Spain’s Barceló Hotel Group enters Asian market with three-hotel development in Maldives

Spanish hotel company Barceló Hotel Group has announced its entry into Asia through a joint investment in developing a three-hotel complex in Maldives.

For its entry into the Asian market, Barceló has signed an agreement with Sri Lanka’s Browns Investments PLC to develop a three-hotel complex in North Male Atoll, Maldives, and to manage five leisure properties of Browns Hotels and Resorts in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

The leading Spanish hotel company will join Browns Investments in developing three five-star hotels with 470 keys in North Male Atoll. It will invest USD 30 million for a 33.33 per cent stake in Browns Investments’ subsidiary, Bodufaru Beach Resorts Pvt Ltd, which holds the head lease rights to three plots of lagoon in the North Male Atoll.

Barceló will be the operator for the three-hotel development, which is valued at USD 150 million.

“We are extremely pleased to be joining with The Barceló Hotel Group, a world renowned hotel chain, and extend our gratitude for their confidence in choosing the LOLC Group as their partners, in this their first venture into the Asian region. We believe this historic venture will bring great synergies for the LOLC Group’s Leisure business, particularly as we commence with this unique leisure property in North Male valued at USD 150 mn,” Ishara Nanayakkara, Chairman of Browns Group, was quoted in a statement, as saying.

Under the agreement with Brown Investments, Barceló will also manage another property (100 keys) under construction on the island of Bodufinolhu in the Maldives’ South Ari Atoll.

Barceló will also operate the iconic Nasandhura Palace Hotel in Maldives’ capital Male, which is being reconstructed as the biggest hotel and residential development in the city after a 2015 acquisition by Browns Investments and its affiliates.

“Entry into the global tourist hotspots of Sri Lanka and the Maldives has always been a part of our long-term strategic geographic expansion plan. However, entering such a new region comes with risks which are unknown to us,” Raúl González, Chief Executive Officer of Barceló Hotel Group, was quoted in a statement, as saying.

“Therefore, it was important for us to enter the region with the right partner and LOLC backed Browns Hotels & Resorts was to us the best fit. Not only were we impressed with the quality of the portfolio and the scale they offered to us in the region but also their proactive attitude towards the search for the best agreement considering the interests of both parties and expectations of joint growth in the region.”

Barceló Hotel Group, founded in Palma de Mallorca (Spain) 88 years ago and still run as a family business, operates 247 hotels in 21 countries under four different brands: Royal Hideaway Luxury Hotels & Resorts, Barceló Hotels & Resorts, Occidental Hotels & Resorts, and Allegro Hotels.

In addition to the plots of lagoon in North Male Atoll, the island in South Ari Atoll and the hotel in capital Male, Browns Investments, part of LOLC Group, one of the biggest and most diversified conglomerates in Sri Lanka, had also acquired leasehold rights to an island in Raa atoll. However, it is unclear if any development had taken place on the island.

Maldives is set to welcome 20 new resort openings this year.

Eleven new resorts came into operation in 2016, followed by at least 15 new resorts in 2017 and 20 new properties last year.

Over the past few years, dozens of uninhabited islands have been leased to local and foreign resort developers. Several international brands have entered into the market, increasing the number of resorts in operation to more than 140.

Singapore’s Park Hotel Group has opened its first resort in the Maldives, whilst major international hotel chains such as AccorHotels have entered the Maldives with five openings, including Mercure Maldives Kooddoo ResortFairmont Maldives Sirru Fen FushiMӧvenpick Resort Kuredhivaru MaldivesRaffles Maldives Meradhoo Resort, and Pullman Maldives Maamutaa Resort. Brands like Hard Rock InternationalCapella Hotel GroupCarlson Rezidor Hotel GroupEmaar Hospitality GroupBaglioni HotelsEmerald Collection and Meliá Hotels International have announced their entry to the Maldives as well.

Existing international players are also upping their presence, with Marriott International launching Westin and JW Marriott in Maldives, Hilton Worldwide re-introducing its top-end luxury brand Waldorf Astoria, Aitken Spence introducing its Heritance brand, Minor Hotel Group to introduce its AVANI brand, Onyx Hospitality Group to introduce its OZO brand with its second property in the island nation, and LUX* Hotels and Resorts opening its second resort in the Maldives. The Residence by Cenizaro has also opened its second Maldivian property, whilst Thai hospitality group Centara Hotels & Resorts has announced the development of its fifth resort in Maldives.

Leading local hotel groups, including Atmosphere Hotels and ResortsSun Siyam Resorts, and Crown and Champa Resorts, are also on an expansion drive.

Meanwhile, the first integrated tourism developments in the Maldives — Emboodhoo Lagoon project and Rah Falhu Huraa lagoon project — are underway, with the first phase of the Crossroads Maldives integrated destination at Emboodhoo Lagoon already open to visitors.

Along with the new resort openings come the challenge of increasing demand from budget travellers who choose guesthouses over luxury resorts that the Maldives is known for. The guesthouse sector has rapidly expanded with over 500 guesthouses in operation today.

The previous government had announced new steps to maintain a structured growth in tourism, including a slowdown in leasing islands for resort development and increased marketing efforts in key markets such as China and the Middle East in order to reach an ambitious target of a record 1.5 million tourist arrivals this year.

Meanwhile, the new government has pledged to ramp up tourism promotion.

Reflecting the new government’s pledge, the state budget for 2019 includes MVR 104,200,000 (USD 6.7 million) for tourism promotion, up from MVR 34,733,333 (USD 2.2 million) this year and the previous year.

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