As industry experts gathered at this year’s Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC), one message was clear: now is the right time to invest in the Gulf’s growing hotel industry in the UAE, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia  and Oman.
Commenting on the common thread to emerge from AHIC’s main sessions which addressed the changing geo-political landscapes in the Middle East, and its ramifications for investors and developers, Jonathan Worsley, chairman and CEO of Bench Events, and board member of STR Global, said: “Dubai is setting the standard in hotel occupancy rates and sustainability; Saudi Arabia is sagaciously tapping its oil funds to lead the way in religious tourism and prudently diversifying its contribution to GDP away from hydrocarbon revenues; and Oman – the often mentioned ‘dark horse’ at the conference – presents a landscape fertile for hospitality development.
“The investment that is now being directed into Oman’s hospitality  infrastructure – such as the planned expansion of the Muscat International Airport, with the upgrading of the Seeb International Airport for instance – shows that the country’s ambition to flourish into a tourism hotspot is finally matching its unrivalled natural beauty and uncrowded, serene coastline.
Echoing Worsley’s sentiment, Kurt Ritter, CEO and president The Rezidor Hotel Group, said: “With the strong performance of the UAE and Saudi Arabia last year it is clear that now is the time to further invest in these key countries.”Adding further weight to the case to invest in Oman, Salman Haider, managing director, Majid Al Futtaim Properties, said: “Given the opportunities offered by Oman, we are currently working on three proposed hotels in The Wave – our master-planned community in the Sultanate.”And concurring with the prevailing sentiment from the conference halls, Joe Sita, president, IFA Hotel Investments, promoting the new airport hotel brand Yotel, said: “Throughout the conference we saw interesting possibilities come to light in all three of these markets [UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman] – we see a future for the Yotel brand in each.”Following the seismic shift in the Middle East’s socio-political landscape in the wake of the Arab Spring, the ‘Investment Climate in the New Arab World’ conference at AHIC 2012 emphasised that the strong tourism fundamentals of the region are still in-place and recovery is only a matter of time.
“The fundamentals are the same. Sinai is still a great place to go for diving and the fish have not gone away,” Paul Pisani, senior vice president, hotel development, Corinthia Hotels, addressing delegates at the event.
Meanwhile at AHIC, Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, Egypt’s Minister of Tourism, discussing the impact of the Arab Spring and the popular uprisings against Hosni Mubarak that have inundated Egyptian society for more than a year now, said in the ‘A hard talk on demand’ conference that tourism numbers to the pharoanic capital are recovering.
“The tourism sector is too important for it to be jeopardised by this or that political party. We are hopeful that at the end of the electoral process in June we will see a substantial increase [in tourism numbers]. Our plan is to get back to the figures in 2010 and to get 14.5 million tourists this year and create the environment and capacity to receive some 30 million tourists by 2017,” he said.
A highlight at this year’s AHIC was the ‘A Focus on Investment Opportunities Outside of the Middle East’ conference, which considered demographics worth tapping outside the region.
During the symposium, Enrique Carillo Lavat, CEO Fontaur said Mexico will sign a double taxation agreement with the UAE and aims to secure direct flights from Gulf destinations to the South American continent. “Mexico hopes for direct flights from the Gulf – we are working on it,” Lavat remarked, as he noted that Mexico aims to double its number of foreign tourists from 23 million last year.