In this episode of AHIC Talks, Jonathan Worsley, Chairman and Founder of Bench, caught up with Mohamed Awadalla, CEO of Time Hotels & Resorts at the Arabian Travel Market held live and in-person in Dubai. The two spoke about how Time Hotels & Resorts had fared during the pandemic and what Mohamed's development plans are for the future.
You are now listening to AHIC Talks, Episode 3.
Jonathan Worsley: Well, I'm here at the Arabian Travel Market and I'm delighted to be with Muhammad Awadalla, who is CEO of Time Hotels & Resorts. Mohammad. Great to see you.
Mohamed Awadalla: It's a pleasure. Very nice to see you.
Jonathan Worsley: And so we're at your stand at the moment at ATM. How have you found this exhibition so far?
Mohamed Awadalla: To be honest, I was explaining to you earlier that this year, it was surprisingly very beneficial for all of us because whoever visited ATM this year had something to do. It's not like previous years where you have somebody have something to do, and have three, four friends to come and walk around or to see friends and say hi. This year was really different.
Jonathan Worsley: So it's really people looking for business.
Mohamed Awadalla: Yes. I was so busy in the last two days, and usually the busy time is between 11 to 3pm. The first day, we stayed till five. I left at 5:30 from here.
Jonathan Worsley: And are people slightly concerned about social distancing?
Mohamed Awadalla: Yes. And to be honest, the ATM organization team is doing a very good job. You can see them around. If somebody put the mask down, they asked them nicely. They don't make any fuss about it. They just ask you to please put your mask on. Or if you forgot your mask at the hotel or the stand, they provide you with the mask, and you have hand sanitizers, as you see now, everywhere, including on the tables on the way where you walk, everywhere.
Jonathan Worsley: It's just wonderful to see everybody getting back together again, the industry, and seeing friends and colleagues, which is tremendous. But tell us a little bit about Time Hotels and Resorts and where you have come from over the last 18 months. It's been bloody difficult. Hasn't it?
Mohamed Awadalla: It was actually. The pandemic was very tough for all of us, and not only for us. But we managed it well. To be honest, I'm very grateful for my team. We have done a fantastic job. We looked out of the box, we worked as a team, and we went through everything, and how we can come up after the pandemic. During the pandemic, we createdour sanitizers ready, to make our customers satisfied and happy when they come and use our rooms or public area or restaurant or dining areas. It was all sanitized every 30-40 minutes. The room was totally sanitized and sealed until somebody checked in and opened the door by themself.
Jonathan Worsley: You have to be careful though. Because guests don't want to go into a room that looks like a cell.
Mohamed Awadalla: No, it's not. It is sanitized, once it is checked out. It has to be clean, but we make sure that it is sanitized and cleaned for you, and ready for you.
Occupancy, believe it or not, last year, especially for the hotel apartment, we run 80 to 85%. It was amazing. Only the average rate dropped, of course, because the competition drop rate, so we had to drop our rates. But at the occupancy level, it was excellent.
Jonathan Worsley: That's fantastic. And so what have you done to transform your business in the past year?
Mohamed Awadalla: We done a lot with the rates, of course. I mean, this is one of the things to attract clients or to maintain customers because the competition was really quite tough. They drop that rate too much, and people just want to move and to save because everybody was in half salaries during the last year, half salary and some unpaid leaves. So we worked onto this.
Jonathan Worsley: Are they back now on full salaries?
Mohamed Awadalla: Yes
Jonathan Worsley: When did you put them back?
Mohamed Awadalla: Last October. 90% of hotel companies went back, even companies as well, from October and some November's.
Jonathan Worsley: That's extraordinary. So the resort hotels in Dubai have done quite well, but the city center hotels, it's still a struggle, isn't it?
Mohamed Awadalla: Actually, the resort hotels they did very bad last year. I mean, don't forget that, most of them, they were closed for the whole year almost. But now since November, October, since tourists and business come back to Dubai and Dubai start to open, they were full and in the very good average rate.
Jonathan Worsley: Your hotels are typically city center?
Mohamed Awadalla: Yes, city center.
Jonathan Worsley: And who has been your market? Russian?
Mohamed Awadalla: Actually during the pandemic, we have German locals, residents from the UAE, and we have British when they have business and are working and living here. We have a lot of British, they came during the pandemic and they stayed for three, four months and some six months because England was totally closed. Here it was a little bit open and the weather was great. So they rather stay here.
Jonathan Worsley: And growth markets at the moment – I noticed coming down from Heathrow, I was speaking to the Emirates staff and they were saying the Russian route right now is really, really busy with the A380s. Two A380s a day I think.
Mohamed Awadalla: Yes. Yes, even the charters started. They approved charters and I know a couple of the Russian tour operators. They start charters two weeks ago to Dubai direct.
Russian has started, even individual europeans from different countries have started. I have friends, they come from Belgium and Germany last week. Lufthansa, Emirates – all full. But to resort hotels. If you look at Palm and Jumeirah line, they are all full with the very good average rate at the moment. Sheikh Zayed Road come after with 80 or 75% and then TECOM area was 70 or 75%.
Jonathan Worsley: And what about your African engagement? Cause I know you were interested in Africa for a period of time. Is that on hold?
Mohamed Awadalla: No, not on hold. We had the talk and we were really almost to conclude the deal when I visit AHIF two years ago. But then corona came, so we kept everything going hold. I was still in contact.
Jonathan Worsley: But Egypt is a strong market.
Mohamed Awadalla: I was talking to north Africa, but Egypt, yes, we are very active. We signed two hotels. We signed one in the Marina and it's about supposed to open this summer. But it is delayed till September, October. And we signed an existing hotel that was run by one of our international brands. It will be shifted to Time hotels in Nuweiba. It's a five star resort on the beach.
Jonathan Worsley: Fantastic.
Mohamed Awadalla: Even we are discussing actually last week, virtually, with the owner to sign the deal. We never visit them yet. Virtually, we had a couple of meetings in the new capital in Egypt, in Cairo.
Jonathan Worsley: Fantastic. Well, listen, Mohammad. I know you are rushing around for meetings, but lovely seeing you. It's been a long time.
Mohamed Awadalla: It's nice to see you and to see everybody.
Jonathan Worsley: I know
Mohamed Awadalla: I am very happy that Dubai start to open, and I really appreciate the effort the government here did, and I wish everybody in the Middle East look what they're doing, and they can do the same.
We are still safe. We still control the virus. The virus is not finished and it's will not finish now, but we can manage and we cannot stop. Let the wheels start. Let life start to come back to normal.
Jonathan Worsley: Yeah, absolutely. And I love your stand here. Wonderful stand. Mohammad, Thanks so much.
Mohamed Awadalla: Thank you, Jonathan. We'll see you around.
Jonathan Worsley: Okay. Bye-bye.
Published 31 May 2021