RIYADH: The head of the largest hospitality firm in Europe insists the world should be learning from the Middle East’s “mind boggling” tourism plans as he praised the region’s ambitions in the sector.
Speaking during a discussion at the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Riyadh on Nov. 29, Sébastien Bazin, chairman and CEO of Accor, said all the pieces were in place for the Middle East’s tourism industry — and Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular — to thrive.
He added the key to attracting the next generation of travelers was to ensure the local economy was engaged with global ambitions, as tourists sought to experience authentic food and culture.
Reflecting on Saudi Arabia’s progress, Bazin said: “I've never ever seen a country in my life — I am 61 years old — where you have a leader, a plan, expertise, financial resources, the timeline.
“It's mind boggling in ten years what is being built here, and I wish we can get that in many other countries.
“I am leaving the doom and gloom of Europe, and finally coming to the Middle East, to Saudi, to the UAE.
“It’s funny you guys are teaching us a lot of things over the last ten years.”
Speaking about shifting the industry's mindset, Bazin said the key is encouraging travel sectors around the world to think locally, not globally.
“The hotels of tomorrow should be catered for the locals, not for the travelers. That's a major shift, and if you succeed in seducing the locals, then the travelers will pick your hotel as a place to be,” he said, adding: “Make yourself one of the players domestically and the travelers will know you exist. Just be a local, act as a local, think as a local.”
The focus on thinking “local” was echoed by the UAE’s Minister of Economy Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri.
He argued that the new generation of tourists is looking for sustainable travel where they have access to locally produced goods and goods.
“The future of infrastructure really depends on that sustainability aspect. The youth are smarter now, and consider what they want to be part of. For instance, a hotel with accessibility to the local market, to buy their fresh groceries, their apples from the local farms. And this is an aspect of infrastructure,” he said.
Stephen Scherr, CEO of The Hertz Corporation, used his contribution to the panel to talk about infrastructure's key role in growing tourism sectors around the world.
“You need to build infrastructure that is accommodating and inviting of the populations that you want to be traveling around,” he said.
Scherr went on to cite the importance of public-private partnerships in ensuring such infrastructure exists, and said: “The truth is for the private sector alone, the infrastructure that's necessary is too expensive, prohibitively expensive, in terms of investment that needs to made, so if you are going to serve a broader market the government needs to step in and make this kind of investment.”