ABU DHABI: Tourists are expected to add Saudi Arabia to their “bucket list” due to the government’s transformation of the sector, according to industry veteran William Heinecke, founder and chairman of Minor Hotels.
Speaking during a panel discussion on the second day of the Future Hospitality Summit in Abu Dhabi, Heinecke noted that Saudi Arabia is on the verge of significant change, predicting that the Kingdom will achieve in 10 years what it took Dubai 30 years to accomplish.
The Kingdom is currently undergoing a remarkable tourism boom, with the sector expanding by 121 percent in 2022, positioning it as the fastest-growing destination in the G20 and surpassing the global average prior to COVID-19, as detailed in an annual report tracking the progress of Vision 2030.
Data from the real estate consultancy firm Knight Frank revealed that, under Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s hotel industry is poised for further expansion, targeting a total of 310,000 hotel rooms by 2030, with an estimated investment of $110 billion.
Heinecke expressed his admiration for Saudi Arabia’s visionary leader, who is young enough to see through ambitious initiatives.
“You need someone not only who has the money, but you need someone who has the vision and the passion to stay with it,” he said.
“When you look at what’s happening in Saudi Arabia, it’s incredible. It’s going to make so many new bucket lists for everybody in the world. And even what’s happened in the Middle East, Dubai, Doha, it's incredible,” Heinecke added.
In another panel discussion, various factors and trends that are shaping the travel and tourism industry were deliberated.
Gilda Perez-Alvarado, incoming group chief strategy officer at Accor, a leading hospitality company, highlighted subjects such as innovation, the impact of technology, and broader long-term trends that are affecting the entire ecosystem of travel and hospitality, including hotels.
“The amount of change we’re witnessing now, which, by the way, was accelerated during the pandemic, is extremely exciting. So, if you ask me what one of the catalysts for change was, it was that,” Perez-Alvarado said during her panel.
However, she added: “Our industry is still highly fragmented, so there’s plenty of room for growth."
Perez-Alvarado emphasized that significant changes and developments are taking place in Saudi Arabia that were previously unimaginable.
“One where you’re seeing things done that no one would have imagined could be done. In 2015, who would have thought that we would have witnessed the changes we’re seeing in Saudi Arabia?” she said.
Perez-Alvarado concluded by emphasizing that the Middle East is the fastest-growing region, with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 now becoming a reality, demonstrating that ambitious goals can be accomplished, showcasing the region’s ability to turn imaginative ideas into tangible achievements.