Ahead of the Future Hospitality Summit (FHS) 2023, taking place from 25-27 September at Hilton Yas Island Abu Dhabi, we caught up with Mark De Cocinis, CEO of The Boutique Group. Organized by The Bench, FHS brings together the Middle East and Africa’s industry leaders for discussions, deals and insight on the continued growth of the region’s hospitality and tourism sectors. The region’s flagship hospitality investment platform will feature three days of dealmaking and impactful industry discussions under the theme ‘Focus on Investment’.
The Boutique Group is redefining the luxury hospitality industry in Saudi Arabia. Mark De Cocinis is of the belief that hospitality is a work of love. From his grandmother’s kitchen in Italy to boutique, luxury hotels all across Asia, De Cocinis holds over 40 years of experience in the field. In this interview, he shares insights on Saudi’s growing luxury hotel and tourism industry.
Tell us about Boutique Group, and its expanding role in the tourism and hospitality industry.
As CEO of Boutique Group, I take pride in our mission to transform historical and cultural palaces into ultra-luxury boutique hotels that revive Saudi Arabian heritage. Our efforts align with Vision 2030’s mission to diversify the Saudi economy and promote cultural appreciation. We use innovation and unique offerings to achieve a sustainable future for the hospitality industry, while expanding our presence in the tourism sector and preserving these palaces’ rich heritage. We’re committed to showcasing Saudi Arabia’s culture and heritage through exceptional experiences.
As someone with extensive experience in the hospitality industry in different markets, what potential do you see for tourism and hospitality in Saudi Arabia?
I can confidently say that Saudi Arabia has emerged as a unique and exciting destination for tourists. The country’s rich history, diverse culture, and natural beauty offer a wealth of experiences for visitors.
Many of the palaces in our portfolio served as historic residences, and what we promise is for our guests to immerse themselves in a modern image of Saudi Arabia inspired by tradition. The early pioneers of modern hospitality were predominantly European operators, followed by Asian hospitality. Now is the time for Saudi Arabia to make its presence known. Even nomadic tribes exhibit the warm generosity that is characteristic of Arabs, making an effort to show compassion to outsiders. As living examples of these principles, we at Boutique Group strive to set the benchmark for Saudi hospitality while showcasing Saudi Arabia’s rich culture and legacy.
What does luxury tourism add to the Kingdom’s newfound focus on tourism?
Luxury tourism helps to diversify the Saudi economy by creating jobs and increasing revenue streams. By attracting high-spending travelers who are willing to pay a premium for exceptional experiences and services, luxury tourism contributes to the Kingdom’s overall economic growth.
It is also a crucial component of the Kingdom’s tourism sector, contributing significantly to the country’s economic growth and supporting its shift towards a more diversified economy as part of Vision 2030. As the hospitality sector in Saudi Arabia continues to grow, we are excited to be a part of this transformational journey, providing an experience that is unique, authentic and reflects the warmth and generosity of the Saudi Arabian people.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia is a country where people are exceptionally welcome, they want people to come here and experience all the wonders of this country, they go out of their way to make sure when people leave, they would leave with memories that lasts a lifetime.
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How does the Boutique Group accentuate Saudi Arabian heritage while attracting a luxurious customer base? What can vacationers expect?
Boutique Group accentuates Saudi Arabian heritage by meticulously restoring cultural and historical palaces and capturing the stories of who resided within these walls. Our vision, led by His Royal Highness, expresses the importance of cultural heritage values of the kingdom. Therefore, the restoration process involves meticulous attention to detail, from the design and architecture to the planning and reimagining of the palaces to maintain the values of these buildings. The most valuable resource in any service, especially given how many businesses now utilize technology as their platform, is the people who provide the service – this ensures a luxurious and modern experience for guests, amalgamated with the true essence of hospitality that represents the kingdom.
What differentiates Boutique Group’s hotels from chain hotels?
Boutique Group takes pride in being the first company to transform historic Saudi palaces into luxury hotels that revive national heritage through an authentic expression of Kingdom’s rich culture.
By breathing new life into iconic palaces – some that witnessed royal life for generations – and adapting them into one-of-a-kind luxury boutique hotels, we aim to provide visitors with an exceptional hospitality experience that showcases the best of Saudi culture, craftsmanship and traditions.
We offer specialized butler services, exclusive luxury villas and suites, and high-end dining experiences in addition to our private spas. We create the finest experience with the emphasis is on developing a distinctive and genuine encounter that represents the local culture and heritage of the place.
We tell the stories of the palaces, allowing guests insight into their past uses, for example, an interesting fact about The Red Palace is that it was featured on the first 100 Saudi Riyal Bank Note. Unlike chain hotels we ensure the history of our palaces comes alive for everyone to experience.
How do you maintain the palace’s initial integrity while providing a luxury experience for guests?
We fully understand the importance of maintaining the palace’s initial integrity while providing a luxurious experience for our guests. It’s a delicate balance, but one that we work hard to achieve. During the refurbishment of the palaces, we make sure that important components can still appear in their former glory. Creating a sense of history by incorporating historical artifacts, artwork, and furnishings that were true to the palace’s original design help guests feel as if they were experiencing a part of the palace’s past. To emphasise light and shadow in its aesthetics, Tuwaiq Palace’s interior designs, for example, were influenced by sand waves and dune blocks with palm trunks. Al Hamra Palace highlights the beauty of Hijazi craft, ‘Mangour’, shown via its intricate designs and distinctive systems and influenced by the historic Jeddah timber architectural element Roshan. In contrast, the Taif Rose is prominent in the interior design of the Red Palace, which was inspired by King Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s love for these roses. Of course, dining is also an important consideration of any guest’s experience, and we work on offering local cuisine that allows our guests to savor the unique flavors and delicacies of Saudi Arabia.
Could you share some of the challenges you anticipate in the development and growth of Boutique Group, and how do you plan to overcome them?
We are mindful of the challenges that can develop into opportunities as Boutique Group has an excellent platform to grow within the rapidly increasing Saudi hospitality sector. We aim to advance this as we create and empower Saudi talents – and there are a huge amount of talented, creative people in this country. In fact, one of the most pleasing things that I have discovered in my time in Saudi Arabia is the scale of talent available and the abundant potential that our industry in this country possesses. This is their country and culture, and who would know it better than them? We will remain intensely focused on perfection in every detail as we expand, nurture a people-first culture that delivers exceptional experiences, and deepen partnerships that infuses Saudi heritage into each property.
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