Maher Abou Nasr, vice president of operations, IHG Hotels & Resorts in KSA, shares his insight into Saudi Arabia’s hotel industry and IHG’s ambitions in the KSA market.
How would you describe Saudi Arabia’s hospitality market?
The government’s Vision 2030 and its subsequent projects, as well as its latest initiatives, have supported the hotel industry’s growth and confidence. The kingdom’s tourist attractions and diverse natural assets, in addition to the government’s launch of seasonal festivals and competitive sports leagues, investment in giga projects — such as The Red Sea, Diriyah Gate Development and AlUla, which present new experiences to a range of travelers in new feeder markets — have all positively impacted the industry.
On another note, the government is facilitating arrivals in the country, with airport and infrastructure upgrades, new airline routes and the introduction of a new tourism visa. These are positive and impactful changes. Widespread investment in tourism, entertainment, sports and cultural events will drive growth in the hospitality industry and bring new traveler segments into the country. As a global hospitality player with a strong and well-recognized portfolio of brands, we are well placed to cater to these new segments.
What can you tell us more about IHG’s global portfolio in KSA and its bold expansion plans in the kingdom?
We currently operate 39e hotels in the kingdom and have 30 in the pipeline. Saudi Arabia is a priority market for IHG in the Middle East, and we aim to grow the footprint of our existing brands, as well as introduce new brands from our global portfolio in the country. We’ve recently debuted our global boutique lifestyle brand, Hotel Indigo in the kingdom and have already signed five hotels. We’ve also revealed the debut of our luxury brand, Kimpton, in the Middle East. The hotel is located in the heart of King Abdullah Financial District and will bring a compelling luxury experience to guests traveling to KSA. We are currently exploring opportunities with the Red Sea Development and The Diriyah Gate for multiple projects across our luxury brands such as Regent, Six Senses, InterContinental and Kimpton, as well as our brands in the mainstream category, to cater to a wider group of travelers. Last year, we announced our partnership with The Red Sea Project to build the new generation and brand-defining InterContinental Resort Red Sea, as well as bring the first Six Senses hotel to the kingdom. We are also bringing a Six Senses hotel to The Diriyah Gate.
Furthermore, we are looking to expand our presence in key cities, such as Riyadh, Jeddah, Madinah, Makkah, Dammam and Al Khobar ,where we see a gap in the demand and supply for quality, branded accommodation across segments. We are also working on growing our footprint at emerging destinations including Najran and Abha.
How is IHG endorsing the Saudization movement and how important is it for the future of the kingdom?
We firmly endorse Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and are working hard to help bring it to life. We continue to hire, develop and retain Saudi talent to build local capabilities and support the current and future growth of the nation and are proudly implementing several new initiatives and partnerships. We’ve established a pioneering global collaboration with local education and community providers. This initiative equips Saudi talent with the necessary skills and knowledge to work in the hospitality industry. The IHG Academy recently launched a best-in-class online learning platform called IHG Skills Academy, which provides a space for IHG and like-minded partners to offer free online education, courses and opportunities for people looking to build their confidence and get employment ready. We are continuously looking for ways to support and collaborate with the Ministry of Tourism, to combine our industry expertise with the government’s support and resources. To encourage Saudi youth to consider a career in the hospitality sector, we’ve recently launched a LinkedIn video series local campaign showcasing the range and progression of careers in the industry. Each video highlights the career advancement of some of our Saudi colleagues who have worked and grown with IHG in recent years. Currently, we employ a significant number of Saudi nationals across several positions and all our brands, with roughly 37 percent of our workforce being Saudi nationals. And we do not intend to stop there; we aim to hire 6,000 Saudi nationals by 2030 and continue reaching young Saudi nationals across the country to help them understand and appreciate the career opportunities presented by the industry. We believe in the potential of Saudi talent and are dedicated to nurturing their skills and providing meaningful employment opportunities. It has been a gratifying experience to contribute to the kingdom’s future by helping build a skilled workforce and creating a self-sufficient and sustainable tourism industry.