Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Marriott International Announces Five New Hotels in the Middle East & Africa

    BETHESDA, Md., Nov. 11 /PRNewswire/ -- Marriott International (NYSE: MAR) today announced the signing of five hotels for its newly established Middle East & Africa Region, including its first properties in Algeria, Ghana and Morocco.
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    The hotels are scheduled to open under long-term management contracts over the next 36 months and represent the company’s Marriott Hotels & Resorts and Marriott Executive Apartments brands. The properties announced today add 1,126 rooms to Marriott’s Middle East & Africa development pipeline, which now totals 44 hotels and 10,800 rooms under construction or in advanced planning.
    Opening between now and year-end 2015, these new properties will boost Marriott’s Middle East & Africa regional presence to more than 70 hotels across six lodging brands, totaling nearly 20,000 rooms in 12 countries. The portfolio includes JW Marriott and The Ritz-Carlton hotels in the luxury tier; Marriott and Renaissance Hotels & Resorts in the upscale segment; Courtyard by Marriott in the moderately-priced tier and deluxe Marriott Executive Apartments for extended stay travelers.
    Hotels announced today include:
    • Marriott’s first hotels in Algeria -- the 227-room, upscale Algiers Marriott and the 180-unit Algiers Marriott Executive Apartments properties. Both are planned to open in 2012. The hotels are owned by Trust Real Estate SPA and will be part of an attractively landscaped, secure mixed-use development located three kilometers north of the Algiers airport consisting of a high-end shopping mall, offices and residential space.
    • Marriott’s sixth resort on the Red Sea and eighth hotel in Egypt -- the 294-room Sahl Hasheesh Marriott Beach Resort. Scheduled to be rebranded in 2011, it is a conversion from the existing The Old Palace Resort and is owned by Red Sea Hotels Co.
    • Marriott’s first hotel in Sub-Saharan Africa -- the 209-room Accra Marriott in Ghana which is scheduled to open in late 2010. Owned by African Hospitality Ltd., the hotel will be located within minutes of Kotoka International Airport.
    • Marriott’s first hotel in Morocco -- the 216-room Marrakech Marriott Palm Golf Hotel which is expected to open in 2012. The hotel is owned by a JV between J. Partners and Domaine Palm Marrakech SAS. It will be part of a large master development community that will also include an 18-hole golf course, a country club and 250 luxury residences. A key focal point of the development is its commitment to achieving "Haute Qualite Environmentale" certification, a European program similar to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program in the United States."
    "The opening of our new regional headquarters in Dubai recognizes the dynamic nature of tourism in the Middle East and the emergence of Africa as a viable destination for business and leisure travel," said Ed Fuller, president & managing director international lodging for Marriott. "The Middle East appears to have weathered the global economic storm and we’re beginning to look forward to rising occupancies through the end of this year and into next. With its diverse cultural and historic attractions, unique geography and the industry’s changing travel patterns, we expect the Middle East and Africa as a whole to play an increasingly important role in the future."
    Mr. Fuller said that the strong pace of Marriott’s development pipeline shows long-term confidence in the region, "especially since this growth is occurring in the context of the difficult global economy and tight credit markets. The hotels joining our portfolio are a testament to the recognized power of our brands to deliver results even under challenging conditions and to the success of our existing hotels." He added that the company’s hotels throughout the region regularly rank at or near the top of their competitive set in customer preference, guest satisfaction and operating results.
    NOTE: Statements about the locations and number of new hotels to be opened and their anticipated completion and opening dates are "forward looking statements" within the meaning of federal securities laws, and are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties, including those described in Marriott International, Inc.’s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which could cause the actual number of new hotels or their completion or opening dates to be different than expected.
    Visit Marriott International, Inc. (NYSE: MAR) for company information.

    SOURCE Marriott International

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Woods' appeal hasn't fully hit China

    SHANGHAI, China -- It was difficult to make it past the practice green Thursday at Shanghai's Sheshan International Golf Club. Prescient spectators were pinned against its white picket fence. Many more crowded behind them, several bodies deep, necks craned, cameras and mobile phones raised high in the air. Tiny female tournament employees in red bodysuits held hands, trying their best to form a human barrier that would allow players to move freely between the putting and chipping areas. It was a futile attempt.

    "Laohu must be here," a man said as he squeezed his way through the swarm.
    Yes, he was. In Mandarin Chinese, laohu means Tiger, and the world's No. 1 golfer, wearing pastel orange, was doing his best to ignore the commotion going on all around him.
    It's not difficult to figure out who the top draw is at this week's star-studded WGC-HSBC Champions tournament. Just look for the crowd. Or just listen to it. Everywhere you go, all you hear is one word: Laohu.
    "Where's Laohu?"
    "Twenty minutes until Laohu tees off!"
    "Let's go find Laohu!"
    No one will question Woods' appeal to the golfing community in China. When asked about his client's profile in the country, agent Mark Steinberg doesn't hesitate with his answer.
    "Tiger's a rock star wherever he goes," said IMG's Global Managing Director of Golf. "He is truly a global icon."
    But if you venture beyond the course in China, beyond an international city like Shanghai, you are presented with an alternate reality.
    According to an ongoing study, the world's No. 1 golfer -- the first athlete to reach $1 billion in earnings -- not only doesn't rank in the top 10 in popularity of foreign athletes in China, he doesn't even crack the top 50. Meanwhile, Michael Jordan, six years after retirement, checks in at No. 7.

    "This has to do with two factors: participation and viewership," explained Greg Paull, who heads up R3, the Beijing-based company behind the quarterly analysis. "Golf currently ranks very poorly in China on both counts. Now all that said, it's our understanding that Tiger could become a highly marketable property in China. Chinese admire and respect the quest for perfection and look for leaders."
    Twenty thousand Chinese consumers in 10 cities are polled for the ongoing study. NBA and professional soccer stars dominate the list, which, not surprisingly, also doesn't include any MLB or NFL players.
    While golf is growing in China, no one would go so far as to call it popular. Estimates of the Chinese golfing population range from a couple hundred thousand to a few million. Any way you shake it, that's statistically zero percent of the Chinese population.
    But it's also a very wealthy segment of citizens. Thus, one of the brands that does use Tiger in Mainland China is luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer. He'll also show up from time to time in ads for Accenture, Gillette and, until recently, Buick. Still, these are all global campaigns, not advertisements designed specifically for the Chinese market.
    Nike, one of Tiger's biggest partners elsewhere, largely limits the use of his image to in-store promotions, whereas Kobe Bryant, another high-profile Nike athlete, is nearly ubiquitous in China, with China-specific campaigns.
    "This will definitely change," Paull said. "Golf is going through the fastest change of any sport in China right now. There were more golf courses completed in the last three years than the previous thirty years. Nike's focus to date has been on its core business -- and that means NBA. But as the market becomes more sophisticated and niches appear, they have the assets to leverage those niches."
    Tom Doctoroff, Greater China CEO for advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, said he was "shocked" Tiger didn't rate in the R3 study. He believes Tiger's marketing potential in mainland China, especially for luxury brands, is "huge" -- if the advertiser can afford him.
    "The key thing about Tiger Woods in China is that he represents the little guy who defeated the conventional order or redefined the limits and possibilities," said Doctoroff, author of "Billions: Selling to the New Chinese Consumer." "It's the fact that he comes from the non-privileged class and that he has a very unconventional background and has succeeded as a global icon. And in that sense, there's a lot of projection that takes place -- projection of aspiration. He's not Yao Ming, because he's not as immediately accessible, but I think he can be a very, very big deal in China."
    Back at Sheshan on Thursday, 17-year-old Winson Tay, from Singapore, sure thought Tiger was a big deal. He was in the heart of the throng at the practice green, trying hard to lock down an unobstructed view of his idol. Wearing blue jeans and Nike golf shoes, Tay jumped up and down for a glimpse, and then settled for a photo of Tiger's bag.
    "I hope I can get an autograph," Tay said, as he -- and hundreds of others -- followed Tiger to the driving range. His father, Chok Leng Tay, 47, camera dangling over his Tiger Woods polo shirt, struggled to keep up.
    "He's crazy about Tiger," Mr. Tay said. "I say to him you should see all the stars. They are all very good: Westwood, Mickelson. But young guys like him want to see Tiger.
    "He was so excited about this event. He couldn't sleep."
    The Tays made the five-hour flight from Singapore specifically for the tournament. They weren't the only ones.
    "The airport was packed," Mr. Tay said. "Going through customs, everyone -- people from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia -- was talking about Tiger."
    Over at the driving range, fans stood on plastic chairs in an effort to see over the mass of people that had accumulated behind Tiger. There, Lisa Ye was trying to round up her 9-year-old son, Wang Yanzhang, so they could secure favorable spots near the 10th tee, where Tiger would soon tee off.
    "When he saw Tiger, he just totally forgot about all the golf course manners," Ye, 32, said of Wang. "He was like, 'Haha! Tiger!'"
    Ye, who drove 10 hours from Wuhan, in central China, estimates she and her husband have spent upwards of 2 million yuan ($292,954) on their son's one-year-old golfing habit. They bought a house and membership at a golf club so he could have easy access to facilities.
    "He started to play golf just because he likes Tiger," explained Ye, who herself took up the game seven years ago. "In China, people who play golf might know about players other than Tiger. But normally, people only know Tiger. Even people who don't play golf, the only thing they know about the sport is Tiger."
    At the 10th hole, it was easy to tell Tiger's tee time was approaching. A gallery, nearly 1,000 strong, lined the ropes and extended beyond the midpoint of the fairway. Cameras clicked. Phones rang. (Despite several signs reminding spectators such devices are banned.) "Yes, I can see Laohu right now!" one man shouted into his phone.
    Tiger's following swelled as the sunny Thursday wore on. Other groups were lucky to get a small fraction of Tiger's fan base. And this is a field that features 20 of the world's top 30 players. Bad news for Ross Fisher and Thongchai Jaidee, who had the misfortune of being paired with the main attraction.
    On Tiger's opening tee shot, an overanxious amateur photographer started snapping away during the downswing. Tiger flinched, sent his ball wide right, and glared toward the guilty party.
    "There's certainly a lot of people out there," Tiger said after his 5-under 67, which put him 3 strokes back of leader Nick Watney. "There was a lot of people moving and things. We had to stay pretty focused."
    The fans had no problem staying focused -- they just had to follow the man in the orange shirt.
    "After Laohu tees off, he will suck all the people away," one fan predicted. He was correct. As Tiger's group disappeared in the distance, so too did the crowd.
    Only a few dozen spectators remained at the 10th tee for the next batch of golfers, which included Zhang Lianwei, arguably China's most popular player.
    This weekend, event organizers told they expect Sheshan to be "bursting at the seams" with more that 10,000 spectators.
    "They are coming to see Tiger," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "The fact that it is a World Golf Championship is good for golf people, but for average people here, they are only interested in No. 1."
    Dan Washburn is a Shanghai-based writer. Visit him online at

    Golf club owner indicted for stealing city water

    The owner of the Staley Farm Golf Club has been indicted on a felony charge of theft for taking city water.
    Marty Ostronic, 42, pleaded not guilty today to the Class C felony charge, which was issued earlier this week by a Clay County grand jury.
    Ostronic was released on his own recognizance.
    Jim Roberts, a spokesman for Clay County Prosecutor Daniel White, said a felony conviction in the case could carry penalties of up to 7 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
    In 2008, the Kansas City Water Services Department placed a lien on the Northland golf course, saying it owed $1.6 million for city water and other fees. Utility officials said an unauthorized valve near the golf course had been diverting water. Later, the city reached a settlement of the case, although the golf club declared bankruptcy in September.
    Mark Simpson, principal of Staley Land Company, issued a press statement today saying the residential development is not related to the golf club or its owner. Simpson said the water loss was discovered when the developers audited irrigation water being used on the development’s common areas.
    The developers, Simpson said, immediately reported the discovery to the city water department. The water losses allegedly occurred between July 2003 and August 2008.
    | Michael Mansur,
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