The Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) 2018, with a theme of ‘Focus’, is set to take place on April 17-19, and will, for the first time, take place at a custom-made complex called the AHIC Village on the beach in front of The Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah.

At the time of this announcement, Bench Events chairman Jonathan Worsley released an open letter to members of the AHIC community outlining the changes in the conference this year. In an interview with Hotelier Middle East prior to releasing this letter, Worsley revealed at the time: “We have been in Madinat Jumeirah for 13 years and Gerald Lawless was a great supporter of the conference when we first set it up. We thought it would be good to shake it up and take it outside Dubai to make it more of a destination conference for our delegates.”

Bench Events managing director Middle East Jennifer Pettinger-Haines tells Hotelier Middle East: “We are tremendously excited to host ‘AHIC on the Beach’ this year and believe this answers to feedback we’ve received in the past by taking the industry out of the day-to-day and creating an environment where attendees can really immerse themselves and focus on connecting, learning and doing deals. Everything Ras Al Khaimah has to offer, from the highest mountain peak, to the depths of the sea and everywhere in between, make it the perfect location to enhance the AHIC experience within an authentic cultural setting.”

She continues: “Ultimately, AHIC is about and for the Middle East’s investors and their scope is regional, global in fact. Whilst previous editions have always reflected this broad appeal, we felt it was time to explore a new destination. It is really testament to the success of Ras Al Khaimah as one of the region’s fastest growing tourism destinations and its emergence as a prime MICE and business host. Crucially it also offers a fantastic opportunity for our delegates, as hotel investment is integral to accommodating the Emirate’s growth, with the need for an additional 15,000 hotel rooms by 2025.”

Pettinger-Haines notes that the event includes high-level strategic insights to the principles of hotel investment, development and management, as well as a regional and global showcase of hospitality projects with live investment opportunities, and more networking events than ever before. “For the first time, AHIC really extends after hours and gives delegates the opportunity to connect over dinner and drinks in a much more informal fashion,” she adds.

Saudi Arabia-based Maad International’s chief hospitality officer Abdellah Essonni says that Ras Al Khaimah as the host city will take centre stage this year. “And deservedly so. Ras Al Khaimah is steadily establishing itself as a destination of choice for nature lovers and adventure seekers but has also thrown the doors wide open for investors in all sectors.”

Hilton vice-president development Middle East North Africa & Turkey Carlos Khneisser comments: “This year AHIC is being hosted for the very first time in Ras Al Khaimah. This is a destination Hilton has pioneered and we are proud to be welcoming guests to the Waldorf Astoria Ras al Khaimah for the event. Having the event in Ras al Khaimah is a reminder of the importance of a forward looking mindset when it comes to hotel development.”

The event’s new feature ‘Day of Disruption’, which takes place on the first day (Tuesday, April 17), is something Pettinger-Haines highlights, because it “promises to harvest knowledge from outside of the hotel industry and challenge the status quo”.

She explains: “The day has been purposefully designed to shake-up traditional ways of thinking and bring insight to the hospitality investment industry from forward thinkers operating in various sectors, from cybersecurity and cryptocurrencies, to marketing and motorsports. We hope this will inspire and challenge the hotel investment community to approach things differently as they focus on the future and analyse the potential of current and future assets alike.”

The Day of Disruption will be attended by CEOs from companies such as Winding Tree, Vayner Media and Tint who will share their knowledge and experiences in the industry. Author of The Disruptor’s Feast and former CEO of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Frits Dirk van Paasschen, will headline The Day of Disruption on April 17.

Discussing the future of the industry, Pettinger-Haines says that by its very nature, there is a continuous evolution in the business of hospitality, but points out that the speed of change is only going to accelerate. She notes: “People will always travel and need hotels but it is becoming more challenging for traditional players to keep pace with what the consumer wants from the industry.  I think hotels are going to become progressively polarised into experiential versus functional properties.”

She comments on the number of hotel company mergers and acquisitions over the last few years, which have resulted in the formation of huge groups. “As a direct result, I think we will see certain types of investors (as well as travellers) seek out smaller brands and operators,” she predicts.

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