Hospitality Innovation Summit 2023: Top Takeaways on the Future of Hospitality in the Middle East

Hosted on 15th and 16th March, the Hospitality Innovation Summit 2023 at Hilton, Dubai, saw names like Kristina Zanic and Red Sea Global’s Scott Henshaw network and discuss the future of hospitality in the Middle East…..

When it comes to hospitality, there are many contributing factors to a successful project or even a riveting concept. Usually, there is an overriding vision such as leveraging or boosting tourism, enhancing culinary and stay experiences, or even curating a lucrative business underpinning a hospitality project. In this genre, business and design are two sides of the same coin (that ever-so-often step on each other’s toes).

Until now Love That Design was mainly associated with the design and designers of hospitality projects. It was time to delve deeper to understand the client’s perspectives and commercial aspects. While the smoke from the chimney could be because of good and thoughtful design, The Hospitality Innovation Summit 2023 gave a glimpse of where the sparks start flying.

Tourism as a Driving Factor of Hospitality Experiences in the Middle East

The Middle East (UAE for the last two decades and Saudi Arabia more recently) is on the perpetual climb to better tourist experiences to attract more revenue. For a region with commercially sustainable tourism in high regard, the Hospitality Innovation Summit 2023 was a hotspot for networking and brainstorming. Top brands and destinations from ACCOR, AlUla, Schneider Electric, Diriyah Gate Development Authority, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), Red Sea Development, and NEOM not only graced the event but also formed a majority of panellists at the event.

“By combining its tourism and technology expertise, the UAE has a great opportunity to make its hospitality industry more sustainable and competitive,” commented Cédric Sala, MEA Hotel Segment Director for Schneider Electric. “As a leader in energy management and digital transformation, Schneider Electric is excited about this potential. We understand the value new synergies bring to the table and work around-the-clock to help people make the most of their resources. The Hospitality Innovation Summit is the perfect platform to explore new ideas, deepen collaboration with like-minded partners and pave the way for more sustainable travel and tourism.”

Speed Dating, but make it Business

Design firms, Gensler, DLR, Kristina Zanic Consultants, RSP, Stellar Concept Interiors, KEO International and Zebra also made notable appearances. After all, there was something for all the stakeholders. Organised by GBB Events, the Hospitality Innovation Summit 2023 had a speed-dating-for-business concept fused with a healthy dose of fireside chats and panel discussions. It sure was a brisk change of pace from the more free-flowing design-centred events. 

Seventy-eight tables, with four chairs each, faced a stage where panel talks and other industry discussions took place. As soon as an address concluded, two chairs on each table would be turned around and transformed into a meeting spot between designers and suppliers. While each supplier held a table, the designers shifted seats. Every 15 minutes, a shrill bell rang, indicating the maximum time limit for a meeting, and the designers moved on to their following, pre-scheduled supplier meet.

The ‘Talks’ of the Town

One-on-one meetings and networking dinners made for the pulse of the event, but talks were welcome hors d’oeuvres.

In just a ten-minute session, Filippo Sona, Co-founder of Wood Couture – a furniture manufacturer, presented ‘Data and Insights from a 1.5 Million Rooms.’ Amongst all the analyses, the MEA region’s market demand of $7.9 Billion Loose FFE gained the most reactions. They were also able to gather pain points such as the confusion between fire-resistant and fire-retarded properties, overcrowded room layouts hindering operations and going overboard with decorative lights.

On the topic of ‘Creating Iconic Hotels’, Scott Henshaw, Executive Director of Development and Head of Design, Red Sea Global revealed that the company follows a 10:1 conservation-to-development ratio. Scott further claimed that they have a 30% net positive effect, thanks to their approach of strategizing how to add to the environment rather than thinking of ways to do the least harm to the surroundings. 

Hospitality in the Middle East, and no mention of luxury? Justin Wells, CEO of Wells International, spoke on ‘Porsche Design Hotel’, revealing details about their recent collaboration with Porsche. The expansion from Porsche’s side is multifaceted – they aren’t just looking to create a signature hotel experience but are also dipping their toes in ventures such as uniform and product design.

In a Fireside Chat on Innovation with a Vision, Hala Matar Choufany, President-HVS Middle East, Africa and South Asia, emphasised the gap she perceived between financial sustainability and environmental sustainability and innovation in the region. She feels it is neither addressed nor pursued enough, while Diane Thorsen, Design Director, Gensler spoke about integrating wildlife a little more seamlessly as it is one of the more unique experiences of the region.

Technology and Innovation in Hospitality

Although the term ‘AI’ was tossed around a little bit, its integration into the mainstream hospitality industry seems to be a distant dream. Considering the hospitality sector has always been more reactive than proactive regarding technology, it is no surprise. 

On the nose with what the consumer wants, tech-forward companies such as CitizenM and Zoku that employ property management systems (PMS), central reservation systems (CRS), customer relationship management (CRM), channel management and internet booking engines are successful examples, but they are far from the norm.

Ultimately, the Hospitality Innovation Summit 2023, organised by GBB Venture, was heavily focused on the upcoming Saudi Arabian projects and the resulting urbanscape. With UAE’s take clear on working with a futuristic and technologically advanced cityscape, it is Saudi Arabia that is looked to for curiosity as the land of a million opportunities. On the other hand, Saudi Arabian giants like Red Sea Global, Diriyah Gate Development, and AlUla look at themselves as a destination for reputed hotel chains that are driven by creating unique experiences for its customers to come.

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