Jasmeet Bakshi offers a positive outlook for one of the UAE’s most important sectors and hopes for a swift re-bound owing to high levels of consumer trust built during the pandemic.
It has been no secret that the UAE’s hospitality industry was rocked by the onset of the pandemic, which is still very much in force over a year since the start of lockdown and border closures. Before the pandemic, the direct contribution of travel and tourism to the Middle East’s GDP was predicted to reach $133.6bn by 2028 according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Whilst those figures might not be achievable, there are many reasons to be hopeful that strong recovery is a possibility. According to forecast analysis carried out by Tourism Economics, the vaccine rollout, pent-up demand supported by consumer savings, employment recovery, and the removal of travel restrictions will motivate a return to 5.6% global economic growth this year. We have also seen the normalisation of trade and diplomatic relations with Qatar and the rescheduled Expo 2020 later this year, pointing to a swift and decisive sector recovery as regional international travel resumes.
I have also been deeply inspired by the resilience and resourcefulness shown by the hospitality industry over the challenges of the past months. The pandemic is like a seismic inflection point for the global tourism industry and has resulted in huge amounts of re-learning and re-thinking and the adoption of many firsts. We have had to pivot, and pivot fast, towards the accelerated use of technology, the adoption of new hygiene standards and the increasingly cohesive vision of the region’s hospitality leaders.
Hygiene has been placed high on a list of guests’ priorities and the industry has responded with unwavering adherence to health and safety standards, to re-earn the trust of its guests. The immediate industry response to the pandemic was to improve cleaning standards to alleviate travellers’ hygiene concerns. Bodies such as Bureau Veritas were quick to introduce its ‘Safeguard’ label, to help operators signal their adherence to stringent safety, training and cleaning protocols and enable resumption of operations. Over time, we have also seen a number of hotels re-looking at their public spaces such as restaurants, pool areas, bars, and lobbies, re-designing and re-configuring where necessary, so that smaller groups of people can interact safely.
Hotels have also embraced technology as ‘contactless’ has become the new reality, from check-in and check-out, in-room dining and intuitive chatbots, all designed to reduce human interaction. Such investment is here to stay, meaning that the pandemic will undoubtedly result in major long-term shifts in how the travel and hospitality industry functions and interacts moving forward. Organisations such as HFTP are key in bringing the latest technology related trends to the region and I’m glad to see them take up a presence at The Hotel Show Dubai this May. The team will offer access to the latest systems and products that are breaking new ground and allow buyers the chance to educate themselves around the options on offer. Those who make the right investments and use digital technologies to improve and elevate their guest offerings will be in the best position to thrive in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Joined-up action from the government and private sector has also been incredibly important to ensure a unified response to the crisis. The Dubai Government and Dubai Tourism should be praised for its visionary leadership and ability to rapidly deliver new guidelines to align various stakeholders. I believe the UAE has offered one of the most agile and responsive guidelines globally, setting the bar for conduct that will further support recovery. The Hotel Show Dubai 2021, which provides a long-overdue opportunity for industry professionals in the Middle East to network and reunite face-to-face, has support from Dubai Tourism in the capacity of Supporting Partner for our Hospitality Leadership Forum and from international bodies, specifically the European Union, who will serve as the Education Partner for our F&B Stakeholders Summit and the Official Partner for the Chef’s Table, and Poland, in the capacity of our Supporting Country Partner.
One of my fundamental beliefs is that new opportunities always emerge from times of conflict. Those who understand the new definition of post-pandemic reality, adapt, and respond will benefit from this new landscape. I am confident that the UAE has shown a remarkable ability to adapt to the needs of the time and will continue to maintain its position as a hospitality world leader and blueprint for success in the months ahead.