Passionate about bringing the hospitality industry together and being a change catalyst through showcasing innovation and thought leadership, Jonathan Worsley, chairman and CEO of The Bench, thrives on connecting professionals, driving progress and shaping the future of the industry with his trade shows.
How did your professional journey begin?
I started off working for Scotts Hospitality Canada before moving to the UK with Forte in the 1980s. Then, I took a consultancy and investment position with PKF. I joined Hotel Partners and co-founded IHIF in Berlin before moving to Insignia/CBRE. Pelle Lydmar and I founded The Bench in 2001 before merging with Deloitte and STR to create STR Global. My team and I then launched hospitality investment conferences around the world as a platform for thought leadership and networking.
What motivated you to organize this hospitality summit?
My chairman at Hotel Partners, Bill Gudenau, suggested that we organize a conference in Europe, known as IHIF, and I pursued this opportunity with my mentor Jim Burba, who founded ALIS in America. Gerald Lawless of Jumeirah Group encouraged me to then bring the Arabian Hospitality Investment Conference (AHIC) to Dubai, and soon after we went into Africa, Russia and South America through SAHIC. We have been in Saudi since 2018 and launched the Saudi Hotel Investment Conference (SHIC) with Dur Hospitality, now the Future Hospitality Summit (FHS), having organized FHS for the G20 Saudi Secretariat in 2020.
What were some of the standout moments and accomplishments from the most recent edition of the summit?
My personal standout moments at FHS in Riyadh included partnering with Al Khozama and having its chairman, HH Prince Bandar bin Saud bin Khalid Al Saud, inaugurate the conference at the company’s iconic Al Faisaliah Hotel. We also worked with Red Sea Global, which brought its top students to attend FHS, providing an opportunity for them to meet senior executives from the industry. Another highlight was the start-up competition with STA and Plug & Play, which positioned FHS as a platform to showcase innovation. Finally, clients commenting on my team’s outstanding service, organizational skills and enthusiasm marked a proud and memorable moment for me.
In your opinion, what was the key takeaway?
In the words of HH Prince Bandar bin Saud bin Khalid Al Saud, who said in his opening remarks: “Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most dynamic place to be today in the world of hospitality. Many of the targets are astonishing in their magnitude. It is truly a privilege for all of us in the hospitality industry in Arabia to be able to work in such exciting times and in a sector so central to our cultural traditions.”
I couldn’t have said it better. In my opinion, the biggest takeaway is that tourism has become the new oil for the kingdom and will employ millions of young Saudis. To be part of this change is perhaps the most exciting aspect of my professional career.
How do you evaluate the Middle East’s evolving hospitality scene and, more specifically, the Saudi scene?
Many Middle Eastern nations are seeking economic diversification rather than just relying on oil and gas. The UAE, Qatar and now Saudi Arabia are promoting their financial, technological, manufacturing and tourism sectors, thus creating sustainable growth and employment opportunities. Saudi Arabia has been named the fastest-expanding tourism industry within the G20 countries in the UNWTO Tourism Barometer, and the present and future development of the tourism and hospitality sector will create enormous job opportunities. But the biggest challenge remains to educate millions of Saudis as they develop their tourism economy as part of Vision 2030.
Looking ahead, what are some of your upcoming projects?
Coming up in early June is the Africa Hospitality Investment Forum (AHIF) with the theme Inspire, Invest, Impact, and AviaDev in Nairobi, Kenya. AviaDev is a platform for bringing together airports, airlines, tourism authorities, governments and industry suppliers dedicated to growing connectivity to, from, and within the African continent. According to UN’s World Population Prospects 2022, Africa is home to five of the fastest-growing populations on the planet, thus tourism has to focus on providing employment for these youthful countries on the African continent.
From September 25-27, we have the Future Hospitality Summit 2023 alongside the 19th edition of The Bench’s flagship AHIC. We will bring investors from around the world to Abu Dhabi for the very first time, hosted by Abu Dhabi Convention & Exhibition Bureau, Miral and Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island.