The 17th edition of the Arabian and African Hospitality Investment Conference (AHIC) welcomed 800 delegates from 54 countries to the live in person event, ready to Rise Together and navigate the way forward for the hospitality and tourism sectors in Middle East and Africa.
The three-day event saw industry leaders debate various topics from investment potential in Saudi Arabia, hospitality products in Africa, human capital and company culture, new technologies, experiential luxury, diversity in the workforce, and how to catalyze the movement for change within global hospitality.
Jonathan Worsley, chairman of Bench and founder of AHIC, interviewed Mahmoud Abdulhadi, Deputy Minister, Investment Attraction, Ministry of Tourism, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where they spoke of the mammoth potential for hospitality investment, as the Kingdom seeks to achieve three major tourism goals; to employ one million people in tourism over the next 10 years; for the tourism sector to contribute 10 per cent of GDP by 2030; and for Saudi Arabia to become a top five destination globally, with 100 million visits by 2030.
Abdulhadi said: “Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s last tourism frontiers and home to the world’s largest tourism projects. As the Ministry works to meet our target of becoming a top five global tourist destination, our strategy involves building a sustainable tourism market that provides stable growth opportunities whilst protecting the Kingdom’s natural environment. It is the perfect time to invest in Saudi tourism and, by investing now, our partners can directly contribute to the evolution of our nascent tourism sector”.
Worsley commented: “From investors to attendees alike, there’s been considerable interest in the Saudi market here at AHIC. Inspired by the key themes of ‘innovation, sustainability and the future’, we were thrilled to have the Saudi Ministry of Tourism among our program to showcase the work that is being done across the Kingdom to build its offering, attract investment and ensure a robust recovery of the sector post pandemic.”
Abdulhadi also commented on the Ministry of Tourism’s intention for Saudi Arabia to become a world leader when it comes to sustainability. This message was echoed in live-on-stage interviews with Andrew McEvoy, head of tourism sector, NEOM, who revealed the foundations of developing a future destination with sustainability at the core of investment, and John Pagano, chief executive officer, The Red Sea Development Company and AMAALA, who discussed regenerative tourism and the partnerships that make it a reality on day two of AHIC.
Sustainability has formed a key pillar of the content throughout AHIC 2021, with the finals of the Sustainable Hospitality Challenge, an initiative by Hotelschool The Hague, a highlight. Six finalists presented their sustainable innovations for ‘future cities 2050’ to a C-suite jury and 800 industry leaders, with the team from Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne winning the challenge for their business model for SEVCCO (Shared Economic Value through Co-living Cooperative Opportunities), a community living project, centralized and operated by hospitality companies.
Brune Poirson, chief sustainability officer for Accor, presented the award on behalf of Sébastian Bazin, Chairman and CEO of Accor, who invited the winners to Accor’s headquarters in Paris and announced that Accor had joined the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance.
Attending AHIC virtually, Bazin said: “You are the leaders of tomorrow and you are going to change the world of hospitality. I am truly proud of all teams representing their phenomenal concepts. I would like to stress that EHL with the winning concept called SEVCCO is invited to meet me in Paris where we will investigate the execution by Accor.”
AHIC provided the launch platform for a number of hospitality start-ups and was the venue for several new hotel signings and industry announcements, summarized below.
AHIC’s Worsley said: “We are delighted to have helped facilitate numerous interactions and meetings between hotel investors and operators over the past three days, and are excited to witness so many announcements, from industry incubators to new owner-operator agreements, being made at AHIC 2021. As we Rise Together from the pandemic, AHIC is once again a platform for new partnerships and the place where deals are done.”
AHIC’s contribution to the global hospitality industry was recognized by the Secretary General of the UNWTO, H.E. Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, in a special letter of thanks to Worsley and the Bench team, presented by Anita Mendiratta, special advisor to the Secretary General of the UNWTO.
The Secretary General said: “Closing borders and skies across the world, Covid-19
caused devastation to our global industry. Since the beginning of the pandemic, you
as a group of leaders stepped forward to ensure that our industry stayed connected, informed, innovative and inspired”.
Worsley was credited with “truly visionary leadership” and using technology as a way of step-changing how the industry connects, with Bench’s numerous “virtual, hybrid and now live events ensuring that the restart of business tourism and events worldwide is smart, united, and sustainable”.