The 17th edition of the Arabian and African Hospitality Investment Conference (AHIC), currently underway at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai, has welcomed 800 delegates from 54 countries to the live in person event, ready to Rise Together and navigate the way forward for the hospitality and tourism sectors in Middle East and Africa.

Today, the AHIC debate addressed investment potential in Saudi Arabia, hospitality products in Africa, human capital and company culture, new technologies, experiential luxury, diversity in the workforce, and how to catalyse the movement for change within global hospitality.

Jonathan Worsley, chairman of Bench and founder of AHIC, interviewed Mahmoud Abdulhadi, Deputy Minister, Investment Attraction, Ministry of Tourism, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, live on stage.

Abdulhadi spoke of the mammoth potential for hospitality investment, as the Kingdom seeks to achieve three major tourism goals; to employ one million people in tourism over the next 10 years; for the tourism sector to contribute 10% of GDP by 2030; and for Saudi Arabia to become a top five destination globally, with 100 million visits by 2030.

Abdulhadi said: “Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s last tourism frontiers and home to the world’s largest tourism projects. As the Ministry works to meet our target of becoming a top five global tourist destination, our strategy involves building a sustainable tourism market that provides stable growth opportunities whilst protecting the Kingdom’s natural environment. It is the perfect time to invest in Saudi tourism and, by investing now, our partners can directly contribute to the evolution of our nascent tourism sector”.

Worsley commented: “From investors to attendees alike, there’s been considerable interest in the Saudi market here at AHIC. Inspired by the key themes of ‘innovation, sustainability and the future’, we were thrilled to have the Saudi Ministry of Tourism among our programme to showcase the work that is being done across the Kingdom to build its offering, attract investment and ensure a robust recovery of the sector post pandemic.”

Abdulhadi also commented on the Ministry of Tourism’s intention for Saudi Arabia to become a world leader when it comes to sustainability. This message was echoed in live-on-stage interviews with Andrew McEvoy, head of tourism sector, NEOM, who today revealed the foundations of developing a future destination with sustainability at the core of investment, and John Pagano, chief executive officer, The Red Sea Development Company and AMAALA, who discussed regenerative tourism and the partnerships that make it a reality on day two of AHIC.

Sustainability has formed a key pillar of the content throughout AHIC 2021, with the finals of the Sustainable Hospitality Challenge, an initiative by Hotelschool The Hague, a highlight. Six finalists presented their sustainable innovations for ‘future cities 2050’ to a C-suite jury and 800 industry leaders, with the team from Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne winning the challenge for their business model for SEVCCO (Shared Economic Value through Co-living Cooperative Opportunities), a community living project, centralised and operated by hospitality companies.

Brune Poirson, chief sustainability officer for Accor, presented the award on behalf of Sébastian Bazin, Chairman and CEO of Accor, who invited the winners to Accor’s headquarters in Paris and announced that Accor had joined the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance.

Attending AHIC virtually, Bazin said: “You are the leaders of tomorrow and you are going to change the world of hospitality. I am truly proud of all teams representing their phenomenal concepts. I would like to stress that EHL with the winning concept called SEVCCO is invited to meet me in Paris where we will investigate the execution by Accor.”

AHIC provided the launch platform for a number of hospitality start-ups and was the venue for several new hotel signings and industry announcements, summarized below.

AHIC’s Worsley said: “We are delighted to have helped facilitate numerous interactions and meetings between hotel investors and operators over the past three days, and are excited to witness so many announcements, from industry incubators to new owner-operator agreements, being made at AHIC 2021. As we Rise Together from the pandemic, AHIC is once again a platform for new partnerships and the place where deals are done.”

AHIC’s contribution to the global hospitality industry was recognized by the Secretary General of the UNWTO, H.E. Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, in a special letter of thanks to Worsley and the Bench team, presented by Anita Mendiratta, special advisor to the Secretary General of the UNWTO.

The Secretary General said: “Closing borders and skies across the world, Covid-19 caused devastation to our global industry. Since the beginning of the pandemic, you as a group of leaders stepped forward to ensure that our industry stayed connected, informed, innovative and inspired”.

Worsley was credited with “truly visionary leadership” and using technology as a way of step-changing how the industry connects, with Bench’s numerous “virtual, hybrid and now live events ensuring that the restart of business tourism and events worldwide is smart, united, and sustainable”.

The announcements at AHIC included:

Launch of new eco-brand, ENVI Lodges

Hoteliers and entrepreneurs Chris Nader and Noelle Homsy unveiled ENVI Lodges, the GCC’s first home-grown luxury experiential eco-lodge brand. ENVI offers three types of accommodation all built with low impact on the environment, with a pipeline of projects under negotiation in the UAE and KSA.

Accor signs Fairmont Djibouti

Accor will add a new flagship property to its portfolio in Africa with Fairmont Djibouti, being developed by Carnegie Hill Hospitality, set to open in 2024.

KUBE Ventures unveiled by industry changemakers

Industry change-makers Michael Levie and David Keen have joined forces to create an incubator to catalyse transformation in global hospitality. KUBE Ventures will create and partner with start-ups, with the intention to overcome hospitality’s greatest challenges by fostering new entities that dare to innovate.

Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne team wins The Sustainability Hospitality Challenge

AHIC 2021 presented the finals of the Sustainability Hospitality Challenge (SHC), in partnership with Hotelschool The Hague, NEOM, Bench and the Sustainability Hospitality Alliance. The winning team from Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, who presented an innovative concept for community living, was announced by Brune Poirson, chief sustainability officer for Accor.

IT Hospitality opens Middle East hub

IT Hospitality announced the opening of its new office in Dubai, a strategic Middle East hub to enable the group to design, integrate, bundle and support wired and wireless infrastructure service to even more hotel groups across the Middle East and Africa.

Hilton tops STR’s brand pipeline

Hilton’s pipeline has grown to 146 hotels and over 35,000 rooms in the region and its flagship Hilton Hotels & Resorts brand leads the way as the MEA region’s largest pipeline brand by number of rooms according to latest STR data.

Global expansion for The London Project

Dubai homegrown dining destination, The London Project, revealed plans for expansion in the UAE and internationally, with outlets confirmed to open in Dubai Marina and London's Canary Wharf next year, followed by Miami and Barcelona in 2023 and a second location in London. The London Project's second UAE outpost is a three-floor venue penned to open in March 2022, while in London it will take the form of a floating multi-level venue in Water Square, Wood Wharf.

Hilton expands in Cameroon

Hilton announced the signing of an agreement with Société Nouvelle des Cocotiers (SNC) to launch its upscale DoubleTree by Hilton brand in Cameroon. The DoubleTree by Hilton Douala is expected to open in 2023 following a multimillion-dollar renovation of the Douala Rabingha Hotel.

Krush Brands launches Locale

Ian Ohan, founder and CEO of KRUSH Brands in the UAE, announced the launch of Locale, a community of quality local food brands, people and innovators who have come together under the idea of developing a better, more sustainable, food eco-system. Unveiled to the GRIF community, Locale provides an alternative to third party aggregators, helping brands take it back with Krush Brands’ proprietary technology and delivery service, seamlessly integrated with operations.

UNWTO recognition for AHIC founder

In a surprise presentation on stage, Anita Mendiratta, special advisor to the Secretary General of the UNWTO, Mr H.E. Zurab Pololikashvili, awarded AHIC founder Jonathan Worsley, chairman of Bench, with a letter of special thanks for keeping the hospitality and tourism industry connected, informed, innovative and inspired from the outset of the pandemic.

Rise Up contest for F&B brands goes live

Rise Up is Dubai’s first food accelerator contest designed to find the best and brightest culinary talents and entrepreneurial thinkers in the UAE. Powered by Krush Brands, the winners will receive coaching, and get access to a long list of industry experts available to provide unique assistance in build, fit-out, marketing, menu development, business advice and more.

Accor signs first Novotel in Madinah, KSA

Accor is growing its portfolio in Saudi Arabia in a partnership with Taiba Investments to open the first Novotel hotel in the Holy city of Madinah. Once open the property will include 394 keys, three F&B outlets as well meeting rooms and retail space.

Farnek launches Flexi-Guest app

UAE-based Farnek Hotel Management launched a new hospitality app at AHIC called Flexi-Guest, which digitalises the guest journey from pre-arrival to check out, enhancing guest experience and operational efficiency.

Valor Diar set for growth in Africa

Global hospitality management firm Valor Hospitality Partners announced its recent partnership with CityBlue Hotels in East Africa, owned by The Diar Group. Under a long-term arrangement, the new joint venture, to be called Valor Diar, will initially operate Divine Residences by CityBlue in Riverside, Nairobi – developed by Vaal Real Estate – which is set to open in April 2023.

Accor joins the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance

Sébastian Bazin, Chairman and CEO of Accor, announced that the group has joined the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, a global organisation that brings together engaged hospitality companies and uses the industry’s collective power to address and tackle key challenges affecting the planet and its people.

Accor and Al Hamra sign deal for first Sofitel in RAK

Accor is expanding its luxury portfolio in the UAE with the introduction of the Sofitel brand into Ras Al Khaimah. In partnership with real estate development and investment company Al Hamra, the property will open in 2023.

For more information about AHIC 2021, visit:

Contact: Anne Bleeker, Managing Partner, In2 Consulting; Office: +971 4 455 8499; Mobile: +971 566030886