His Royal Highness Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud, one of the richest men in the world, flew his 747 into Dubai to attend the first AHIC, where he received the AHIC Lifetime Achievement Award. His Royal Highness Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud, one of the richest men in the world, flew his 747 into Dubai to attend the first AHIC, where he received the AHIC Lifetime Achievement Award.

As the Arabian Hotel Investment Confernece celebrates its 10th anniversary, hoteliers reveal their forecast for the next decade, highlighting KSA, UAE, mid-market and extended stay as the main segments for growth, while new speakers reveal their different approach to doing business

The Arabian Hotel Investment Conference has been a forum for top level hotel investors, developers, operators and advisors in the Middle East to meet, debate and network for the past 10 years, with this year’s event on May 4-5 celebrating a “decade of defining the hotel investment landscape”.

Organised by Bench Events and Meed in collaboration with UNWTO and WTTC, the conference addresses a multitude of issues on an annual basis, from smart capital, finding different equity sources and innovative debt financing, through to exploring different operating models and the evolution of hotel F&B.

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In 2014, global perspective and hard talk sessions from hotel CEOs and the returning Saudi Symposium will be highlights, along with sessions on North Africa and, in light of Dubai’s Expo 2020 win, on creating value from mega-events.

More than 70 speakers will address delegates over the two days, with 12 speakers from the 2005 launch edition also speaking this year, and 27 new speakers.

The involvement of so many industry professionals was critical right from the get-go, recalls Bench Events co-founder Jonathan Worsley, who launched AHIC in 2005, having been a founding member of the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) in Berlin and an advisor to WTTC’s Global Travel & Tourism Summit in Doha in 2004.

“This event opened my eyes to the enormous opportunity for tourism in the Middle East and specifically a more focused event on hotel development and investment,” he recalls.

“There were industry colleagues such as James Wilson, who was CEO of IFA Hotels & Resorts at the time, who was confident of its success and came on board as a platinum sponsor in the first year,” says Worsley, adding that Sarmad Zok, CEO of Kingdom Hotel Investments, was also one of the early supporters, along with Gerald Lawless, executive chairman of the Jumeirah Group and Mary Gostelow, Richard Garland, Tom Nutley, and Kurt Ritter, former president and CEO of Rezidor.

Lawless himself recalls: “I think because Jonathan Worsley and I had a lot of conversations before the first AHIC was held, to me it was very much a combination of efforts from all sides that brought us to have the first AHIC in Dubai 10 years ago and certainly we always had a great sense of pride that Madinat Jumeirah was the host venue and continues to be the host venue ever since.

“It concentrated investors’ minds and was a chance to showcase what Dubai has to offer in terms of hospitality investment and indeed in the broader region to demonstrate the potential that exists for the travel and tourism industry through the investment in hotels and resorts and these lovely locations.”

Worsley adds: “The icing on the cake was when His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, president of Dubai Civil Aviation and chairman of Emirates Airline said he would be delighted to be the patron of the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference and after 10 years, he has not missed one conference”.

He says the theme for the first AHIC was “Windows of Opportunity”, and that he expects exactly the same theme to resonate this year and even 10 years from now.

“With nearly two billion people with increasing economic prosperity living within four hours flight time of the UAE, our patron, His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, said recently: ‘Dubai is the middle of the ‘new silk road’, the natural crossing point between eastward and westward routes’. Our theme for AHIC 2024 will undoubtedly be ‘Windows of Opportunity’,” he reveals.

With this in mind, coupled with the fact that conversation at this 10th anniversary conference will review the developments over the past 10 years and make forecasts for the next 10, Hotelier Middle East asked some of the speakers for their perspectives on lessons learned and the current and future windows of opportunity.

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