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The hospitality industry is recovering at a pace faster than expected in the Middle East region with Expo 2020 serving as a strong catalyst for the remarkable rebound of the sector. Leading hotel experts came together in a virtual roundtable ‘The Great Hospitality Reset’ in Dubai to discuss the future of hotel business and the industry outlook while catering to the changed mindset of travellers. Together they hailed the Expo 2020 Dubai for accelerating the hospitality industry’s path to recovery.
The webinar, organized by EVOPS Hotel Development Consultancy, in association with The House of ARY, BEE Global, Sabre, and Travel and Tourism News (TTN), was moderated by Natalie Nasser.
On the panel were Michel Noblet, Executive Chairman, ATECA Holding; Laurent A. Voivenel, Senior Vice President – Operations and Development, Europe Middle East, Africa and India; and Senior Vice President – Group Human Resources and Talent Development, Swiss-Belhotel International; Chris Nader, Co-Founder & CEO, ENVI Lodges; Nick Jeffery, Vice President, International, Sabre Hospitality; Jad Shamseddin, Chief Operating Officer, Aleph Hospitality; Kostas Nikolaidis, Middle East, Africa & Greece Executive, STR; Tina Haller, Director, Deal Advisory – Real Estate & Hospitality, KPMG; Rohit Vig, Vice President Development, StayWell Hospitality; and Vinicio Alberelli, Global Director of Operations, Nikki Beach Hotels and Resorts.
Talking about the industry outlook, Tina Haller, Director, Deal Advisory – Real Estate & Hospitality, KPMG, said, “The MENA region is doing pretty well with individual makets performing relatively better. Looking at the entire region we expect the full recovery in 2022 with occupancy reaching back to 2019 levels. Although international travel is yet to come back, mega events such as the Expo 2020 Dubai and FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 have supported demand for the region. However, considering what is happening in Ukraine there is still a lot of uncertainty to this recovery.“
Stressing on the need for fostering greater co-operation and collaboration within and outside the hotel industry, Michel Noblet, Executive Chairman, ATECA Holding, stated, “We all know the business landscape is changing. There is a difference between running a business and growing a business. Collaboration is critical to success, and we are seeing that a lot at the Expo 2020 Dubai. At ATECA Hotels we have recently joined the BEE Global programme by ARY which is an international business enhancement ecosystem of business success partners connecting humanity for prosperity. It gives us direct access to millions of travellers globally and helps us attract and retain customers who can Save 80% Gold from ARY on their stay and dining spend with us.”
Commenting on the changes taking place in the industry, Laurent A. Voivenel, Senior Vice President – Operations and Development, Europe Middle East, Africa and India; and Senior Vice President – Group Human Resources and Talent Development, Swiss-Belhotel International, said, “Corporate business is changing with the change in the corporate travellers’ habits and expense of travel. Less people are travelling for business with longer stays. Will it impact corporate business – Yes, will there be a drop in corporate travel – Yes. Whereas in the past Baby Boomers made up 60-70% of corporate travel share, over the years they have been gradually dropping to 20, 15 and 10% of market share. Therefore, with less Baby Boomers and more Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z commanding 85% of market share, hotels need to reimagine the customer experience and re-engage with guests based on their changing needs. Essential to recovery is understanding and responding to consumers’ changing behaviours.”
Nick Jeffery, Vice President, International, Sabre Hospitality, “We are seeing a quick acceleration of booking recovery with hospitality bookings leading the way and hotels and restaurants continuing to demonstrate buoyancy. There is a huge pent-up demand for hotels much of which is driven by Expo 2020 Dubai. The question is what technology hoteliers need to flourish as we emerge recovering from the pandemic? The narrative we are hearing from our customers is basically that hoteliers want capabilities to monetise every aspect of the customer journey both inside and outside the hotel room as well as in property and off property experiences. In response to these challenges, technology companies like Sabre had to deliver new marketplaces that enable hoteliers to boost travel by selling anything including on property and off property products, services, and personalised experiences. They also provide hoteliers revenue growth and create overall stronger brand engagement and loyalty.”
Chris Nader, Co-Founder & CEO, ENVI Lodges, stressed, “The change in market behaviour and lifestyle have pushed experts, developers and investors to start thinking differently on how to design and develop a hotel. How to conceive a hotel, how to look at an opportunity. In the past 70% of the revenue used to come from rooms, therefore, you would start thinking how you can maximise the number of rooms. It does not any more add any value to the guests as they are looking for something different, something more intimate, much more experiential, much more diversified in terms of offerings. Suddenly we are seeing a shift in the revenue towards 50-50. At times even a higher percentage of other sources of revenue than rooms – mainly driven by the need to have experiences. If you look at products like ours, we are into experiential lodging. So, moment we start receiving opportunities from investors we are looking at masterplans in a completely different way – thinking about what people can do when they come to the lodge. What are the key components that would drive business, that would return business and then we start plotting units around it. I think this shift in mindset is very important to cater to changing needs of the new generation of travellers.”
Jad Shamseddin, Chief Operating Officer, Aleph Hospitality, said, “Hospitality today is all about experiences. We are seeing a lot of hotel owners right now adjusting their design at hotels under construction. New ideas about creating lifestyle experiences are being explored. Some hotels and brands are looking at a pet-friendly approach. At our hotels at Aleph 50% of business is from food and beverage and other experiences which tells a lot about what people want. They are not just looking for accommodation. They want to be outdoor when possible and enjoy diverse experiences.”
Vinicio Alberelli, Global Director of Operations, Nikki Beach Hotels and Resorts, said, “The experience element is essential. We are always thinking about what can be done in terms of food and beverage concepts to retain the customers in our resort and increase their length of stay. At Nikki Beach Hotels and Resorts, we are looking at clientele who are experience seekers. Fifty per cent of revenue is driven by food and beverage combined with a strong beach and club component. We have exceptional restaurants offering something that is very authentic and local. I believe, planning is important in terms of what else can we offer to enhance the guest journey. F&B is a key component.”
Kostas Nikolaidis, Middle East, Africa & Greece Executive, STR, said, “We have come a long way in the Covid recovery. The Middle East, in particular, has been leading that recovery with Expo 2020 Dubai boosting the performance. There is more to come especially with events such as the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 around the corner. On the way as well is a big business events calendar coming up in Dubai with new announcements almost every other week. Ultimately it is all about doing ordinary things better in these extraordinary times. It is important to keep moving forward with the whole ecosystem including owners, technology providers, management companies, hotels and people.”
Rohit Vig, Vice President Development, StayWell Hospitality, “With extremely tight control over the pandemic, the UAE has done exceedingly well in working its way around the virus. Over the last six months we have seen tremendous increase in demand especially in our Dubai properties where our numbers are better than 2018 and 2019. The market has recovered quicker than any one of us expected and the forecasts are very healthy.”