Frasers Hospitality area manager (pre-opening) Middle East & Africa Cyril Warsono perceives his move to the Middle East as extremely fortuituous.
For years, while based at company headquarters in Singapore, he had patiently endured an almost weekly long-haul flight to Dubai, where his daughter and his wife, a pharmaceutical industry senior executive expatriated by her firm to the Middle East, were based. Consequently, when an opportunity for a Middle East-based role focusing on development, expansion and openings materialised within Frasers Hospitality, he leapt at the chance.
“I was very fortunate that the right opportunity in the company came up to be based in Dubai with the role to especially focus on the Middle East and Africa regions. This was around one year ago,” Warsono recalls.
Owned by Singapore-based international real estate group Frasers Centrepoint Limited, Frasers Hospitality operates serviced apartments and boutique hotels globally. While its serviced residence arm comprises a number of brands, namely, Fraser Suites, Fraser Place, Fraser Residence, as well as its new offerings, the eco-lifestyle Modena by Fraser and design-led, millennial-centric Capri by Fraser, the group’s presence in the Middle East so far has centred around its flagship Fraser Suites brand. The group first raised its flag in the Middle East in 2009 with the opening of Fraser Suites Seef, Bahrain; this was soon followed by other openings within the GCC, now totalling five, including Dubai in the UAE and a second one in Bahrain’s Diplomatic Area.
Within the next couple of months, before the year 2017 draws to a close, Warsono is quietly optimistic that the group will be entering the Saudi Arabian market for the first time, where he has been hands-on and knee-deep with pre-opening activities for Fraser Suites Riyadh. Projects like these, he says, are precisely what he came to the Middle East to do.
“My primary job is as a pre-opening general manager,” Warsono explains. “I have opened a couple of properties within the region in the past 11 to 12 months.”
He continues: “I also represent our business development interests in the Middle East and Africa regions to pitch new projects with owners, investors, developers, if there’s anything we can explore more together.”
“Part of my responsibility here is to serve as a representative of the Frasers Hospitality group,” he says, adding:”Sometimes I have to meet with our shareholders, the owners, or serve as the liaison between the property GMs and our corporate office people from the London and Singapore offices.”
The group’s early entry into the region is apparently reaping dividends. According to a press statement issued by Frasers Hospitality in March 2017, its five operating properties in the GCC region all enjoy an average occupancy rate of over 75%. Warsono believes the group’s business model, of specifically providing serviced long-stay accommodation, is precisely what drives its success.
“At Frasers, we are not like a normal hotel – we are a serviced apartment providing hotel service,” he says, while elaborating: “We are targeted more towards long-stay guests. This is what makes us different because it is our long-stay market that creates our base occupancy. Long-stay keeps our occupancies very stable.”
Warsono’s regions of responsibility form an integral part of Frasers Hospitality’s global growth strategy. Seven properties have been confirmed for Fraser Hospitality’s active pipeline for the Middle East and Africa in the next few years, which should increase its global footprint to more than 1,500 units across both regions; these upcoming openings include the aforementioned Fraser Suites Riyadh in Saudi Arabia opening later this year; also in Saudi Arabia, Fraser Suites Al Khobar (2018); Fraser Suites Muscat,Oman (2018); Fraser Suites Brazzaville, Congo (2018), Fraser Suites Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (2019); and in the UAE, Fraser Suites Dubai Al Jadaf and Fraser Residence Dubai Al Jadaf (both due in 2019).
Warsono is particularly excited about Frasers Hospitality making a headway in Saudi Arabia.
“Saudi Arabia is very important for us because most of our clients are actually coming from Saudi Arabia,” he shares.
Warsono continues: “They are familiar with our brand and product because of our presence in Dubai and Bahrain. I would say that 90% of our customers in the Bahrain properties are from Saudi Arabia. So when they travel to Istanbul, Paris, to Germany, they like to stay with us. You will see a lot of Middle Eastern guests at Frasers in these countries. Why? Because we provide a lot of space and very good standard of service.”
“After Riyadh, we have signed Jeddah and Al Khobar. These three key cities are going to be our major focus moving forward,” he asserts.
Warsono still sets his sights firmly on Dubai, where he is keen to plant the Frasers flag in prime central locations in the city, although he is highly mindful that the destination poses its own set of challenges for serviced apartment operators, including the rising popularity of online home sharing platforms.
“One challenge is that these days, there are a lot of OTAs and this could affect profit margins,” he begins, continuing: ”But for us, the biggest challenge is that on the internet, there are also these apartment rental platforms – the most popular of which shall not be named,“ he adds, laughing, “where individuals in Dubai can rent their apartments out.”
To counter such threats, Warsono says this is where having a strong service foundation is vital.
“We are a hotel apartment, a serviced residence,” he says. “And what we can offer our guests is service, which is something that these internet platforms do not really have. This is where we can differentiate. We have a very strong service philosophy and that’s the key.”
With the opening of Fraser Suites Abuja, Nigeria two months ago, Frasers Hospitality arrived in totally new territory – the African continent – a milestone over which Warsono is immensely thrilled.
“I always say this, either you want to be a small fish in a big ocean or a big fish in a small pond,” he says. “For us as a hotel apartment to enter Africa is one of the company’s key milestones.
“We are very proud of our first opening in Africa in Abuja but we are also looking at Lagos,” Warsono says, explaining that current supply shortfall versus growing demand is propelling the rationale behind his company’s optimism for key African markets.
“For sure you will ask me, why Nigeria? Both Abuja and Lagos have the highest room rates after Addis Ababa in Ethiopia,” Warsono continues. “There is not much supply yet over there against demand so this is why we are particularly excited.”
Of Fraser Suites Abuja, he enthuses: “Our rate right now in Abuja is equivalent to our rate in Bahrain, for instance. People who are going there for business are demanding a certain type of accommodation and service and we are there now to provide it. The opportunity is definitely there. We just opened two months ago and in the last week alone, we already experienced running 100% occupancy for two consecutive nights. It’s a matter of supply and demand there right now.”
Warsono enumerates his ‘wish list’ for the African continent, citing the countries’ national wealth as measured by GDP, saying: “Other exciting markets we are looking at in Africa are Egypt, South Africa, Algeria, Morocco and Angola. These are the top six countries with the highest GDP and are areas where I think occupancies and average rates will be good. You may probably know that Kenya boasts one of the highest average room rates in Africa so we are looking at Nairobi and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.”
In summing up his strategic goals for the next few years in the two regions, Warsono beams with enthusiasm when outlining his company’s vision.
“We want to have more presence in the key first tier cities in the region. This is also in conjunction with the vision of our group to have more apartments in more cities, not only in the Middle East and Africa but all over, Europe, China, Southeast Asia,” he says.
“We want to explore and we want to grow”.