UAE events industry reviving

The year has been quite challenging with the pandemic taking over and disrupting processes in the hospitality industry. Last month, for the first time, owners and management teams from the hospitality industry came together and discussed some of the key areas in the industry.

Robin Rossmann, Managing Director, STR

These recent months have remained incredibly challenging even with eased restrictions on travel. There has been additional demand flowing to UAE hotels with a lift from the staycation market, but performance levels have remained well below historical averages with full recovery not expected for years. Now the focus is on this post-summer period, which would usually feature conferences, events and a great deal of corporate demand. Our forward-looking intelligence shows that the United Arab Emirates has higher occupancy on the books than most markets we are measuring around the world. This would indicate that the recovery trend line is moving in the right direction even if so much remains uncertain.

Floor Bleeker, Chief Information Officer Middle East & Africa, Global Accor Strategic Programs, Accor

Finding ways to hold safe live events is of critical importance to the recovery of our industry. It was really great to see colleagues and friends and to share a real stage with several leaders in the hospitality technology industry in the Middle East. The content of the conference was inspiring and educational. During our session we discussed the importance and the role of technology in the transformation of the industry as we adjust to operating in a new normal, and how the adoption of technology is key to the new customer journey and the hotel operating model.

Christophe Landais, Chief Executive Officer, Action Hotels Company

The Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) 2020 will be remembered for the creativity, reactivity and resilience of the Bench Events management in action to turnaround in five months from an unprecedented desperate situation with the last-minute cancellation of the conference in April to a success in September. Most evidently this year the ambience was not there, however AHIC was kept alive in all its stakeholders’ minds for the future.

Bani Haddad, Founder and Managing Director, Aleph Hospitality

It was great to be part of AHIC again this year and it was especially nice to be able to interact with other delegates in a live environment again, despite the comprehensive precautionary measures that were taken.  I really enjoyed our panel session on alternative hotel management options, especially as we have experienced a surge in demand for third-party management from both hotel owners and international hotel brands at Aleph Hospitality, which has resulted in doubling our hotel portfolio this year. Our panel discussion confirmed the acceleration of the shift we are seeing in the industry from brand-managed hotels to franchising. I would like to extend my thanks and congratulations to the Bench Events team for putting together a fantastic hybrid event in a time our industry needs it most, with a thought-provoking programme and a stellar line up of speakers.

Marloes Knippenberg, CEO, Kerten Hospitality

It was encouraging to see discussions at AHIC increasingly focusing on a collective industry appeal to reimagine hospitality in the wake of the global standstill without solely looking at the bottom line. As of late, the grand contributor to this discussion that adds real value, de-risks investments and maximises space is mixed-use projects creating efficiencies of scale through disruption, complementing brands and the creation of a community. In the new normal, this approach will prove pivotal for the recovery of the industry and for its positive uptick in a region that has demonstrated potential for growth, the establishments of futuristic cities and innovative smart solutions across all verticals. AHIC’s sessions addressed all these pressing topics and paved the road to new hospitality in 2021. We now need to work together as an industry to make that happen!

Emma Banks, VP of F&B Strategy and Development EMEA, Hilton

During such an unusual year it felt really exciting to attend and speak at AHIC’s physical event. I shared my wonderful experiences about leading F&B for Hilton EMEA and how we plan to tackle the challenges that lay ahead, relying heavily on my team who act as dedicated F&B consultants within the business supporting our operators and owners. I believe that the importance of F&B in hotels cannot be understated, if executed effectively it creates a halo effect for the hotel, making it such an important driver for the hotel business. I left feeling galvanised by speaking to and hearing from my industry colleagues.

Adeeb Ahamed, Managing Director, Twenty14 Holdings

Twenty14 Holdings was part of AHIC’s opening session. Being an asset owner, my outlook for the hospitality sector remains long-term. We remain bullish about the prospects of the sector and see this period as an opportunity to assess our properties, closely monitor the changing trends of global travellers, and place our future investments along these evolving patterns. We are committed to creating a balanced portfolio of distinctly designed assets that offer well curated experiences for customers and maximises returns for investors. This period is being used to redraw relationships with operators and other stakeholders through better strategic communication, as well as reassessing the investment scope to hybridise the investment portfolio. The ever-evolving changes in trends need to be observed, collated, and translated into investable goals going forward.

Jennifer Pettinger-Haines, Programme Director of AHIC and Managing Director Middle East, Bench Events

Reflecting on the sessions and discussions that took place at AHIC 2020, it was interesting to note that the industry is expecting a flood of distressed assets to come onto the market with the general consensus that this is likely 6-12 months away. When this does happen, there could still be a gap in buyer and seller expectations when it comes to hotel investment. Whilst the region is seeing interest from international investors, regional investors with available cash have been actively looking for hotel assets in other parts of the world, in particular in Europe and the US, and they will continue to do so. We haven’t seen the real ‘bargains’ yet though, but when they do start to hit the market, there is going to be a lot of competition from buyers. On the flip side, hotel owners with cash reserves are using this time to refurbish or renovate their properties, and as cash remains king for existing asset owners, they are looking for ways to generate cashflow from the local market to keep cash flowing through the business.

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