Skift Take

Chinese brand Ji Hotels wants to expand outside its home land, starting with the Middle East.

As Chinese travel into the Middle East continues to increase, one of the country’s largest hotel operators sees an opportunity. While it’s not as commonly known in the West, H World is a giant in the hotel industry, with around 9,300 hotels and close to one million rooms across the world.

In China, one of H World’s biggest brands is Ji Hotels, an economy line in around 2,000 locations across 31 provinces. Now Ji Hotels will be pushing heavily into the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

“We are bringing successful Chinese brands out of the China and into the rest of the world,” explained Siegfried Nierhaus, Vice President & Head of Development Middle East, India and Africa at Hotel World International.

“We see potential in the Middle East for this. Ji Hotels will be new builds, and the biggest markets for new builds are in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. First Saudi, then the UAE. It’ll be mid-market, it’ll have 90% Chinese DNA and 10% adapted to the Middle East.”

Chinese Tourism in Saudi Arabia

China is fast emerging as one of Saudi Arabia’s largest source markets. Since the Gulf state opened for tourism in 2019, China has rocketed to become a top-five source market. More than 150,000 Chinese travelers visited Saudi last year, and Saudi Tourism Authority wants that number to hit half a million this year, Skift was told at a recent media event.

For Dubai, in 2016, the emirate announced visas-on-arrival for Chinese nationals. By 2019, China was Dubai’s fifth-largest source market with 989,000 visitors, a doubling in just three years.

The emirate even has its own “China Readiness” to drive tourism. It includes rolling out marketing campaigns on local social media app WeChat; the creation of a “Chinese Travelers Standards” training program for workers; a raft of signings with Chinese tour operators, and much more.

Nierhaus added: “Nothing happens in China without WeChat, so we’re adapting our hotels, we’re integrating all those back-of-house support functions into our hotels in global markets.”

He told Skift that H World wants at least 10 Ji Hotels in Saudi within the next three years, but has plans for many more. In the UAE, the operator is looking for a partner who can develop several Ji Hotels at a time.

“We will be in cities, even in Riyadh it’s realistic with seven hotels, similar for Jeddah. We’re looking for scale, so we’d like joint-venture deals where we can sign many hotels at a time,” he said.

In addition to appealing specifically to Chinese travelers, the hotels will be cheaper than most opening in the Middle East.

“It’s not going to be a beach property, it could be more for neighborhoods. It’s an economy brand, around 150 rooms, $90 a night. We’ll also be adapting these hotels for Chinese travelers who don’t speak the local language.”

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Tags: hospitality news, hotel news

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