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A Glimpse into Saudi Arabia's Tourism and Leisure Vision 2030 and Beyond

The Future Hospitality Summit (FHS) was recently held in Riyadh between 29 April – 1 May 2024, a pivotal event underlining the integral role of the tourism and leisure sector in Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 and beyond. As the Kingdom endeavors to diversify its economy, hospitality emerges as a cornerstone in fostering economic growth and cultural exchange.

Saudi Arabia's ambitious Vision 2030 includes transforming the hospitality sector into a robust economic driver. The projected pipeline for 2030, reported as 320,000 keys by Knight Frank, aims to significantly increase the number of hotel keys, positioning Saudi Arabia at the forefront within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Comparatively, while the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait also focus on expanding their hospitality sectors, Saudi Arabia's extensive plans suggest it will significantly exceed the growth rates of these neighboring countries. This rapid expansion is part of a broader strategy to enhance tourism and infrastructure, mirroring the Kingdom's commitment to becoming a premier travel destination.

FHS shed light on several key trends reshaping the industry. One of the most discussed topics was the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on hospitality. AI's role in enhancing customer service, optimising operational efficiency, and personalising guest experiences is becoming increasingly prominent. Hotels are now looking at AI not just as a tool for back-end operations but as a frontline ambassador of guest satisfaction.

Another significant trend is experiential travel, which is gaining momentum globally and is now a focal point in Saudi Arabia's tourism strategy. The emphasis is on community and culture-driven tourism, eco-tourism, and agritourism, reflecting a shift towards more sustainable and immersive travel experiences. Notably, the Public Investment Fund's launch of “Dan Company” in December 2023 highlights the Kingdom's dedication to promoting agritourism, offering travelers authentic experiences whilst creating diversifying business operations and income streams for land and farm owners. 

Branded residences were also a hot topic at FHS. These residences, which combine the luxury and service of a premium hotel or lifestyle brand with the comfort of a private home, are becoming a lucrative sector. In particular, there has been a surge in standalone branded residences which are not physically associated with a hotel. They are appealing across the board. Developers can attract premiums on sale prices (reportedly up to 30%) whilst for brands, these properties extend their brand reach and generate additional revenue through fees. Owners on the other hand benefit from the standards of the brand they buy into and are able to take advantage of other perks adding value to their investment. There is still work to do to regulate this sector and it is important for all stakeholders to have a clear understanding of the laws and regulations governing these structures. 

Moreover, the integration of food and beverage (F&B) options and complementary offerings such as coworking spaces into hotels was highlighted as essential for attracting modern travelers. These additions not only enhance the guest experience but also meet the needs of a new generation of travelers who blend work and leisure.

FHS in Riyadh not only provided insights into the current state and future of the hospitality sector but also reinforced Saudi Arabia's position as a transformative force in global tourism. Through strategic developments and embracing new trends, Saudi Arabia is well on its way to achieving its Vision 2030 objectives, setting a benchmark for hospitality and cultural richness in the region.

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