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Dubai hospitality poised for rapid recovery

After a tough year with pervading talk of “Dubai Doom”, an air of quiet confidence returned to the region as hospitality leaders gathered for the 5th Arabian Hotel Investment Conference at the Madinat Jumeirah Convention Centre.

Over 700 leading thought-leaders and decision-makers from 45 countries shared their insights and thoughts on the how the Middle East was faring in the global downturn.

(Above: HE Sultan Bin Sulayem, Chairman of Dubai World, who received the 2009 AHIC Leadership Award)
The consensus was that while the region’s hospitality faces its most challenging year yet, it is well-placed for strong recovery and will emerge from the global downturn fitter than ever.

Hotel markets in key cities around the Middle East are bearing up well despite the global financial crisis, according to Global CEO of Jones Lang LaSalle, Arthur de Haast.

He said: “The view of those surveyed was that cities such as Doha, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh would recover from the current downturn within a year, with Dubai coming back within two years.”


Hamad bin Mejren of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) believed investment in the emirate’s tourism and hospitality would reap dividends in the long-term.

(The Challenge of Maintaining Growth - the key issue of this year’s conference)

“We strongly believe that Dubai may emerge faster than other regions when the global economy improves. Dubai has invested heavily in the tourism sector and is better placed to remain sound during the challenging time.”

Co-organiser of AHIC, Jonathan Worsley, said: “The concluding message from this year’s event is that while the short-term outlook looks challenging, overall expectations from the region remained high.”

The appetite for fresh opportunities in fresh markets remained stronger than ever with perhaps the biggest excitement of the three-day conference belonging to the potential of Saudi Arabia.

After decades of tough travel and investment restrictions, the kingdom has laid out ground-breaking plans to double its tourism visitors and hotel rooms over the next decade. This is being accompanied by a relaxing of visa restrictions, as well as full government support and incentives to diversity tourism.

HRH Prince Sultan Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, President & Chairman, Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities (SCTA), presented his kingdom’s case for investment possibilities at the Saudi Arabia Summit on Day One of AHIC.

(Above: HRH Prince Sultan Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud)

“We want to open Saudi Arabia to the world,” he said. “It is a land of great sands, sights and smells. We are sure that hotel investment will be one of the biggest growth areas in Saudi Arabia as tourism is accepted on the national agenda.”

The SCTA estimates visitor numbers will rise from 47 million in 2008 to 88 million by 2020, while the number of hotel rooms would rise from 117,097 to 254,310.

Prince Sultan thought these figures were on the conservative side, and pointed to a series of developments already underway, including a railway connecting western Saudi Arabia to the east coast, and the development of the Red Sea coastline with up to 21 new destinations.

But the prince also cautioned that the kingdom would remain conservative in its approach. “Our goal is to make our culture welcome, but not to open the floodgates for unrestricted tourism. Our mandate is to ensure that tourism adds value to the culture, our society and to our economy.”

The star of Day Two was HE Sultan Bin Sulayem, Chairman of Dubai World, who received the 2009 AHIC Leadership Award from hotel legend Sol Kerzner. Sultan bin Sulayem won the award for his role in hotel development both in the region and worldwide, and Kerzner saluted him for his “fantastic entrepreneurship” and role in the creation of The Palm Jumeirah.

“He is a true leader who works with enthusiasm and vigour to get things done,” said Kerzner. “It has been a privilege to work with him and to present this award today.”

(Above: the future of travel session)

Day Three of AHIC provided a glimpse into the future of travel, with the two key trends emerging - the ever-growing importance of environment in how we plan our travel, and the growing realisation of mass space tourism.