Arab Hotel Investment Conference is back: Why it’s so amazing

Last year, the move of the 14th Arab Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) from Dubai Jumeirah Madinat to the neighboring Emirate Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) was a huge challenge.

Ras Al Khaimah is where? It is one-hour drive from Dubai Airport.

Arriving at midnight at Dubai Airport, and driving  on a sheer endless straight highway through the desert, it certainly was an entirely new experience: no skyscrapers, no traffic jams, nothing but a totally  empty highwa  which is normally clogged up during the day, with only some camels walking along enroute during the night.

After the one-hour drive, all of a sudden there was a wake-up call as lights of a monumental building like a Fata Mogana (mirage) emerged from the horizon. Getting closer, it was not a Fat Mogana but the newly-opened Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Photo © Elisabeth Lang

As the function rooms at the Waldorf Astoria hotel were not big enough to host the AHIC event with  nearly 2,000 delegates, a gigantic fully-airconditioned tent was built just for this event and only for the 3 days of the conference.

We are talking about a cost of nearly 2 million dollars set in the sand for a humongous fully-equipped tent with the latest technologies – Wi Fi, a TV broadcasting studio, and a revolving stage. Just amazing!

BBC Hard Talk presenter Stephan Sackur, who had just arrived from ice-cold Moscow, was interviewing Russia’s Foreign Secretary, Sergej Lavrov, and then found himself on the beach on a revolving stage the next day with a colorful audience and an outside temperature of 45 Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

Photo © Elisabeth Lang

A red carpet was rolled out for the rulers and dignitaries of Ras Al Khaimah and the entire region with people rushing towards the AHIC village on the beach.

Ras Al Khaimah is the most authentic and UAE’s second-smallest emirate and is quietly boosting its tourism, free zones, and real estate.

Despite being the second smallest emirate in the UAE with a population of just 400,000, strong real estate and hospitality sectors, as well as corporate giants such as RAK Ceramics and Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries (Julphar) have helped RAK avoid the oil-related economic crisis of its neighbors.

During AHIC 2019’s opening, the Ras Al Khaimah ruler launched a contest to create a “unique” resort.

The ruler, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi of Ras Al Khaimah, launched the Grand RAK Project competition which is open to delegates registered at the event.

Photo © Elisabeth Lang

Sheikh Saud said: “We support projects and concepts that spark creativity and place Ras Al Khaimah at the forefront of the tourism sector which aims to create a new resort that is unique to the emirate.

“Sustained growth is already the hallmark of Ras Al Khaimah’s tourism industry, and we seek to ensure this continues by utilizing our strategic tourism plan to reach well-defined targets.”

Working in teams combining hotel designers and operators, entrants will have 3 months to prepare a preliminary concept vision supported by a high-level feasibility appraisal.

The winning project will be allocated a coveted beachfront location.

Photo © Elisabeth Lang

The judging panel for the Grand RAK Project includes Abdullah Al Abdooli, Managing Director and CEO, Marjan; David Daniels, Director of Architecture, SSH; Filippo Sona, Managing Director, Global Hospitality, Drees & Sommer; and Kevin Underwood, Principal, HKS Hospitality Group.

While the UAE remains RAK’s strongest market, representing about 40 percent of total visitors, Europe is gaining ground. The number of German tourists to RAK grew by 53 percent last year, followed by 28.5 percent growth from the UK, 25 percent from India, and 4 percent from Russia.

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The Government of Ras Al Khaimah has an established history in the tourism sector commencing with the opening of the first internationally-branded hotel back in 2001 and is galloping forward on a large scale.

Photo © Elisabeth Lang

With the launch of the first Arabian Hotel Investment Conference last year, the spotlight shone on Ras Al Khaimah. The program, featuring more than 100 speakers from around the world, has been curated around this year’s theme with a focus on addressing the current tensions in the owner-operator relationship, uncovering innovative approaches to business, analyzing future market demand trends, and fostering harmonious relationships between all stakeholders in order to sustain growth and prosperity

In his speech, Jonathan Worsley, Chairman of AHIC, said:

“It is evident to me that we are going through transformational change within the Middle East’s hotel investment market. As more supply comes online and the market becomes increasingly competitive, the dynamic of the owner-operator relationship has shifted. As the landscape becomes more competitive it is key that all parties are working together towards the same goals. With this backdrop in mind, together with our advisory board and partners at Insignia, we concluded that evolution in 2019 is not about creating disruptive moves but about finding constructive steps that create an environment of clarity and collaboration. Hence, we came to our 2019 theme, Synchronized for Success.

“Synchronicity not just in relationships but in the alignment of business strategy with what is happening in the broader macro-economic environment as some of the most ambitious projects of our generation are announced and social transformations, technical innovations, and shifting consumer behavior are changing the hotel investment landscape at a staggering pace.”

How can business be synced with these new dynamics?

The visionary industry leader, Stardom Speaker Sebastien Bazin, Chairman & CEO of ACCOR, will address the AHIC community on “What is your compass during times of disruption, innovation, and global turmoil?”

Conference Chair Stephen Sackur will take a break from his day job as host of HARDtalk and head back to the beach as he has been assigned one job at AHIC 2019 – to ask the questions the industry wants addressed the most so that attendees walk away with the insights they need.

Synchronized for success? Three owners and three operators will sit down with Stephen Sackur to discuss how they are “Syncing for Success.” Never in the history of the hotel industry has there been such a rapid build-up of hotel rooms. How does the industry cope and what business models are evolving that will help retain and attract more owners and investors? Stephen Sackur will present these tough questions to the operators.

Who else is there? Among the speakers are:

The Managing Director & CEO of Marjan responsible for creating and designing Ras Al Khaimah’s key freehold master plans including the spectacular Al Marjan Island, a world-class tourism development offering excellent opportunities for investors.

Abdullah Al Abdouli, Head of Investment & Finance, The Red Sea Development Company which is creating an exquisite ultra-luxury destination within a pristine 28,000 km² area that includes an archipelago of more than 50 unspoiled islands, volcanoes, desert, mountains, nature, and culture.

Jay Rosen, Chief Executive Officer, Public Investment Fund, Amaala, and ultra-luxury development that is part of an integrated approach to developing Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast focusing on wellness, healthy living, and meditation. The development will cover an area of more than 3,800 sq. km. and will target more than 2,500 hotel keys.

The Chief Executive Officer of RAK Properties has drawn regional and global interest for launching state-of-the-art luxury hotels, resorts, and malls. With more than $540 million worth of available capital, the company is behind the Anantara Mina Al Arab, Ras Al Khaimah, and the 350-key InterContinental Ras Al Khaimah Mina Al Arab Resort.

The AHIC 2019 is taking place from April 9-11 at the AHIC Village, Ras Al Khaimah.

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