Thirty nine year old UAE based entrepreneur Adeeb Ahamed is a force to reckon with. The business tycoon has racked up several prestigious awards and accolades down the years. Forbes Middle East named him in the list of the Top 100 Indian Leaders in the Arab World and he was awarded the Entrepreneur of the Year at the Franchise Awards 2017 and the Leadership Icon Award 2017 at the Living Legend & Iconic Leaders’ Summit. Ahamed also holds a position on the senior advisory board of World Economic Forum’s South Asia Regional Stewardship Board. Sitting at the helm of several companies as a dynamic, engaged board member of the acclaimed LuLu Group International, he serves as the Managing Director of LuLu Financial Group, Twenty14 Holdings and Tablez.
While retail arm Tablez has introduced a number of homegrown and franchisee brands to the UAE and the Indian subcontinent, Twenty14 Holdings is responsible for some of the most reputed properties across Europe, Middle East and India, including the historic Great Scotland Yard in London, Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian in Scotland and, more recently, a heritage-centric five-star boutique property Port Muziris in Kochi, Kerala. CNT chats with the successful businessman to know more about how he built his empire, his special bond with Kerala and the future of the hospitality sector
TWENTY14 HOLDINGS RECENTLY OPENED ITS FIRST HOTEL IN INDIA – PORT MUZIRIS IN KOCHI. WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE KERALA AS YOUR PREFERRED DESTINATION FOR YOUR MAIDEN PROJECT?
Kochi is our home turf. But more than that, it has always been a traveller’s hub. It has even been ranked among the top trending destinations in the world. At Twenty14 Holdings, we aspire to become the curators of experiential travel. So, setting up a unique and heritage-centric project in Kochi was a natural choice for us. We have positioned Port Muziris as a five-star boutique property, and anyone who visits the hotel can see the attention to detail in portraying the property as a tribute to Kerala’s local art, culture, and food scene. We hope that the labour of love that has gone into building this project of ours will give travellers a different lens to experience Kerala.
YOUR WIFE SHAFEENA YUSUFFALI IS CLOSELY INVOLVED IN THE WORKINGS OF TWENTY14 HOLDINGS. HOW HAS THE FAMILIAL BOND CONTRIBUTED TO THE SUCCESS OF THESE BRANDS?
Shafeena is the storyteller, the soul of our brands. She brings a unique sense of design aesthetics to the table. We are friends first and foremost, and this frees us from the shackles of formal social structures. The bond we share helps us to ideate more freely and keep each other grounded, which is essential while working in an industry such as ours where small successes can often detach you from reality.
TELL US ABOUT TWENTY14 HOLDINGS’ RECENT GRAND LAUNCH OF THE GREAT SCOTLAND YARD HOTEL IN LONDON. GIVEN THE DEPTH OF HISTORY ASSOCIATED WITH THIS PROPERTY, HOW TOUGH WAS IT TO REVAMP THE PROPERTY WHILST ENSURING IT RETAINED ITS OLDWORLD CHARM?
With a vision to reposition the significance of contemporary hospitality experiences, we want our properties to become a bridge between the human love for travel and the human want to return. We consider ourselves fortunate to have gotten a chance at restoring a historical property such as the Great Scotland Yard (gSy). Like with our other properties, we have avoided a factory-built hospitality model, choosing instead to polish and showcase the hidden stories with great passion and respect. We worked with architects, artists and storytellers who have a strong local connect and are deeply empathetic to our cause, to bring alive the history of GSY. We have also extended our vision beyond the architecture and the interiors, to the cuisine served at GSY.
TWENTY14 PLANS ON INVESTING Rs.2,000 CRORES IN THE INDIAN HOSPITALITY SECTOR, WITH HOTEL OPENINGS PLANNED IN KERALA, BENGALURU, AND HYDERABAD. WHY DO YOU SEE POTENTIAL FOR EXPANDING YOUR BUSINESS IN THESE INDIAN MARKETS?
I would say that the hospitality sector in India is still at a nascent stage. The country is like a book of fables, with each village, town and city holding something new to cherish and savour. We see India as a market that will mature over the next two decades. Naturally, our vision is to position ourselves as a unique brand in this space. It helps that several satellite towns are popping up within these cities. But the real differentiator will be the adoption of technology whilst simultaneously diversifying the customer profile, and marketing both the tangible and intangible aspects of our business.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES THAT COME WITH INVESTING IN THE HOSPITALITY SECTOR, ESPECIALLY AT A TIME LIKE THIS WHEN THE PANDEMIC HAS PAUSED TRAVEL ACROSS THE WORLD?
As asset owners, our outlook for the hospitality sector is always long-term, and it continues to be so. While the pandemic has affected travel itineraries across the world, we remain bullish about the prospects of the sector and see the pandemic as an opportunity to assess our properties, closely monitor the changing trends of global travellers, and place our future investments along these evolving patterns. We continue to follow our core mission of creating a balanced portfolio that offers our customers curated experiences and maximises returns for our investors. Resource management is another aspect that has come to the fore during this period, and we are redefining our relationship with operators and other stakeholders through better strategic communication. The pandemic has also thrown up the challenge of reassessing our investment scope to look at how well we can hybridise our pattern of investment. For example, although most of our properties are presently located within city limits, we are now actively exploring the prospects of other avenues, such as resorts in countryside locations. These changes in trends need to be observed, collated, and translated into investable goals going forward. As of now, this is a positive period for reflection and taking stock of our journey.
WHAT ARE THE CHANGES THAT YOU ANTICIPATE IN THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY IN THE POST-PANDEMIC WORLD? WHEN DO YOU SEE THE TRAVEL SECTOR PICKING UP?
The human need to connect and travel will always exist. The full recovery of the sector will depend on how fast a vaccine can be rolled out globally and air travel be deemed safe. The focus will shift to delivering unique experiences in a not-so-crowded ambience, keeping the safety of guests and employees in mind. We also expect technology and digitalisation to take centrestage on matters related to guest experience and operations. We are hopeful that the hospitality and travel market will eventually come out stronger and continue to grow.
SINCE YOU ARE BASED IN THE MIDDLE-EAST AND SPEND A LOT OF TIME THERE, WHAT DO YOU MISS THE MOST ABOUT YOUR HOMETOWN KERALA?
My ancestral home in Kaipamangalam in Thrissur district, Kerala, is a very special place for me, connecting me with the elements I hold closest to my heart. I spent most of my childhood there, and I miss the homeliness and nostalgia that the place offers me.