The Saudi Hotel Investment Conference (SHIC) 2018, which
made its debut last week under the aegies of Prince Sultan Bin Salman, chairman
of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), was held
under the theme “Focus on the Future”. The conference, hosted by strategic
partner Dur Hospitality in cooperation with SEMARK and Bench Events, showcased
the latest opportunities in the hospitality investment industry. It highlighted
the investment opportunities and growth in the hospitality and tourism sector
of Saudi Arabia where 143 hotels are expected to open in 2018 with an estimated
investment of SR144 billion by 2020.
Delivering the opening speech on behalf of Prince Sultan,
Dr. Hamad Al-Ismael, vice president of SCTH, praised the Kingdom’s progress in
the tourism and hospitality sector through mega projects implemented within the
National Transformation Program (NTP) and Vision 2030.
He explained the vital and dynamic role played by SCTH in
creating a suitable development and investment environment, which contributes
towards the increase of tourism establishments and investment opportunities in
Saudi Arabia, alongside the entry of more than 40 global brands operating in
different regions of the Kingdom.
SCTH encourages the private sector to play a bigger role in
the industry by providing them with beneficial incentives, in order to further
boost investments in the industry, he added.
Dr. Badr Al Badr, CEO at Dur Hospitality, set an excellent
example of indigenous talent and achievements while speaking of what he and his
team were doing to contribute to the growth of tourism in the Kingdom. He
impressed the audience with his intelligent insights while on a panel loaded
with the heads of international brands such as Accor, Marriott and IHG. These
leaders of leading international brands too were upbeat about the promising
future of hospitality and tourism in the Kingdom and spoke of the current and
future plans and perspectives that are paving the way to realizing Vision 2030.
Dr. Al Badr said, “Despite the challenges we have witnessed,
the demand for hotel rooms, which currently stands at 84,000, is expected to
increase with the addition of 64,000 new rooms, out of which 40,000 are under
construction.” He laid out his sustainability-oriented strategy of bracing the
short term challenge of huge supply and low demand and how Dur is working on
developing local talent to run the hotels.
Jonathan Worsley, chairman of Bench Events and founder of
SHIC 2018 and its parent event AHIC, was all praise for the efforts that are
contributing to the growth of the hospitality sector in Saudi Arabia,
especially in the two holy cities that are witnessing a high demand for
religious tourism. In its first edition, he spearheaded SHIC to a successful
start in Saudi Arabia with an upwards of 250 attendees.
The conference attracted distinguished speakers and industry
leaders like Gerald Lawless, chairman, World Travel & Tourism Council,
Philip Wooller, area director STR, Dinky Puri, founding partner, Eaglewing
Estates & Hotels, Abdellah Essonni, chief hospitality officer, Maad
Investment Co, Faisal Shaker, chief investment & development officer of
Jebel Omar Development Company, Filippo Sona, director, head of hotels,
Colliers International, Olivier Granet, chief executive officer, Middle East
and Africa, Accor Hotels, Pascal Gauvin, managing director, India & MEA,
IHG and Alex Kyriakidis, president and managing director MEA, Marriott
International, amongst others.
Panel discussions highlighting the journeys of these titans
were indeed interesting. The speakers offered an overview of the hospitality
investment environment in Saudi Arabia and explored the potential avenues of
development in the industry.
Wooller, who spent over two decades in hospitality spanning
several senior positions in hotel operations and management, sales, marketing
and revenue management for a variety of hotel companies, enlightened the august
audience with the key KPI's of occupancy, ADR and RevPAR in 2017 for hotels in
It was apparent that in the short term the industry would
face the challenge of increased supply and declining demand. However, Wooller
pointed out that Saudi Arabia stands at the same crossroads where Dubai was in
late 90s. “So no reason why we can't be there,” he said. “What with the
impressive line-up of projects via a vis NTP 2020 and Vision 2030. New hotels
are needed to support the Economic Strategy of Saudi Arabia.”
Speaking to executives of Review Riyadh on the sidelines of
the conference, the hospitality moguls shared some good ideas.
Lawless suggested how easing the visa process and issuing
visa upon arrival etc. can boost tourism and destination development. In his
address, he shed light on how Saudi Arabia can develop into a destination with
world-class offerings to hold their own against the best in the region?
Puri, having over 40 years of stellar international
experience in management and operations of hotels, gave good advice on how
right finance, investment and asset management can save precious time and money
for the developers and operators alike. He is heading the impressive Warifat,
entity of Jebel Omar Project in Makkah, and setting an excellent example on how
we can bring synergies and best practices together in the development of talent
and valuable hospitality assets.
Essonni, an accomplished real estate and hospitality
specialist with over 25 years of managerial experience in operations and
development spanning four continents and encompassing the industry’s various
facets, informed how Maad International is preparing to deliver the largest hospitality
complex in Makkah with 21 towers and almost 11,000 rooms in close vicinity to
the Holy Haram. He appreciated the tremendous growth in supply, specially in
Makkah, and said "the more you build, the more they will come".
The day saw a series of discussions on investments and
initiatives in the Kingdom that are, and will, drive domestic tourism across
—The writer is a veteran hospitality and aviation
professional. He has worked in the Kingdom for over two decades and has
extensive corporate and social network. – SG