Illyria / June 22, 1996
By Larry Luxner
Albania -- off-limits to tourists during 50 years of harsh Communist rule -- is about to get its first luxury hotel ever.
The new Hotel Inter-Continental Tirana should be finished by mid-1997. The eight-story building, owned by the Mohamed Abdul Mohsin Kharafi Group of Kuwait, is located just inside the grounds of the forested National Park, within walking distance of the University of Tirana and other important city landmarks.
While company officials wouldn't say how much is being spent on the property, Tom Kroosjwik, general manager of the Hotel Inter-Continental Vienna, says the industry average for Eastern Europe is $225,000 to $250,000 per room. Based on a projected 262 rooms, the Hotel Inter-Continental Tirana thus represents an investment of between $60 million and $65 million. Rates haven't yet been established.
Kroosjwik, who's also Inter-Continental's operations vice-president for Austria and Eastern Europe, says that upon completion of the hotel's first phase (150 rooms and all banquet facilities), Inter-Continental will employ 150 to 200 people. By the time the project is finished, another 50 people will join the permanent workforce.
"It's going to become the absolute business and social attraction of the city, and probably the whole country," Kroosjwik said in a phone interview from Vienna. "The hotel will have an extensive fitness center, outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, state-of-the art communications systems and convention facilities, a superb nightclub and a very original food-and-beverage concept. A guest will be able to stay four or five nights without getting bored. And we're trying to make it affordable for Albanians to enjoy as well."
Kroosjwik added that the extended operating and management agreement between his company and the Kharafi Group "guarantees our product standards, international reservation systems and technical services."
While Inter-Continental Tirana might be Albania's best hotel, it certainly won't be the first. The 15-story Hotel Tirana, which recently underwent a $16.4 million facelift thanks to an Italian group, has been around for years; the Hotel Dajti is even older, dating back to 1934. Right down the street from both is the new $22 million Hotel Dea, owned by Rogner International Hotels & Resorts, an Austrian hotel chain with operations throughout Eastern Europe. That four-star hotel occupies a 2.3-hectare plot of land originally intended for the new headquarters of Albania's Politburo -- until the fall of communism in 1991.
Commenting on the announcement, John Wright, president of Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts, Europe, said: "We feel confident that the future of Albania will continue to improve and with it, the need for first-class accommodation to cater to the professional teams leading the projects to rebuild the country's infrastructure. And in time, there will be a need to provide accommodation for the leisure traveler who comes to experience the unspoiled beauty of Albania."
Adds Nasser Al-Kharafi, vice-chairman of the Kharafi Group: "The Hotel Inter-Continental Tirana represents a major move forward in the development of both business and leisure travel to Albania. Our company's past years of experience in Albania will ensure that the hotel is poised to benefit from the growth in travel to the country."
Last year, Kharafi -- through its MAK-Albania subsidiary -- completed the $2.5 million Linze Motel on Dajti Mountain, just outside Tirana.
Zakaria Rashed, area manager for MAK-Albania, told Illyria that "this country has good potential for tourism, but there are no facilities. Because of that, hotel projects are very good prospects for investors. That's why we chose to build a hotel here."
The Kharafi Group has built, among other things, the 18-story Alahli Bank building in downtown Kuwait City, 60% of Kuwait's sewage system, a 173-kilometer road in Yemen, the four-star Coral Beach Hotel and Village resort at Hurgada on the Red Sea, the four-star Hadda Hotel in Sana'a, Yemen, and the Isis Village residential community in Botswana. It has subsidiaries in Kenya, Niger, Saudi Arabia, Maldives and the United Arab Emirates. Annual group sales exceed $600 million.
Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts -- which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year -- is owned by the Saison Group of Japan, and is represented worldwide through corporate offices in New York, London, Miami, Cairo and Hong Kong. The company's portfolio includes 151 hotels in 56 countries, of which 108 are first-class Inter-Continental Hotels, 22 mid-market hotels under the Forum Hotels brand and 21 Global Partner Hotels and Resorts.
In addition to Vienna, Inter-Continental has luxury hotels in a dozen Central and Eastern European capitals, including Prague, Warsaw, Belgrade, Sofia, Moscow, Bucharest and Lubljiana.