Breaking Travel News interview: Jonathan Worsley, chairman, Bench Events

5th May 2013
Breaking Travel News interview: Jonathan Worsley, chairman, Bench Events

Over the past decade Bench events has launched the gold standard in hotel investment events across Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Events in Berlin, Moscow, Dubai, Istanbul and Nairobi are now the definitive meeting places for the hotel investment community to learn, network, and most importantly to do deals. Here Breaking Travel News sits down with Bench chairman Jonathan Worsley to discuss the industry leading Arabian Hotel Investment Conference.

Breaking Travel News: Preparations are well underway ahead of the annual Arabian Hotel Investment Conference in Dubai. Can you tell us what is new with the convention this year?

Jonathan Worsley: The format for AHIC 2013 has changed slightly; the conference is now over a two day period. We continually listen to feedback from our delegates and we understand that workloads are increasing and people have less time to spare. We are still providing the same content, it is now just condensed.

The programme is looking more closely at demand than previous years with contributions from the WTTC and UNWTO as well as the exclusive release of a Global Travel Intentions survey undertaken by Visa. This year will also address the issue of country risk which is vital for investors and look at the all-important profit contribution from hotel food and beverage and trends that are shaping this area of the industry.

A selection of confirmed speakers for AHIC 2013 includes: Amr Abdel Ghaffar, regional director, Middle East, UNWTO; Joe Sita, president, IFA Hotel Investments; Paul Griffiths, chief executive, Dubai Airports; Eric Danziger, president, Wyndham Hotel Group; Jennifer Fox, president, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts; Wolfgang Neumann, president, Rezidor Hotel Group; Mark Wynne-Smith, global chief executive, Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels; and Gerald Lawless, president, Jumeirah Group.

BTN: Bench Events has been hosting a series of Regional Briefings in the build up to the event. Can you tell us a little about the objectives behind these and the reception Bench has been receiving?

JW: The theme for AHIC 2013 is ‘Connecting People and Creating Knowledge’ which has been our aim with the regional briefings.

We have organised a series of invitation only events bringing together the local investment, development and finance community with our existing conference supporters.

Through both the briefings and AHIC itself we are aiming to connect people, provide an educational platform and help attendees to grow their business.

Briefings have taken place in Riyadh and Muscat with a great response in each market.

KSA was a priority market for us as hotel development in Saudi is witnessing a sustained upswing with numerous large scale projects taking place as a result of religious tourism.

The tourism industry has consistently been a key contributor to the KSA economy and a pillar of the government’s economic diversification program. Our third briefing will take place in Doha at the end of March.

BTN: Which markets in the Middle East do you feel offer most to hospitality investors as we move into 2013? Do you feel the shadow has finally lifted?

JW: The Gulf States are of increasing interest to global investors, and the big story is the resurgence of Dubai with hotels reporting some of the highest room rates in the world resulting in strong pipeline of new builds entering the market.

Alpin Capital in its GCC hospitality industry report confirms that hotels as an asset class have the potential to provide an excellent opportunity for investors.

The report estimates that the GCC hospitality market is anticipated to grow at an annual rate of 8.1 per cent to US$28.3 billion through to 2016 compared to US$19.2 billion in 2011.

Saudi Arabia is another big growth market and we have included a symposium on KSA at AHIC 2013.

The symposium will provide a platform for hotel owners, developers and investors to learn how their business can benefit from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s phenomenal growth and also address the challenges of operating in this market.

BTN: AHIC is just the tip of the iceberg for Bench, with the Africa Hotel Investment Forum and the Russia & CIS Investment Conference also on the horizon.

Can you tell us a little about these events and what Bench Events hopes to achieve with its growing portfolio?

JW: The Bench portfolio is continually growing, after AHIC our next event will be the Turkey & Neighbours Hotel Investment Conference taking place May 29th-30th 2013 at the Marmara Taksim, Istanbul.

The Turkish market provides great potential for both investors and developers with more than 8,500 rooms set to enter the market by 2015.

We have recently announced that the Africa Hotel Investment Forum 2013 will return to Nairobi, taking place September 24th-25th.

AHIF has been a resounding success bringing together 750 key individuals to drive growth across the Africa continent in the last two years.

Bench Events is proud to be involved in such an exciting continent and analysts predict that by 2050, Africa’s GDP will equal the combined GDPs of the US and the EU at current prices (African Business Magazine).

Now in its ninth year, the Russia & CIS Hotel Investment Conference will take place October 21st-23rd 2013. RHIC has become the region’s premier gathering bringing together the most senior level professionals.

Development for the 2013 programme is underway and will feature interviews with leading hoteliers, forecasts from top economists and panel discussions on the latest developments, trends and best practice in the hotel and investment industry.

BTN: How useful do you feel ITB Berlin is when seeking to get your message out to industry executives and other stakeholders during the build up to a Bench organised event?

JW: ITB provides an essential platform to reach all of our key stakeholders, it’s an excellent opportunity to conduct meetings with existing clients and meet new business partners. With ITB and the International Hotel Investment Forum occurring in the same week, Berlin is always a really exciting place to be – it’s a week full of learning and networking and there is always a real buzz in the air with all of the latest market trends and developments.

It’s really important for Bench to have a presence within the industry in order to ensure we are providing delegates with the most educational content at each event.

More Information

For more information head over to the Bench Events website.


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