The tourism and hospitality industry in the UAE is booming, and rightfully so.
Building on its legacy as one of the top holidaying destinations in the world, the country also has seen a rise in the steady mix of business and leisure as well as an uptick in medical tourism.
The UAE is expected to host 8.92 million visitors by 2023 from its top five source markets alone, research released at the Arabian Travel Market 2019 indicates. Taking into consideration the total annual visitors, Dubai in itself is expected to host 20 million annual tourists by 2020, ATM research shows. Boosted by the upcoming Expo 2020 and Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, the UAE's hospitality industry is projected to be worth $7.6 billion by 2022, according to STR data. This is corroborated by recent World Tourism Organization findings that show travelers to the Middle East rising 10 percent to 64 million in 2018.
The numbers speak volumes, but not as much as a leading voice in the industry.
Abdulla bin Sulayem, CEO of real estate and hospitality developer Seven Tides, and also the CEO of Asteco, a major regional and international real estate services firm, shared his views with AMEinfo.
Q: What are the major trends impacting the tourism industry in the GCC region
Abdulla bin Sulayem: As travel to the UAE continues to grow, hotel operators are increasingly adopting cutting-edge technology and innovations as well as a wide range of sustainable initiatives.
The hospitality industry is actively listening to consumers and using data to give an insight into trends, characteristics and spending habits.
Much of the innovation we have seen across the industry is focused on easing the passenger journey, with flexibility, personalization and authenticity all key to enhancing a guest’s overall trip.
Sustainability is another growing trend – with the industry recognizing that today’s travelers, particularly those from Generation Y, are more environmentally focused and conscious of the carbon footprint they are leaving behind.
And it’s not just saving energy, hotels are readily applying a reduce, reuse and recycle principle to many aspects of their operation – food waste, grey water and so on.
Q: What are the most innovative ideas that Seven Tides has implemented over the past year?
Abdulla bin Sulayem: Hydroponic planting is a huge focus for us. At present we have three hotels in Dubai, all of which consume a large amount of fruit and vegetables on a daily basis.
Hydroponics is a subset of hydroculture, the method of growing plants without soil, using mineral solutions in a water solvent. This process allows you to grow almost any plant at virtually any time of the year, meaning climate and season no longer present any limitations.
We already have a large greenhouse located on the World Islands – but we are currently working to upgrade the facility, with the intention of supplying all of our hotels with the majority of the fruit and vegetables they require within the next few months.
Not only is hydroponics cleaner and more efficient, but it also produces better tasting produce with more nutritional value and can reduce water consumption by up to 90 percent.
Q: What are the major disruptions affecting tourism and hospitality in the UAE?
Abdulla bin Sulayem: The GCC is one of the fastest growing regional hospitality markets on a global scale and a technology-reliant industry. Its impact on hotels and travel and tourism is multi-dimensional, ranging from voice and facial recognition, chatbots and beacon technology to virtual reality, blockchain and robot concierge.
Hoteliers have been cautious of technology taking away the human touch from the guest service and experience. However, by giving guests the power to choose every part of their hotel experience, hoteliers can learn the right balance between staff interaction and Artificial Intelligence-powered, automated customer service.
With around 73 percent of manual activities in the hospitality industry possessing the technical potential for automation – it has been feared that AI may take over.
However, according to recent studies, innovative technology will not be a purely negative disruptor in the hospitality industry. New jobs will be created; existing roles will be redefined; and workers will have the opportunity to further their career with additional training.
Q: What are your thoughts on the 'millennial generation' and their shift from the materialistic to experiences?
Abdulla bin Sulayem: The hospitality industry, while innovative in many ways, is a service provider meeting the demands of travelers across the world.
Travelers are increasingly looking beyond conventional leisure programs and itineraries to actively seek out atypical experiences that deliver a true taste of local culture. Experiential travel encompasses the adventure, culture, heritage, wellness & spa, and cruise tourism segments, which are currently trending globally.
Today more than ever before, we are seeing the hospitality industry offering their guests intangible and emotional experiences, immersing them in local culture, tradition, and ways of life. It’s an appeal that can be successfully transferred to backpackers and billionaires alike.