Focus: AHIC 2020: Hospitality industry looks to future during Dubai event

The Arabian Hotel Investment Conference has wrapped up a successful showcase in Dubai, overcoming the adverse circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic to welcome the hospitality industry to the emirate.

Rebranded this year as AHIC on the Road, the event spanned three days and took place at three leading properties.

Opening proceedings, Jonathan Worsley, chairman of Bench Events and founder of AHIC, said: “We have had to start from scratch and imagine what bringing the hotel investment industry together looks like this year.

“It is a very different scenario to what we have done in the past as the industry has changed, the needs of our community have changed and the regulations governing events have changed.

“However, what remains constant and more pressing than ever, is the need for the industry to come together, connect, share information, challenges and solutions and be inspired.

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“AHIC is an important opportunity for the industry to demonstrate its resilience and how it is evolving to bounce back stronger.”

Worsley also thanked the Dubai authorities for their work in opening the borders of the emirate, allowing business events of this nature to take place.

The first day of AHIC 2020, was this year split into two parts, with a number of AHIC Off the Record sessions taking place at Mandarin Oriental Jumeira Dubai.

Hosted by Hama, access to these sessions was by application and attendees had to be owners, investors, appointed asset managers or owners’ representatives.

Among the key speakers in the public element of the forum as Kenneth Macpherson, chief executive in Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa for InterContinental Hotels Group, who explained the rebound in Chinese hospitality should give hope to the whole sector.

“The situation in China is one that should give all of us optimism for the future of our industry,” he said, “looking at the data, we are back to 60 per cent occupancy across the country.

“All of our hotels are fully open, and there has also been a return to an optimistic way off life, as well as leisure travel.”

He added: “The Chinese authorities did get the virus under control, and this has allowed them to get back to a focus on economic growth.

“This shows, in the long-term, the hospitality market can find a way to move past the current pressures.”

There was also the presentation of the Hotel Investment Outlook 2020 from JLL Hotels & Hospitality.


José Silva offered this thoughts on the food and beverage sector

The afternoon session focused on the ‘Future of Hotel F&B’ and was hosted at Sal in the Burj Al Arab – considered the World’s Leading Luxury All-Suite Hotel by the World Travel Awards.

In an event broadcasted around the globe, Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts chief executive, José Silva, expounded on why food and beverage remains a vital component of a successful hotel.

He told delegates: “From a hotel perspective, food and beverage accounts for more than 50 per cent of the client interaction time, so the experience a guest has while dining is very important – it is a strong differentiator.

“It is also a third of our revenue, and if you introduce an exceptional restaurant you can triple the profit.

“But, even more important than the profit and guest satisfaction, a restaurant is a unique selling point – it positions the hotel differently and allows you to develop market share.

“This in turn this drives occupancy and rate – driving up the total profitability of any hotel.”


Accor Middle East chief Mark Willis, left, made Lifetime Achievement presentation to Helal Saeed Almarri

The second day of AHIC 2020, hosted by Accor at the Rixos Premium JBR, featured a series of plenary sessions discussing the transformative forces at work in hospitality and how the industry can harness them.

The property is considered the World’s Leading Lifestyle Hotel by World Travel Awards voters.

In perhaps the most significant contribution of the event, Helal Saeed Almarri, director general of the Dubai Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing, said he saw no long-term damage to the hospitality sector in the emirate from the Covid-19 pandemic.

He explained: “Post Covid-19 we are expecting a spike in demand, as people take holidays they have already booked, and then we will re-evaluate our longer-term targets.

“We are currently planning on a six, 12- and 18-month basis horizon, but we will re-evaluate our strategy once we see a new floor to bookings post-Covid-19.”

He added: “Encouragingly, we are seeing a change in behaviour now, with searches for booking returning to around 75 per cent of their previous levels during September.

“Emirates Airline is also now offering around 94 destinations, which is obviously very positive for us.

“We can see growth continuing – and we do see a clear path ahead of us in the long-term.”

Almarri went on to collect the AHIC 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award following a successful career dedicated to the hospitality sector.

Other highlights of the session included a new tourism programme from Ras al Khaimah and conformation Aleph Hospitality would be moving into the Dubai market.

In the afternoon, the programme saw a series of break-out streams that will look at how the industry is transforming through technology.

This included sessions on disruptive technologies, big data and artificial intelligence, as well as a panel featuring chief information officers from Accor, Kerzner, Marriott International, Amaala and Jumeirah Group to discuss how owners and operators have embraced technology during Covid-19.


Dubai Expo 2020 would present an excellent opportunity to hoteliers, Sumathi Ramanathan told delegates

All eyes were also on Sumathi Ramanathan, director of destination marketing for Expo 2020, later in the day, as she told delegates the event remained a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for hoteliers.

She explained: “As the world begins to recover from Covid-19, Dubai Expo 2020 will act a six-month branding exercise for the emirate, with the eyes of the world on us.

“We have seen with previous mega-events, arrivals can increase by up to 30 per cent for up to two years post-event.

“So, for the hotel industry, this is not a short-term opportunity – the opportunities start right from now, and could go on for years after the event.”

Dubai Expo 2020 will now be hosted from October 21st next year, until March 31st, 2022, following a decision by the Bureau International des Expositions and local organising committee to delay for a year.

Finally for the second day, leaders from the Saudi Arabia hospitality market told delegates at AHIC on the Road that the country remains open to private investors seeking opportunities.


Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club will later this month welcome the World Golf Awards

Day three was the ‘Day of Transformation’ and sought to uncover how the industry is transforming to move forward.

Hosted by Viya, Dubai’s lifestyle rewards app, and taking place at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, the morning programme featured sessions on ‘Building Back Better’ and rethinking the hotel workforce.

Golf tourism was the breakout star, with the sector in the Middle East having been able to make use of the Covid-19 shutdown to significantly grow its market position.

Christopher May, chief executive of Dubai Golf, said: “It was a challenging time initially, but what it did was bring everybody in the industry together to create a safe environment to play the game.

“We focused on the important areas, collaborating to make golf as safe as possible.

“The demand to be outside, which golf provides, was very high – the challenge we then faced over the summer was managing demand.

“Summer can be a low season here in the Middle East, but we saw an uptick this year.

“The measures we took were then embraced in the region, as well as for the game of golf globally – we have been able to offer advice to golfers around the world.”

Dubai Golf manages the three leading golf clubs in the region including Emirates Golf Club and Jumeirah Golf Estates.

The third course, Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, will this month host the World Golf Awards, an industry leading showcase of the global golf tourism sector.

Taking place on October 29th, attendees will enjoy 18-holes at Dubai Creek, before joining a sumptuous gala ceremony in the evening.

In the afternoon delegates has the opportunity to choose from a series of ‘AHIC Your Way’ break-out sessions, which will featured 45-minute roundtable discussions including the topics of innovation in design and building, Saudi Arabia, asset management, sustainability and learnings for the future.

In addition, ‘AHIC off the Record’ featured a series of closed-door conversations around some of the key markets and development opportunities in the GCC.

In these sessions, delegates have the opportunity to meet, pose questions and share knowledge with industry experts and fellow attendees.

Topics include finance, the transformation of management agreements and owners off the record.

Final highlights from the afternoon included word from Accor about its plans in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, while Women in Travel made its Middle East debut.

More Information

Find out more about AHIC on the Road on the official website, or follow all of the Breaking Travel News coverage of the show here.

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