At a time when most 5-star hotels in Lebanon are reporting record low occupancies, Achour Holding has invested $25 million into transforming the Royal Plaza Hotel in Raouche into Lancaster Plaza, a 5-star hotel, marking the company’s third venture into hotel ownership and management under the Lancaster Hotels and Suites name.
Two years ago, company chairman Wissam Achour acquired what was then the Royal Plaza Hotel from the Chehab family and began the process of completely renovating and upgrading the property. Achour is not new to the hospitality business and has two 4-star hotels — the Lancaster Hotel and the Lancaster Suites, both also in Raouche — which he bought from previous owners and rebranded and renovated in the same manner as the Lancaster Plaza. The Lancaster Group, a division of Achour Holding, owns and operates the hotels.
Set to begin welcoming guests this month, Lancaster Plaza is the group’s most ambitious hotel project to date and has 151 units of different dimensions — 14 of which are suites — all with a sea view. The property also boasts two grand ballrooms, three meeting rooms, a piano bar, a rooftop bar, a shisha lounge, two restaurants — one a steak house, the other serving Lebanese cuisine “with a twist” — and a spa and health club with the biggest indoor pool in Lebanon. The food and beverage outlets are fully owned and managed by Achour Holding.
Lancaster Plaza’s operations manager Fadi Musharafieh says no detail has been overlooked to make sure it lives up to its 5-star status and that everything, from the fully interactive smart TV — which allows you, among other features, to order room service or handle your bill online — to the limousine pick-up at the airport is designed with luxury in mind.
Room rates at Lancaster Plaza start at $250 per night for the 30 square meter Pleasant rooms, designed with businessmen in mind. That compares with a starting price of between $310 and $340 at the capital’s other 5-star hotels, such as the Four Seasons, Le Gray or Movenpick. The Noble suite, the hotel’s largest suite which comes with its own fireplace and a jacuzzi in the bathroom, will be priced at no less than $5,000 per night, according to Musharafieh. He explains that they cannot go lower with their room rates as a 5-star hotel requires a large staff — Lancaster Plaza alone will have 220 employees while their two other hotels combined have 100 employees. “The Lancaster Group has one mission and vision, but those who are paying for a 5-star hotel experience need to feel the difference and this all costs money,” he says.
Lancaster Plaza hopes to attract the same high-end clientele of other 5-star hotels in the country and is targeting tourists from the Gulf as they believe the political situation in Lebanon, which is currently limiting the flow of such tourists, will improve in the near future.
Musharafieh says they are probably the only hotel operators in Lebanon who conduct their work as if the political situation in the country is stable. “This strategy is working for us. Lebanon has always had these political problems and if we want to stop [because of] them, then we will achieve nothing and will also be behind when the situation improves. Now, when the situation gets better and the tourists return, we will be ready for them,” he says. According to Musharafieh, Lancaster Plaza will be returning a minimum of 10 percent of the investment each year, provided the situation in the country improves.
The benefits of experience
Lancaster Group’s confidence in the country is probably spurred by the success of their 4-star operations. While Lancaster Hotel mainly attracts individual and corporate travelers for short stays in Lebanon, Lancaster Suites is designed for longer term stays and has a kitchenette in each room. Both these properties are performing well and had full occupancy during the two Eid holiday weeks this summer, according to Musharafieh, who adds that both properties are currently operating at 75 to 85 percent occupancy. Musharafieh admits, however, that room rates are the lowest they have been in a while: “We actually have never seen rates in the Eid period as low as they were this year,” he says. Today, room rates are a maximum of $130 for Lancaster Hotel per night, and $160 for Lancaster Suites.
The properties’ high occupancy numbers are mainly due to the influx of Syrian families who stay long term in the Lancaster Suites and receive special rates, and also Iraqi, Syrian, and some Turkish tourists who still enjoy visiting Lebanon and prefer a 4-star hotel.
Lancaster Group has managed to stand out from the competition by offering guests cost effective deals —also to be offered at Lancaster Plaza — that Musharafieh says people are keen on in these tough economic times. “Our added value is that we have companies that complement our work such as, for example, Rima Rent a Car which allows us to offer free rides,” explains Musharafieh. In addition to airport pick up and return, Lancaster Group also offers its guests complimentary rides in Beirut and access to Jana Beach Resort in Damour.
“When potential guests compare the room rates of hotels in Lebanon, they see that with us they are paying the same price as others, but they are getting more benefits and staying at fully and newly renovated hotels,” explains Musharafieh.
Achour Holding is clearly not holding back when it comes to investing in the hospitality sector in Lebanon. Musharafieh speaks of three venues opening in the new Achour building in Verdun area in the next few months: a cafe, Ward El Sham, an Italian restaurant called Caprese and a children’s entertainment center. Also in the pipeline is Eden Rock, a 69,000 square meters summer resort in Ramlet El Bayda scheduled to open in five years’ time.