Qatar’s Katara in Talks to Buy Hotels in London and Rome

Katara Hospitality is in talks to buy “iconic” hotels in London and Rome as the unit of Qatar’s sovereign-wealth fund seeks to more than double its properties by 2030, said Chief Operating Officer Christopher R.J. Knable.

Katara, which bought Le Royal Monceau in Paris in 2012, will open the 16th-century Peninsula Paris this year after renovations are complete, Knable said in an interview in Dubai. He wouldn’t be more specific about the hotels the company may buy.

Qatar, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, has drawn on its energy wealth to snap up assets including London’s Harrods department store and plans to open hotels in London, New York and Paris bearing the department store’s brand. It also invested in western Europe’s tallest building, the Shard, and bought stakes in companies from Barclays Plc and Credit Suisse Group AG to Tiffany & Co.

“We really want assets that are going to mean something in their communities,” Knable said. “The Peninsula is going to be the trophy of trophies when it opens. This is one of the special properties that will fully exhibit the legacy of Paris.”

Katara plans to increase its holdings to 30 properties by 2016 and 60 by 2030 from 25 today, the company said. The Excelsior Hotel Gallia in Milan will re-open this year after refurbishment. The company is also redeveloping two properties in Switzerland, Burgenstock Resort on Lake Lucerne and Royal Savoy in Lausanne, he said.

No Bargains

The recession in Europe hasn’t presented bargains for Katara as historic hotels tend to be held for generations by owners and don’t come onto the market very often, Knable said. The company is “actively” looking for properties in New York and Los Angeles, he said.

“If you have a short-term view then, yes, the economies are not great in Europe at the moment,” Knable said. “But we are not a short-term player. We don’t have to go to a market thinking we need to be a success right now. Our horizon is much longer than everyone else’s.”

Katara will spend around $150 million renovating the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, Knable said. The 103-suite property opened in 1887 is known for guests including authors Ernest Hemingway and W. Somerset Maugham and for the invention of the Singapore Sling cocktail. Last year, the company said it bought the hotel, which was designated a national monument when it turned 100 years old, without saying how much it paid.

Domestic Spending

Katara Hospitality, which changed its name last year from Qatar National Hotels, will spend “hundreds of millions of dollars” renovating its hotels in Qatar, Knable said. The company is preparing its properties for the World Cup soccer tournament which the country will host in 2022.

Qatar plans to spend $140 billion on infrastructure by 2019 to diversify its sources of wealth away from energy and prepare for the tournament, including the building of stadiums, hotels and rail links.

Katara Hospitality, which is owned by Qatar Holding LLC, has also signed agreements with the governments of Gambia and Maldives to develop properties. Another property in Paris, The Buddha Bar hotel, is set to open in mid-June. The 56-room property is being developed out of the shell of an 18-century building, he said.

“It really comes down to the opportunity and what looks attractive in terms of location, history and returns,” he said.

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