The second session of the virtual conclave had three speakers from the hospitality industry – Ahmed Obaid Al Qaseer, Chief Operating Officer, Shurooq; Alexander Suski, Associate Vice President Sales & Marketing, Millennium Hotels & Resorts Middle East, Africa and Turkey; and Philip Wooller, Area Director – Middle East & Africa, STR.
(Digital Conclave Session 2)
The government of the UAE issued various precautions, safety regulations and measures to provide a good experience for their clientele. After almost two to three months of lockdown, customers will be looking for something new, they will look out for a different experience, opined the three speakers.
New protocols in the industry
Ahmed Obaid Al Qaseer, Chief Operating Officer, Shurooq, shared, “Tourism plays a key role in GDP and some countries are totally dependent on tourism and what has come, has come to us without any notice and there are lot of lessons that we have learnt.”
Alexander Suski, Associate Vice President Sales & Marketing, Millennium Hotels & Resorts Middle East, Africa and Turkey, said, “if you look at hospitality industry, two major things are already there; the health and safety protocols everywhere and secondly how travel industry; travel agents, airlines and hotels will look at the fixed costs. These are the two things right now. If you look at health and safety protocols, we work with only the best in this region. As we look at the guest journey it is going to change and the routine will change too. If you look at F&B, it will change for the better. In the hotel industry procurement is also changing. There will be changes in hotels, airlines and travel agents as well.”
Philip Wooller, Area Director – Middle East & Africa, STR, stated, “We are in a way in a fortunate position to report about the hotel industry worldwide, as we collect hotel performance data across the globe for over 80,000 hotels. For the past three to four months, we have been supporting the hotel industry as much as we can and giving them as much information as possible about what is happening. We know that the virus started in Asia, interestingly we’ve seen some sort of developments and occupancies beginning to build and we see demand coming back to some of the cities. We are certainly not out of the woods, but the important thing is we can talk in detail about what is happening, and I can share a little bit about this region and beyond.”
On the new trends, Al Qaseer commented, “Tourism sector is definitely the sector that has been affected the most in this COVID situation, people are banned from travelling, M!CE and other industries have been affected. A lot of things will change but I’m a positive person and feel that things will slowly go back to normal. Interestingly there is a shift right now, we had a partial and full lockdown in UAE and what we learnt from that is, people are
still not sure, some are okay with going out and some are still scared to venture out until a vaccine is developed.
But we have noticed during the lockdown that we have a unique hotel structure. We have something called the Sharjah Collection that consists of three hotels; one of them is located in the East coast among the mangroves in Kalba with 22 separate villas with their own pools; another hotel is located in the middle of the desert in the beautiful Al Badayer Oasis that consists of 15 rooms; and the third hotel is linked to the archaeological site with five rooms. All are unique experiences and during the lockdown we were pleasantly surprised as we received an average occupancy rate of 60% with a very high ADR which was strange at that time. But, during the lockdown people had the chance to go out, they wanted to go where they felt comfortable. And, in our hotels we have separate rooms, separate villas; we managed to get a lot of people to come to the hotel because they felt safe.
However, a lot of things change. It is the way you receive people. We had to restructure because today you need to have less interaction with guests. The way you deal with guests is different as you need to adhere to the protocols and government policies like checking the temperature, social distancing etc. You just show people how safe it is with social distancing and the health and safety protocols in place.
Guests will look at different experiences and the focus will be on boutique hotels. Looking at different experiences is what we are focusing on. We will continue with our developments. You need to make sure that you have less interaction with other guests. As humans we like to travel and I’m sure we will bounce back soon. It is all about reassuring people and we have a lot of bookings coming to our hotels until next year. We are not sure about which countries will be open, so you need to diversify. Presently, we have both indoor and outdoor experiences.”
Wooller shared that the last 10 to 15 years have been busy but now things will move at a slow pace. However, if you are on the road to open a hotel, you will open it but change the functionality. We need to get the airlines moving and there will be challenges temporarily, however things will improve.
Al Qaseer said, “As an investor will you put the money in hotels. We will still go ahead but look at boutique hotels’ outdoor experiences in Sharjah, and adventure and ecotourism. You can book your own activities with your family; the activities are safe and you can do them comfortably. Travellers are looking for new experiences and currently we are catering to the domestic market.”
Suski commented, “Development in the pipeline is in different areas in Dubai, Saudi, Africa and Turkey where we see the growth potential. There is a big chunk of hotel apartments and during the lockdown these functioned well. We kept our prices as there was a demand. In Dubai prices will not go up for the next one to two years. As Expo and the new year checks in there would be an increase in terms of the price.”
Wooller added, “When we were at our worst point, in China it dropped to 6 or 8% for occupancy in 250,000 rooms. Now China has 49% occupancy, that is, a huge domestic market. They are averaging 35% occupancy. Europe and Africa had it tough. Development will continue once things start getting in place probably in about one or two years. However, hotels will still remain as a good investment in the region.”
It is all about reassuring people and we have a lot of bookings coming to our hotels until next year. Presently, we have both indoor and outdoor experiences. — Ahmed Obaid Al Qaseer
Development in the pipeline is in different areas in Dubai, Saudi, Africa and Turkey where we see the growth potential. There is a big chunk of hotel apartments and during the lockdown these functioned well. — Alexander Suski
Development will continue once things start getting in place probably in about one or two years. However, hotels will still remain as a good investment in the region. — Philip Wooller
The new normal
I think the protocols will change from country to country and hotel to hotel as well as in terms of implementation of protocols from government entities. For example, at Millennium we are an international brand and we are reaching out to make sure that we have the right partners in place and the right set up. Every hotel is a personal experience, at Millennium we have touch points, technology will not go to robotics stage but it will play a vital role; there will be QR codes for F&B menus, and hotels will have key cards. — Alexander Suski
Since Sharjah Collection has more boutique properties that ensure social distancing and more outdoor spaces, this helped us gain the trust of the visitors. Access to rooms through technology will be the new normal. — Ahmed Obaid Al Qaseer
UK, a lucrative source market
UK is an important source market for the UAE and likewise UK travellers enjoy the summer in the UAE and this year too once restrictions are lifted they will see an increase in the number of these travellers. Another key point was, for Dubai and Middle East from April to August are the months of summer so this year might see a better occupancy than last year in summer as now people are slowly moving out to explore and enjoy their movements. — Philip Wooller