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SOFIA (Bulgaria), September 17 (SeeNews) – International hotel operator Marriott is in intensive talks with potential partners for the launch of properties in Zagreb and Ljubljana and hopes to sign the relevant agreements in 2016, the company’s regional vice president of development for Eastern Europe and CIS said.
“Our strategy is to put at least one property brand in each capital city in the region, regardless of its size or that of the country where it is located,” Ivica Cacic told SeeNews in a phone interview.
Marriott already operates two properties in Sarajevo – a Residence Inn and a Courtyard by Marriott, while a Skopje Marriott Hotel is scheduled to open in the Macedonian capital this December.
In addition to capital cities in former Yugoslavia, Cacic said he also sees a couple of opportunities for Marriott properties on the Adriatic coast in Croatia and Montenegro.
NEW BELGRADE PROPERTY AIMS FOR UNDERSERVED MARKET
The international hotel operator’s Courtyard by Marriott brand entered the Serbian market earlier this month with a property in Belgrade.
Cacic said the Courtyard by Marriott Belgrade City Center – which comprises two studio rooms and 112 standard rooms and is located in the heart of the Old Belgrade neighborhood, is expected to have an occupancy rate of 50% in the first 12 months of operation.
With the launch of this property, Marriott is positioned to meet rising demand from business travelers.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in business travelers to Belgrade. This was not the case when we signed the relevant agreement some three and a half years ago,” Cacic said.
In the meantime, Serbia’s national flag carrier secured a strategic partner, leading to a surge in air travel and helping Belgrade airport emerge as a regional hub.
In 2013, Etihad Airways signed a strategic partnership deal to acquire 49% of then state-owned JAT Airways while getting a five-year management contract for the airline and rebranding it to Air Serbia in October of the same year. The remaining 51% of the carrier are held by the Serbian government.
Air Serbia's passengers rose 19% to 1.12 million in the first half of 2015 after posting a growth of 68% to 2.3 million in 2014.
The passenger traffic at Belgrade's Nikola Tesla international airport rose 6% to 3.28 million in the first eight months of 2015 after jumping 31% to an all-time high of 4.64 million in 2014.
“Belgrade is definitely becoming more relevant as a business destination while also starting to get noticed by leisure travelers. So on both counts we were confident that demand for travel to Belgrade – both on the business and leisure side – will grow,” the official said.
In addition, Marriott feels obliged to provide its customers with an opportunity to stay at one of its properties wherever they travel. “So there was definitely pent-up demand for our products,” Cacic said.
The Courtyard by Marriott in Belgrade is positioned not as an upscale property but as a select service brand, offering no-frills service to business clients in a good location and at a reasonable price.
Cacic said there is insufficient supply of branded hotels in prime locations in Belgrade on the select service segment.
“There are three such properties on the other side of the Sava river but this is not convenient for people that have business on our side. One competing brand recently opened on the same side as Courtyard by Marriott but in a location that is definitely not a competition. So on our side there is no other international competitor because all others are full service hotels.”
Long-term, Marriott is also looking at Novi Sad and Nis. “Once the right opportunity arises, we will be definitely interested to put our brands in both those cities,” Cacic said.
Marriott International, Inc., is a global lodging company with more than 4,300 properties in 81 countries and territories. It reported revenues of nearly $14 billion (12.4 billion euro) in fiscal year 2014.