Hospitality investment firm Twenty14 Holdings, part of the Lulu Group International retail empire, is planning to spend $250 million in the next two years to acquire hotels in Europe and India as part of its expansion plans, according to its managing director.
"Currently we are in discussions (to acquire) multiple properties in Europe, which is a key and active destination for us so we are looking at investing in properties in different parts of Europe," Adeeb Ahamed told The National in an interview. "India is also a growth market for us and we are looking at acquisitions in India too."
The Abu Dhabi-based company currently owns nine properties in India, Oman, the UK, UAE and Switzerland, with investments of more than $750m. In 2015, it bought Great Scotland Yard, the former headquarters of London’s Metropolitan Police, for £110m and converted it into a luxury hotel, which opened to guests last year. It also owns The Caledonian hotel in Edinburgh, operated under Hilton's Waldorf Astoria brand. Its other properties are located in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Muscat, Bangalore, Kochi and Zurich.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic impacting the hospitality industry across the globe, Mr Ahamed said the company is on the lookout for new deals and will continue buying properties.
“Our investments are not on hold at this point of time,” Mr Ahamed, said. “We are only realigning our vision on investments. Earlier the vision was to have properties in city sectors and in key business destinations but due to the pandemic we are of the opinion that we should have a mixture of city properties and resort properties rather than just focusing on city-led properties.”
The coronavirus pandemic has brought the global travel and tourism industries to a near-halt and has tipped the global economy into a recession, expected to be the deepest since the Great Depression, according to the International Monetary Fund. In June, the multilateral lender forecast global gross domestic product would shrink by 4.9 per cent this year.
The hospitality sector was particularly hard hit. Hotel giants such as Hyatt Hotels Corporation and Accor slashed jobs and furloughed thousands of staff to cope with the coronavirus induced economic slowdown. The World Travel and Tourism Council in June estimated that more than 197 million jobs could be lost within the sector if movement restrictions to contain the spread of Covid-19 continue past the summer.
The pandemic has also hit property investment. Global transaction volumes in the hotel sector dropped 50 per cent in the first half of 2020, according to JLL.
"Heightened uncertainty has impacted investor appetite for hotels, with asset valuations becoming more challenging. Acquisitions are largely on hold, with the exception of several transactions well underway at the onset of the pandemic or which involved the conversion of the hotel to an alternate use," the consultancy said in a report in August.
Mr Ahamed is bullish about the long term growth of the sector, though, expecting it to bounce back in the next 24 to 36 months.
“The travel industry has a huge potential moving forward and we are confident on this sector. I think vaccine is a key factor for confidence building.”
Twenty14 Holdings retained its staff throughout the crisis but sought savings elsewhere, “optimising and bringing efficiency” into its logistics and supply chain network.
In terms of growth markets, the company is weighing up expansion into Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy, but currently has no deals in the pipeline.
The company intends to finance new projects through a mix of equity and debt, Mr Ahamed added.
“Yield perspective is the core criteria and yielding assets are what we are looking at.”