Jennifer Pettinger-Haines, managing director Middle East at Bench Events talks about organising the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC)
What inspired you to launch AHIC? AHIC came into being after Bench Events’ Chairman, Jonathan Worsley, acted as an advisor to WTTC’s Global Travel & Tourism Summit in Doha in 2004. The event highlighted the enormous, and as yet untapped, opportunity for tourism in the Middle East and specifically a more focused event on hotel development and investment.
What differentiates AHIC from other hospitality events in the region? AHIC differs from other hospitality events in that it is the only annual gathering specifically aimed at the Middle East’s hospitality investment community, rather than the travel or hotel industry. AHIC creates a knowledge and networking platform for global and regional investors of all backgrounds, offering essential insights to investing in hotels, showcasing regional and international hospitality investment opportunities and facilitating direct connections with hospitality industry stakeholders.
Who is the person who has inspired you most in your career? I have been very fortunate in that putting together events such as AHIC & the Global Restaurant Investment Forum (GRIF) has given me amazing access to people who are really, really good at what they do and I genuinely find their passion and drive inspiring on an almost daily basis. However, I have to say that Susan Harmsworth MBE, the Chairman and Founder of ESPA has always been my benchmark. She is such an accomplished entrepreneur and business leader. Early on in my time at Bench I spent some time with her and advice she gave me has always stuck with me. Now she is on the Global Advisory Board for Bench Events and I am looking forward to working with her in a more formal capacity.
How do you view the hotel scene in the region? When you are talking about the region it ranges hugely; from uber luxury, exciting openings and sexy hotels in almost oversupply in some markets, whereas there is a complete dearth of decent products available in others. However, it is still a young and inexperienced market which brings some challenges, such as owners who don’t have the same experience as they do in other parts of the world. This can be a blessing and a curse – in some cases, it results in a much higher standard of product – for example, it is not uncommon to see high quality specs and facilities in three-star properties that would make them a five-star in most other markets, whilst in other cases it can result in poorly managed and operated assets. It is one of the key reasons why AHIC is committed to facilitating conversations that help investors to make better informed decisions, so they can maximise their asset management.
What is the biggest challenge of your role? The hospitality industry moves at such a fast-pace that there is always so much interesting content I want to include in the programme but there is only so much time over the course of the conference.
What is your favourite aspect of your role? Meeting such interesting people who are all excellent at their jobs and very passionate about what they do. Almost everyone I deal with is in the industry because they love it which I find incredibly inspiring.
What is new for AHIC 2018? For the first time, AHIC is on the move, with the 2018 edition being held in Ras Al Khaimah in partnership with Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA). Together, we are creating a purpose-built AHIC Village on the beach of the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, which will feature purpose-built spaces for more than 800 delegates to conduct prearranged meetings onsite; pop-ups from innovative restaurateurs; activities for attendees to break the ice and strengthen relationships; informal beach bar networking areas and much more.
Bench Events has a long track record of delivering hotel investment conferences and forums across Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America – what factors stand out as being very specific to this region? In terms of the industry, it is still fairly young so behind the established markets such as Europe but, through time and forums such as ours, that is changing quickly. In terms of running events, the quality of the hotels and service is outstanding in the Middle East compared to other regions. We really are spoilt here. In Africa recently, we had a situation where the Head of State was due to arrive in five minutes and the conference room was dark as we had no power. In a lot of the world, you can’t take even the basics required for running an event for granted.
What personal ambitions would you still like to fulfil? I am determined to learn Spanish! Bench Events recently acquired 50% of the South America Hotel Investment Conference which last year held events in Cuba, Buenos Aires and Costa Rica. I would love to be able to work in these markets and take the opportunity to travel around the region. Pero mi español es muy malo.
Last four jobs:
- September 2014 – present: Managing Director Middle East at Bench Events, Dubai, UAE
- November 2008 – September 2011: Production Manager at Bench Events, Dubai, UAE
- September 2006 – October 2008: Project Manager, Terrapinn, London, UK
- July 2005 – August 2006: Researcher, Network Ten, Sydney, Australia
AHIC 2018 will be held from 17-19 April 2018 at the purpose-built AHIC Village in the grounds of the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, in partnership with Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA).