AHIC debates

The upcoming Arabian Hotel Investment Conference is lauding Global Aspirations as its 2007 theme. On one hand, quite apt, with the local-born brands such as Jumeirah, Rotana, Emirates and Emaar laying seed in international markets. But, is today’s consumer buying cookie-cutter product – or is he looking for something else? SUSAN FURNESS, one of the moderators at the event, takes a look.

Global Aspirations: the industry’s new oxymoron?
Marriott has done it so well and for so long.

The Holiday Inn tried, and delivered in its segment. Intercontinental managed it commendably, and with a degree of elegance. Closer to home, Rotana, the Abu Dhabi-based regional hotel chain, now 21 properties in less than a decade, with 21 more on the table to open in the next two years, is set to have a cookie – or is it a date (Rotana meaning date palm in Arabic) – in every major Middle East city.

The common denominator?
The ‘common’ hotel room and service offer; meaning ‘you know what you get– great service and no unwanted surprises…’.
But are the key players finding any truth in the latest research?
The consumer is demanding personalisation, not ‘me too’ when it comes to both business and leisure travel (National Travel Monitor).
Recent figures show that, States-side at least, it is leisure travel that is fast taking the biscuit, with Saturday night hotel occupancy regularly hitting the mid seventies.
The seasoned hotelier, airline chief and travel agent among you will know that the Saturday of yesteryear, or the Friday in Arabia, was certainly the day that you had to ‘work hard for your living’ – beds and seats were notoriously hard to fill.
But not any more. A quick call to the great lodging brand names in Dubai and Manama show this to be true in two of the GCC’s key cities also (see TTN March 2007 – No room at the Inn).
What is the ‘new era’ consumer telling us – and what can we do about it?
According to Peter Yesawich, chairman and CEO of US-based Yesawich, Pepperdine Brown & Russell (YPBR), the company behind the National Travel Monitor, the consumer is shouting three main demands : new experience, honest value, personalisation.
“Listen you guys, I have been there and I have done that.I want something else to experience.
But (always a catch), don’t try and dupe me! I am not saying I want to over pay. I can log on to the internet from my mobile phone, you know. I know how much you guys mess around with room rates – one rate here, one rate there. And you airlines, gosh, if I tried to buy paint to decorate my TV room wall the way you guys sell airline seats – one price for the morning coat, another for the afternoon – I’d have nothing but a wall full of patchy paintwork!
I am not looking for cheap, no way – I’m a man of principle, of great taste. I am looking for value – at whatever price.
But don’t forget, my well-oiled buying acumen means that I know what I want for me. And I want something that suits me and fits in with my timetable. I will not compromise my individuality or my well-honed instincts. I want what I want…..”
Wow. Did you here that, Industry! General Managers! Investors and Developers! Travel Agents – did you hear that?
In case you didn’t – here is a snapshot of the facts and figures:
• 47 per cent of travellers will not compromise on purchase (2005, down from 63 per cent in 1995)
• 63 per cent of leisure travellers used the internet in the past 12 months to obtain travel information/prices
• and 45 per cent of leisure travellers actually made travel reservations online
• 72 per cent of leisure travellers have internet access from a home computer
• Of leisure travellers who made reservations online AND via travel agent, 42 per cent find the internet easier and faster (Watch out, Travel Agents!)
• 74 per cent rely on instinct when making the ‘final’ decision
• 33 per cent of leisure travellers are planning more overnight trips in the next 12 months than the last 12 months
• 68 per cent of business travellers have combined more than one business trip with pleasure in the past 12 months
• and 66 per cent of leisure travellers have taken 1+ trips with a spouse/adult and no children
• 69 per cent of business travellers report themselves as the primary decision makers for business trips (phew - forget about those passé secretaries)
• and – for you car rental companies, listen up, the call for personalisation penetrates you too! When renting a car, 73 per cent of business travellers want a customised map to their destination
So, what can we do about it?
One answer to the consumer call for individuality and value is timeshare, according to AHIC panelist, David Clifton.
Clifton heads the region for Interval International, a world leader in network exchange to the vacation ownership sector. He is set to moderate five industry chiefs in hearty debate on day one of AHIC.
“The tourism & hospitality buying trends of the consumer are shifting. They want what they want,” agreed Clifton.
Clifton suggested that the continually rising consumer interest in vacation ownership is but one tangible reflection of the consumer desire for autonomy in travel decision-making.
“Timeshare is a truly flexible product offering a wide variety of quality timeshare resorts offered at different price ranges with trend-aligned, innovative products and services introduced by the operators each year.”
This is good news for the Middle East as this region is perceived by experts in the vacation ownership industry as having incredible potential: “This is a sector that, once understood, brings enormous value to the table of everyone involved – the investor, the developer, the operator and, ultimately, the consumer,” said Clifton.
And, he should know. Interval is now in its third decade of operation and works a network of 2,200 world-class affiliated resorts for more than 1.8 million member families.
“We know that vacation ownership, or timeshare as it is also known, works – and how to ensure that it works well for all stakeholders.”
More will be tabled at AHIC, but for those of you who are eager not to miss out on what the consumer wants, several key factors provide for a super timeshare city, namely, sun, sand and shopping!
Hello Arabia! Timeshare could be our next big thing, particularly if someone out there has Global Aspirations to create an Arabia-born timeshare product!

The Arabian Hotel Investment Conference is jointly organised by The Bench and the Middle East Economic Digest. It will run from April 28-30, 2007 at Dubai’s Madinat Jumeirah Convention Centre. To register, visit