Five Star Hotels in Jordan

We are seeing about 40% growth in receipts and 30-35% in tourist arrivals. By any standard we are probably witnessing a year of boom rather than doom, and we are very optimistic. 

Interview with Lina Annab, General Manager of Zara Investment Holding

Lina Annab General Manager Zara Investment Holding

How do you assess Jordan’s tourism industry and its ability to overcome the crisis ? As you are in the hotel industry, what has been the occupation ratio ? 

The robustness of the tourism sector in Jordan has been proven by numbers. I think the impact of the financial crisis on Jordan was a little exaggerated. Thankfully it has not been hit as hard as many people expected. Growth rates in 2009 were moderate as expected given how successful and strong 2008 was. As far as 2010 is concerned, the numbers have been absolutely amazing. We are seeing about 40% growth in receipts and 30-35% in tourist arrivals. By any standard we are probably witnessing a year of boom rather than doom, and we are very optimistic.

How does Jordan stand out from its neighbors ? What is its competitive edge ?

Jordan is a unique place. The best way I can describe Jordan is that most places we take our guests we can say « Only In Jordan ! » There is only one Petra, only one Dead Sea, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Speaking to visitors who are in Jordan or who have visited Jordan, I am always amazed and proud when I hear how warm the people of Jordan are. The country has beauty and the people are very hospitable. We grew up with hospitality being very important, and we carry that over to the hospitality business.

Do you feel that the government has been successful at positioning Jordan on the world map ?

The government has done a lot, especially with things like the Jordan Tourism Board and the Ministry of Tourism. These have been good proponents and advocates of tourism in Jordan. We still have a lot of work to be done and we’re working on it. We still have stories to tell. Jordan is a living museum, and you don’t have to go far to be in places where there is a lot of history and culture.

Kempinsky Dead Sea Entrance

What is Brand Jordan ? What is the appeal of Jordan ?

Brand Jordan is many wonderful things bundled in one. It’s the variety, and we have plenty of equity to make us a successful brand : we have culture, heritage, natural beauty, climate, people, security. I would like Jordan to be an unforgettable experience for visitors.

How will you stay ahead of your competition ? How much of the five-star hotels can the market absorb ?

We don’t really look at the competition as stiff competition, we look at the market players as complementing one another, and strengthening the sector we are in. The market is not fully saturated yet and still has room to absorb new developments.

Do you feel that more middle-range services should be offered to clients ?

Absolutely. We are considering that at the moment, but it’s not immediate. The need is there for 3 and 4 star properties, and we have discussed this and are looking into it.

What is your dream for Zara Holding ? What is the goal you are working towards ?

The goal is to achieve our founding vision, which is to create a first-class network of hotels spanning from the north to the south of Jordan. We have done a lot as far as the network is concerned, but there are several areas we haven’t covered yet, like the north. I would like to see guests using Zara from the northernmost point of Jordan down to the south.

How do you characterize your business model ?

Our model is very interesting. We are a holding company, but we build hotels, and have knowledge transfer through our operators. This is done with the view of capacity building, as far as local manpower is concerned. We have institutionalized the hotel business. We have experts who are doing the hotel management, but we make sure that there is knowledge transfer being done as far as our local staff is concerned.

How do you communicate your properties ?

We deal with different international chains like Hyatt International, Intercontinental Hotel Group, or the Movenpick Resorts. Each chain has its own strategy of communication. We have many communication strategies, including our website, whereby we walk the guest through all the sites in Jordan through our properties. Our target is local and international. Our guests are mostly not local, but through the internet we communicate locally and globally.

What is the major strategic challenge you face?

Nothing is problem-free. Difficulties are always present, but the key is to have the flexibility to be able to deal with the ups and downs. Losing touch with the market, or our stakeholders is a concern. We always try to be on top of things as a market leader. The travel business is changing quickly and we have to keep up with the changes in order to be able to cater to our guests. Major investment decisions are taken based on new trends. Staying informed through education and research is key.

How do you approach corporate social responsibility ?

Corporate social responsibility is a new term today but is not a new term in our culture or in the way we do business. As far as the environment is concerned, we are looking at environment-friendly sources of energy for our hotels. This also makes business sense. These initiatives cost a lot in the beginning but a the end of the day, I think everybody is a winner. Most of our properties have been in remote areas, such as the Dead Sea and Petra. We went in and immediately started building capacity in those communities. That is corporate social responsibility, even though we did not call it as such at the time. We have started a whole department specialized for corporate social responsibility to do it in an organized way.

Is it a challenge attracting investors to raise finances and build properties ?

The challenge for any investor is whether it is viable to invest. The numbers for tourism and regulations in Jordan speak for themselves. The investment environment in Jordan is demand waiting for supply.

Do you think returning tourism is sustainable here in Jordan ?

Recent research has found that for the most part, Jordan is a trip of a lifetime sort of destination. It is now our role to change that. That changes if you create value added to entice people to come back, and I think we have work to be done there. The activities you provide for people that come with seeing a certain landmark are what will bring people back.

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