Amid the global meltdown, smart investors have their sights set on Saudi Arabia and have earmarked the kingdom as the next potential bright spot for tourism, according to Jonathan Worsley, co-organizer of the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC), now in its fifth year.
He said that a high profile delegation from Saudi Arabia will put forward the case for investment in the country’s tourism and hospitality industry at the upcoming Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (May 2-4, 2009). They will outline the government’s commitment to boosting the tourism and leisure sector and profile the opportunities for the private sector. They will also address any challenges as well as the challenges, for the private sector.
“The launch of the Saudi Summit at AHIC is timely given the global scenario. The current situation has caused many to rethink their tourism and hospitality investment strategies as former hotspots go in to meltdown,” Worsley said. “What we are seeing in Saudi Arabia is a continued investment in the requisite infrastructure to develop and maintain a healthy hospitality sector, from new airlines, to a rail network, and to a plethora of accommodation options.”
Keynote speaker of the key opening session at AHIC’s Summit on Saudi Arabia, will be president and chairman of the board for the Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities, HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud who said the remit for SCTA is to train and create jobs and oversee the hotel and travel trade sector, as well as build on the kingdom’s heritage. He said that a five-year strategic plan is guiding this development.
“Our aim is to reawaken our culture, not to open the floodgates for unrestricted tourism,” he said. “Our mandate is to ensure that tourism adds value to our culture, our society, to our economy, and to the visitor.”
With the easing of restrictions on tourism visas, plus government incentives and investment opportunities, HRH Prince Sultan said SCTA’s efforts and programs are aimed at developing local tourism. He said that a service sector is being created from the ground-up to cater to not only Umrah, Pilgrim, and overseas tourists, but also domestic travel, meetings, and events.
Worsley pointed to a Vision 2020 document outlining national development strategies that predicts more that 43 million visitors will travel through the kingdom by that year. Currently, STR Global statistics for 2008 demonstrate that Saudi cities, though not hitting the dizzying heights of other regional gateways, are maintaining a healthy increase in revenues.
Last year, Jeddah – with 71.5 percent average occupancy – saw an increase in revPAR of 27.7 percent to US$114 with an average room rate of US$159, while Riyadh had a similar occupancy figure with an average rate of US$244 and revPAR of US$175, up 25.3 percent.
To support the new leisure market, the Saudi Council of Ministers has approved plans for a number of major tourism projects on the Red Sea coast and elsewhere, while many global hotel groups have announced plans for expansion in Saudi Arabia.
Identifying a need for both additional deluxe rooms and budget accommodations to cater to the expected burgeoning of the mid-range travel market, Hilton Hotels has recently announced an agreement to develop 13 Hilton Garden Inn properties with 2,500 rooms, starting this year in Riyadh, and is also looking to bring in its upscale Conrad brand.
According to Jean-Paul Herzog, Hilton president, Middle East and Africa, the group is paying special attention to the needs of Saudi Arabia to ensure development projects were in sync with the kingdom’s tourism ambitions. “Our immediate expansion plans in the Kingdom will drive the presence of our core Hilton brand and luxury brands, The Waldorf Astoria and Conrad, but we are also identifying opportunities for Doubletree by Hilton, as well as Hilton Garden Inn,” he said. “We strongly believe a market as expansive and diverse as Saudi Arabia has room for all service points.”
Worsley stressed that while the development pipeline underway was healthy, there were many more opportunities, particularly related to government mega projects. “We expect a huge level of interest in the inaugural Saudi Summit at AHIC,” he said. “For many, Saudi Arabia is largely unknown, and the Summit will set the stage for potential investors and developers to learn more about of this vast market.”
The 2009 conference includes networking receptions, plus a world-class speaking faculty including HE Abdullah M. Ruhaimy, president, The General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) Saudi Arabia; Dr. Henry Azzam, CEO Middle East & North Africa, Deutsche Bank AG; Paul Griffiths, chief executive officer, Dubai Airports; Sarmad Zok, chief executive officer of Kingdom Hotel Investments; Sami Alhokair, chairman and founder, Fawaz Alhokair Group; John Defterios, host, CNN Marketplace Middle East; and Gerald Lawless, executive chairman, Jumeirah Group, among others.
The Arabian Hotel Investment Conference is organized by Bench Events and MEED Events. Details can be found on www.arabianconference.com.
Pipeline Developments in Saudi Arabia include:
· Accor to double its inventory to 20 hotels with 5,500 rooms by 2010
· Marriott to expand from 3 to 13 properties by 2013 bringing in Ritz-Carlton, Marriott Executive Apartments, and Courtyards by Marriott
· Starwood announced that its Aloft brand will debut in Riyadh in 2011
· Four Points will launch in Jeddah and Dhahran
· InterContinental Group to boost its presence with 12 Holiday Inn Express properties
· Kempinski and Rocco Forte Collection in Jeddah
· Fairmont properties in Makkah
· Hyatt Hotel in Jeddah
· Rezidor’s Park Inn in Riyadh and Al Khobar