Last June, Abid Butt was chatting over lunch with an industry observer at the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, citing his move out of his position as CEO of Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts, contemplating the opportunities that might be ahead.
As summer turned to autumn, one of those breaks broke right on Butt’s doorstep, giving him a new role in October at Dream Hotel Group where he now serves as CEO for Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa, responsible for the expansion there of the company and its brands: Dream Hotels, Time Hotels, The Chatwal and Unscripted Hotels.
The 30-year industry veteran, who also served as VP, asset management for Host Hotels & Resorts, comes to the company at a time of robust expansion, both in its distribution and offerings. It currently operates 18 hotels globally in such markets as New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Bangkok and Phuket, Thailand, and has 18-plus hotels in development in locations that include Nashville, TN; Dallas; Palm Springs, CA; Austin, TX; Doha, Qatar; Birmingham, U.K.; and Carabao Island in the Philippines.
“Dream Hotel Group has a deep understanding of the lifestyle market and is in a growth mode. I am thrilled to be part of this team and look forward to celebrating future successes,” said Butt, stressing the appeal of joining Dream and the opportunities for moving the needle on the company in AMEA.
“I am very familiar with this region, having led a large team and conducted business globally in my prior role at Banyan Tree. My background representing ownership and brand entities also helped me develop a deeper understanding of the lodging industry in driving results. I understand the importance of alignment between the owning and operating entities in achieving desired end results,” said Butt.
Only two months into the position, the AMEA CEO has already observed the region is in need of “lifestyle brands that deliver energized public spaces in addition to great guestroom product… We will continue to work with industry consultants and professionals to increase awareness while also nurturing existing relationships and developing new ones to find the right partners on this journey. We are starting from a smaller base of operating four hotels in the region: Dream Bangkok, Dream Phuket Hotel & Spa, Radisson Blu Kochi and Hampshire Plaza Hotel [both India]. Through our development team’s efforts, we have been able to execute several management agreements for new developments in AMEA, including Dream Doha; The Chatwal Maaga Maldives; Dream Gasveli Maldives; Dream New Delhi; and Dream Carabao Island.”
Butt commented the gestation period for green-field development tends to be longer but Dream is seeing great traction. “We opened two hotels in 2017: Unscripted Durham in North Carolina and Dream Hollywood in California. Looking ahead, we’re going to remain aggressive. We signed more hotel deals in the last six months than any other year in company history, and expect to sign another 50-plus deals over the next five years,” he said.
Butt expects the company to grow in a variety of ways, including conversion, adaptive-reuse and new-construction, the latter particularly in AMEA. However, he acknowledged creating brand awareness in AMEA is not going to be an overnight endeavor.
“Though we have had hotels operating in this region for a while, we still have a long road ahead of us in raising the brand profile. This will be achieved with new hotels coming online around the world and more travelers experiencing our brands. There are several projects underway in Thailand, Vietnam, Maldives, Qatar and we look forward to showcasing these properties. I’m really excited about our first Dream Hotel in Doha, which is due to open in 2020. It will be an iconic property, and we are working closely with the owning company to develop what will be a flagship for the Dream Hotels brand. With the growth Doha is experiencing and its positive outlook, we believe there is a strong rationale for us to bring our other brands to the evolving Qatari market. Most of the inventory and the pipeline are traditional four- or five-star products. We are seeing great interest from developers to develop different hotels with a different offering. We strongly believe our brands and operating philosophy will directly cater to this gap in the market,” he said.
In fitting his particular strengths into the Dream team, Butt said he has “always enjoyed building strong, diverse teams [geared]toward results delivery. This role gives me an opportunity to work with all stakeholders of the hospitality community in bringing our lifestyle experiences to fruition and growing the organization… I look forward to contributing to the strategic direction and charting a path for the future of the company.”
And, said the executive, “Understanding what will and won’t work in different cultures is always a fun little puzzle. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds for Dream Hotel Group in AMEA.” HB