Jumeirah In Talks to Find Hotel Properties

The Jumeirah Group, the United Arab Emirates-based hotel company that runs the iconic, 321-metre tall, sail-shaped Burj Al Arab in Dubai, wants to operate and manage at least five “world-class” luxury hotels or resorts in India by 2011. And as part of this, it is in talks to find properties in places such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Goa.

“We have been in contact with some developers, but have not yet come with a final decision for…prime locations in these cities,” said Cherif Hosny, Jumeirah’s vice-president of development for the Middle East, southern Africa and South Asia.

The firm is willing to work with multiple developers, Hosny added. He declined to name the developers. Hosny said the company is not interested in developing properties by itself in India because “our core business is to manage hotels.”

Hotel industry analyst Pratik Dalal of Emkay Share & Stock Brokers Ltd said “it is a better prospect for international players to come in to manage right now,” given high real-estate prices for Indian hotel plots. For example, Hotel LeelaVenture Ltd recently put in a bid of Rs611 crore for a three-acre property in south Delhi, at Rs203.67 crore per acre, to build a luxury hotel.

He added that even with cyclical ups and downs, “the hotel industry should be robust for quite some time now,” because India’s economy is growing at a high rate.

India’s economy expanded 9.2% in fiscal 2007 and, according to the ministry of tourism, the country received a record 4.43 million foreign visits in 2006, up 13% over 2005. The surge in business activity and tourism in India has led to hundreds of millions of dollars in investments by foreign companies such as Accor SA and Hilton Hotels Corp.

Like Jumeirah, the two have chosen to focus on partnering with developers in India. Both, though, operate hotels in several categories, unlike the Dubai-based hotel chain, which has only luxury properties. In part, real-estate prices, which have risen 200% in two years in some cities, have stoked joint ventures with developers in the country.

Jumeirah currently operates 12 hotels and resorts in the Gulf, London and New York. The company’s new Indian ventures will be a part of its planned foreign expansion of at least 45 more properties by 2011 in countries from Jordan to China.