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The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

East West ropes in Marriott for Weligama resort

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Pix show -after signing the agreement, from left - Kiran Andicot - Vice President Hotel Development India and Subcontinent Marriott International, Inc, Vijitha Wijesuriya - Managing Director East West Properties PLC, Anika Wijesuriya - Director East West Properties PLC, Nahil Wijesuriya - Chairman East West Properties PLC, Sanjeewa Wickramanayake - Director - Board of Investments of Sri Lanka, Ms. Nancy Kupfer - Vice President and Senior Counsel - Marriott International, Inc and Ms Sahiba Chait - Counsel- Marriott International Inc. (Inset) ongoing construction.

East West Properties PLC, owned by businessman Nahil Wijesuriya, has signed a hotel management agreement with Marriott International hotel chain to manage the company’s Rs 3 billion hotel in Weligama, which will eventually go public, officials said. Mr. Wijesuriya, Chairman East West Properties PLC told the Business Times that Weligama Hotel Properties Ltd., a fully owned subsidiary of East West Properties PLC, began construction of its first resort hotel, Marriot Weligama Resort and Spa in Weligama Bay in March this year and that it will open under the brand category of Marriott Hotels and Resorts in March 2014.

This contract was signed about two weeks ago by Vijitha Wijesuriya, Managing Director East West Properties PLC and Anika Wijesuriya, Director East West Properties PLC for Weligama Hotel Properties Ltd and Kiran Andicot, Vice President Hotel Development India and Subcontinent Marriott International, Inc. He said Weligama Hotel Properties Ltd will go public in due course. “This would be the country’s tallest resort hotel to date with 11 floors being managed by one of the most globally renowned brands,” he added, noting that it’s the tallest building outside Colombo. Mr. Wijesuriya said that choosing Weligama, located 143 kilometers from Colombo to construct this resort hotel, was because it is a popular tourist destination renowned for its sandy stretch of beaches.

He said that the room rate of this 200-room hotel would be around US$ 133. He said that Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) are a potential area they’re targeting for the resort. “We have a 5000 square feet ballroom and we plan to have India as a feeder market in terms of MICE,” he added.

Mr. Wijesuriya said that originally this hotel was slated to be under Marriott Hotels’ ‘Courtyard’ brand, which is placed at slightly lower echelon in their brands, but it ended up in Marriott Hotels and Resorts, which is a higher brand category as they were aiming for ‘higher standards’ with the hotel project.

“The Ritz-Carlton and the Marriott Hotels & Resorts are their highest brands and the rest – Renaissance Hotels & Resorts, EDITION Hotels, Autograph Collection, Courtyard, AC Hotels by Marriott Residence Inn, etc., comes thereafter,” he explained, adding that as they kept on pushing for higher standards, the project faced a brand creep which is a situation where one (generally smaller) brand graduates to a higher brand in the same family.

“For example the ordinary room size wasn’t right so we went for a bigger size,” he explained, adding that ultimately the standards specified for Marriott’s Courtyard brand were surpassed and they managed to touch Marriott Hotels and Resorts brand, which i Marriott International’s signature and most widely distributed brand.

“Earlier Marriott had a franchise with the Galadari Hotel where they lent their name which entails yearly site inspections,” Mr. Wijesuriya explained, noting that what they signed is a management contract where Marriott International will manage the property according to Marriott standards. He added that this project is ahead of its schedule and within the budget. He also said that a team from Marriott will train their staff periodically. He noted that Sri Lanka is becoming too costly as a destination. “The minimum room rates in Colombo guarantee that we’ll be expensive,” he noted, highlighting that it’s important to create a destination and that Sri Lanka needs to be conscious of the regional pricing. “One of the reasons we sold Intercontinental was because of the minimum room charges,” he said.

The company is planning to construct more world-class hotels and resorts in Colombo, Kandy, Hambantota, and Trincomalee as well as in the cultural triangle in the near future. Marriott International currently operates over 3,700 hotels in over 73 countries and territories around the globe.

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