Gulf Insider sat down with Sarosh Aibara, Chief Operating Officer of the Elite Hospitality Group Bahrain, to ask him some tough questions about the market.
Aibara revealed that 2016 was a “revelation” for the Elite group, saying “you cannot rely on weekend business and traditional regional markets anymore”. This challenge has led his group to eye expansion and to look at new markets.
For example, he revealed that the biggest emerging outbound markets now are Russia, China and India, while Saudi and Kuwait make up nearly 80% of the Bahrain market. So how does an innovative hotel like Elite, take advantage of this opportunity? Well, for starters, Aibara will be targeting the Russian market through events such as the Moscow International Travel and Tourism Exhibition (MITT), and see how this can drive business to the country. He plans to use his Indian connections to drive footfalls from there, and later explore the Chinese market. He said that Bahrain Tourism has now opened offices in these new markets which will, he hopes, help in improving the awareness for Bahrain.
We are the only local 4 or 5 star hotel chain with an all-suites product. Nobody else can boast of that”.
The Elite group has always prided itself on innovations especially digital world innovations, which as Aibara said “we had to create ourselves, being a local player”. Typical of these innovations is the ease with which you can book rooms and services/ outlets through the hotel website. Aibara reveals that “a large budget has been created for 2017 to go digital and enhance the experience of guests”. Work is also easier for the team. “You can’t stop progress and innovation,” he adds.
The COO is now on his 13th year at the Elite Hospitality Group, the longest tenure he’s held at any job. Before that he has worked 12 years with CBRE’s Ellis Hospitality in Thailand, moving around where the job took him. As a COO, he’s in charge of managing most aspects of the company especially sales and marketing. He came from a world that believed that for a company to be successful, it has to be market driven rather than finance driven.
Today, with the government levy being doubled, average rates are down, and the market shrinking, Aibara said that the way to develop business now is through passion. With lower occupancy rates not making new hotels feasible, Elite Group decided to concentrate their efforts on drumming up its food and beverage outlets.
The group opened up the Waikiki Kitchen Polynesian Restaurant in Elite Crystal Hotel, which serves Polynesian food with flair. It was so successful that they were then inspired to open Ahlan Café’s in all their hotels. The other Elite hotels have planned new dining outlets where guests can chat and talk and stay. Aibara says that there will be no overlap as the different venues serve different clientele.
Above and Beyond
This constant drive for innovation must be the reason why they are rated highly time and time again in Booking.com and on various social media. Aibara says that it’s their flexibility that makes them a favorite with customers, going out of their way to meet guests’ expectations. “This has already become a culture in our hotels, because if guests feel comfortable and cared for, they will come again and again.”
What Aibara wants to create is awareness. He said awareness will create more business for Bahrain, and this in turn will be reflected in the hotels occupancies’. He believes that Bahrain needs both the software and the hardware to make this happen. The software being events and things to do, like what would make people come to Bahrain from other continents just to experience it? The hardware is beaches, and more and better recreation facilities. He says it’s about developing a story for Bahrain, creating a local brand and then marketing it outside. The challenge is definitely to bring more people to Bahrain and Aibara is actively and enthusiastically taking on the challenge.
When asked what he loves about the Elite Group he said “My people, they are our biggest asset. Dadabhai family, the owners have always been supportive which has resulted in employees staying on with our group for many years with great commitment. Lastly we have a unique product.
We are the only local 4 or 5 star hotel chain with an all-suites product. Nobody else can boast of that”, he added with pride.