africa?

 Pascal manages more than 110 hotels across more than 20 countries in India, Middle East & Africa and drives IHG’s strategic development in those markets. He takes the lead in driving our growth plans in these sub-regions and key to this is maintaining and fostering close relationships with existing and new hotel owners. Pascal is integral to my leadership team for Asia, Middle East & Africa.

What experience and industry insight do you bring to the table looking from the outside in at the MEA region?

IMAGE_Alan Watts_COO for Asia, Middle East and Africa

I’ve been with IHG for 17 years and within this period of time I have been in a number of roles, mainly in operations. I spent some time as a general manager before overseeing operations from a corporate perspective and this first-hand experience was integral in providing me with the insight to now help manage and drive our performance for the region. I have managed sub-regional operations with our portfolio in South East Asia and I also led the expansion of our Holiday Inn Express brand in Asia Australasia prior to taking on the role as Chief Operating Officer for Australasia, Japan and AMEA Operations Performance. The Holiday Inn Express brand continues to be a growth engine for us, with 38 hotels in our pipeline, the largest for us by brand.

What similarities and differences are there between the MEA hotel market and the Asia Pacific market?

We have about 250 hotels operating across 40 countries across over 20 time zones. Needless to say, these markets are all individually very unique and with different opportunities. Our strategy for growth is consistent, however  we are always looking to grow our brands with the right partners, in the right location. The one common driver of our growth across the region is our People. We are in the service sector and people are at the heart of all that we do.

What in particular excites you about this new role in terms of the opportunities in the Middle East for the hotel industry in general and the opportunities for IHG in this market?

 The Middle East is a rapidly developing tourist destination that is exhibiting continued potential. There are certainly great opportunities for IHG as visitor arrivals to the Middle East are set to increase exponentially and are projected to hit more than 100 million in 2020 and nearly 150 million in 2030. These figures are significantly boosted by high profile events such as Dubai EXPO 2020, which will have a lasting impact in growing the UAE’s economy, strengthening its MICE market and further enhancing its profile as an internationally renowned shopping and leisure destinations are collectively driving demand for more hotels.

There are currently 27 hotels in our development pipeline ready to cater to this demand.

What is IHG’s plan for rolling out new properties across the Middle East and how will IHG forge ahead with this expansion?

 We have 77 properties open across five brands in the Middle East, including InterContinental, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn with another 27 properties in the pipeline. Whilst our upscale brands like InterContinental and Crowne Plaza represent more than 70% of our system size by number of rooms in the Middle East, it is our midscale brands which are really growing at pace, with over 35% of our pipeline in the Middle East comprising Holiday Inn hotels due to open in the next 3-5 years.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are our two largest markets in the region and they also hold the largest pipelines with IHG, IHG is expected to expand its presence with nine new hotels, each in the KSA and the UAE in the coming years, we are also planning to increase our presence in the Kingdom by more than 50%, from almost 6,000 to 9,000 rooms, over the next three to five years. By 2015, we will open Crowne Plaza Riyad, ITCC in Riyadh’s up and coming business district. We will also launch a new brand in Saudi Arabia when we open the first Hotel Indigo in the Middle East in Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District in 2015.

How does your strategy for rolling out IHG’s various brands differ in the Middle East? According to market demand and trends?

Development and nurturing of the IHG family of brands has really helped to set us apart in the industry and we know they appeal to guests as they are more confident of the experience they will receive and the value that they will get. Our brands cover all the major customer segments in the industry, and with 27 hotels in our development pipeline including the first Hotel Indigo in the Middle East opening in Riyadh in 2015, we are confident our brands will cater for the diverse mix of travellers to the Middle East across business, MICE and leisure markets.

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