Major chains set the pace for growth

New hotel launches, rising tourist numbers, travel budgets, collaboration among airlines and even carbon emissions were among the wide range of topics discussed at the ninth annual Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) in Dubai, UAE
A lifetime of achievement ... Al Habtoor<BR>with the award

AS many as 600 delegates from across the world attended the ninth annual Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC), held at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai, UAE, last month.

The opening day of AHIC saw significant announcements from leading hotel groups, including Wyndham Hotels, the world’s largest hotel company, which said it plans to develop its first property in the UAE. The Wyndham Dubai Marina is expected to open within the next three years with 497 guest rooms, including 251 luxurious suites, and The First Royal Tulip in the Mena region.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide announced the debut of its Four Points by Sheraton brand in Saudi Arabia with the new Four Points by Sheraton Riyadh Khaldia. The hotel will feature 376 guest rooms including 138 suites. Starwood also confirmed that the Grand Hills Hotel & Spa in Broumana, an upscale mountain resort town near Beirut in Lebanon, will join its Luxury Collection portfolio when it opens in 2015 following a complete renovation.

Hilton Worldwide confirmed that it is expanding its presence across the Middle East with the addition of Bahrain to its portfolio of operating countries. The news comes following the signing of a management agreement with Tashyeed Properties Company to open the new DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Bahrain in late 2015. The 350-room hotel is a five-star property and will be located in the upscale residential area of Juffair.

These announcements supported comments made by John Worsley, chairman of Bench Events, who told AHIC delegates that there will be 150 hotels opening this year in the GCC and 450 in the pipeline and there was “going to have a lot of construction in the sector in the next few years”.

The project announcements appear well-timed given the latest findings in Visa’s Global Travel Intentions Study 2013. The report, which surveyed 12,631 travellers from 25 countries, the average global travel budget of $2,390 per trip is set to increase to $2,501.

At the conference, delegates listened to key note speeches, presentations, networking roundtables and panel discussions – one of which featured Egypt’s Minister of Tourism, Hesha Zaazou. All of these were focused on addressing key industry issues, such as aviation co-operation, environmental protection, the importance of undertaking feasibility studies before committing to hotel developments, and the need for governments to work with the private sector.

Zaazou said that the number of in-bound tourists to Egypt rose to 11.5 million in 2012 from 9.8 million in 2011 and that number of Arab tourists visiting Egypt hit a record of 2.3 million compared with 1.8 million in 2011 and 2.1 million in 2010.

Speaking about the need for greater collaboration between airlines, Dubai Airports chief executive Paul Griffiths said: “There are opportunities where we can get huge efficiencies by working together. There are, of course, certain things about travel you can’t change; airliners have to take with them entire fuel load they use in their journey. But the fuel-efficient airliners we are seeing over Dubai are carrying a much higher passenger load. And we can see that aircraft manufacturers are making major inroads into this issue.”

In another session, Gary Chapman, president of Emirates Group Services and Dnata, spoke about ways to radically cut carbon emissions: “The biggest issue is the overflying and air traffic control issues. Governments have the power to improve that by 5-10 per cent if they could replace the archaic air traffic control systems they have at present.”

Meanwhile, the AHIC’s ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ was handed to Khalaf Al Habtoor, Chairman of Al Habtoor Group, for his invaluable contribution to the region’s hotel industry.  Al Habtoor has also played a major role in driving the tourism industry forward in the UAE, by meeting the growing demand of the number of tourists with significant hotel projects. He was given the award by AHIC’s patron Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of Dubai Airports and president of Dubai Department for Civil Aviation, and chairman and CEO of Emirates.

Other panel discussions focused on large-scale developments contributing to destination creation and new investment opportunities. 

Ahmed Al Fahim, executive director of Tourism Development and Investments Company (TDIC), said that people started to have more confidence in the market again, and that property market is picking up again, while Jennifer Fox, president of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts revealed that Fairmont was on an aggressive growth strategy which will see it, in the next five years, with 31 hotels either open or under construction, spread among Fairmont, Swissotel and Raffles Hotels.

Further announcements included the opening of two hotels for The Rezidor Hotel Group: the Radisson Blue Residence which will open in Dubai in 2014, and the Park Inn by Radisson Hotel and Residence opening in Duqm in Oman this year.