With religious travel being a key driver of visitors to the Kingdom, the destination is now turning to fortifying its corporate sector, as Panayiotis Markides discovers.
Long considered a focal point of the GCC and wider Middle East region, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is undoubtedly witnessing strong growth in its hospitality sector, buoyed on the one hand by a mighty corporate sector, and on the other hand by its religious and domestic tourism sectors.
Divulging to TTG the importance of the corporate sector was general manager, ASAS Exhibitions, Bander Algryni, who noted: “The MICE sector is one of the key segments in bolstering the economy and driving non-pilgrim foreign arrivals to the country. Contributions made by this sector in terms of attracting foreign investment and generating employment have a major impact on the country’s economy.”
ASAS began from Riyadh City and concentrated its efforts on organising exhibitions, conferences, gatherings and forums throughout the entire Kingdom and Gulf-wide region.
Algryni further stated that at the moment, Saudi Arabia has around 600 conferences or meetings venues, and hosts approximately 100,000 meetings per year, with Jeddah providing the lion’s share of meeting space with 38 per cent, followed by Riyadh at 17 per cent.
And with such demand at play, it in turn has encouraged further enhancements at governmental level. Algryni commented that following the issuance of a national decree, the Saudi Exhibition and Convention Bureau was formed to develop and govern this sector, with several projects already initiated to provide the required framework in terms of infrastructure, facilities and human resources.
In this way, the country’s dedicated stakeholders are establishing a united front to further fortify their MICE segment and, more specifically, their corporate segment.
Highlighting the importance of this tenacious segment was chief operating officer, One to One Hotels & Resorts, Philippe Harb, who pointed out that the segment is the driving force behind the company entering Jeddah by the end of the year, stating that there is strong corporate demand in the city which is driving ADR.
Keen to further boost its presence in Saudi Arabia, Harb revealed that the company will open five properties in Makkah this year.
However, One to One Hotels & Resorts is not the only company eager to take advantage of this fruitful sector. Area general manager – Gulf Region, Ascott International Management, Dubai, Vincent Miccolis spoke exclusively to TTG about how the company’s hotels satisfy the needs of the executive traveller: “We have identified the lack of international branded serviced apartments in the KSA, offering a quality product with an international level of support services and facilities catering to a longer stay market and as such, we will see Ascott as a market leader based on this alone.”
He added that 2015 and 2016 would see the opening of four properties across the Ascott flagship brand, Somerset serviced residence and Citadines Apart hotels brand.
Meanwhile, general manager and district director, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, Saudi Arabia, Basel Talal commented to TTG on the advantages behind opening a Radisson Blu property in Jizan.
“What we can expect to see in the next few years is an intense focus to diversify the economy of the Kingdom, and Jizan happens to be at the forefront of this progress. As all of these projects develop, this area will see quite a bit of travel, so opening a Radisson Blu property—which caters to business travellers — is a natural step towards developing our portfolio in the Kingdom.”
Agreeing on how vital the corporate sector is to the KSA’s hospitality sector was general manager, Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh, Anthony Tyler, who revealed to TTG: “Business travellers account for the largest percentage of our guests.”
To this end, the property has fine-tuned its offering in order to excel in hosting the corporate market.
He added: “The location of Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh, in the centre of the city and close to the city’s commercial centre and diplomatic quarter, the elegant furnishings and advanced technology which have been incorporated into our rooms and suites, with the needs of business guests in mind, coupled with world renowned, personalised customer service, all contribute to making our hotel the destination of choice for executive travellers.”
Also seeking to make its mark with regards to the lucrative corporate segment is Waldorf Astoria Jeddah – Qasr Al Sharq, which informed TTG that in order to maintain relationships with executive travellers, it ensures to keep an up-to-date list of the top corporate and government guests so as to approach them as partners in successfully conducting their business in Jeddah. Staff also follow up via direct marketing and keep in touch by making personal visits and telephone calls to keep them informed of all developments at the property.
In the city of Madinah, despite the fact that the tourism sector is mainly made up of the religious tourism segment, area director of sales and business strategies, Shaza Hotels, Shaji Abu Salih told TTG that it is certainly keen to enhance its corporate sector.
“Al Madinah, being the fourth largest city in Saudi Arabia, also has a large influx of corporate/ MICE travellers, arriving to the city. The hotel is fully prepared to welcome this segment by fulfilling all business traveller requirements. It aims to increase the market share from the corporate/ MICE segment by minimum 10 per cent from the previous year, so as to diversify a healthy mix of various segments.”
Meanwhile, general manager, Mövenpick Hotel Al Khobar, Markus Marti highlighted the property’s unique and convenient location in the Eastern Province. “Mövenpick Hotel Al Khobar is situated in the heart of the city, with close proximity to important landmarks and surrounded by huge corporations, one of which is Saudi Aramco. Accessible to and from two major airports – King Fahd International Airport in Dammam and Bahrain International Airport through King Fahd Causeway, our hotel’s location plays a big role in the convenience of a business traveller. For local transportation, our concierge is always ready to assist,” he added.
Also able to aptly gain from a key location in the Eastern Province is Coral Al Khobar Hotel. According to the property’s general manager, Michel Mandrea, it is situated 55 km from Dammam Airport and 18 km from Dammam Train Station, surrounded by key business establishments.
“Featuring 131 well-appointed rooms and outstanding business and leisure facilities, the hotel is well-equipped to meet the demands of corporate travellers. Impeccable service and world-class amenities make us one of the most sought-after hotels in town,” he added.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s growing corporate segment, it is well-known that its traditional strengths lie in its domestic and religious tourism sectors. With $11.6 billion worth of tourism projects under development, the Kingdom is readying itself to highlight the sheer force of its tourism industry at Arabian Travel Market, looking to build on its domestic and religious tourism which is valued at $45.3 billion.
Area vice president – Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Sudan and Saudi Arabia, Rotana Hotels Management, Mohamad Haj Hassan concurred: “The current focus of our properties in Saudi Arabia is set on religious tourism, corporate/executive businessmen and of course domestic tourism. Domestic tourism accounts for more than 65 per cent of tourist traffic in Saudi Arabia, and is supported by the high purchasing power of local consumers and the government’s efforts to promote the Kingdom as one of the leading tourist destinations in the region.”
However, regarding religious tourism, which indeed cannot be ignored, he noted that it is exceptionally viable and poised to become one of the pillars of the economy. “It will continue to attract pilgrims from around the globe because the Kingdom possesses a rich heritage that is deeply rooted in Islamic history.”
Also keen on magnetising the religious sector over and above its local corporate clientele is Park Hyatt Jeddah. Commenting on this was marketing communications assistant manager, Park Hyatt Jeddah – Marina, Club and Spa, Bayan Zainy, who told TTG that the property is working closely with local tour operators, as well as Hajj and Umrah travel agencies, to attract groups travelling for those purposes.
Eager to develop beyond its religious tourism capabilities, Saudi Arabia has turned its eyes to the corporate segment and is keen to capitalise on its potential.