Event review: Serviced Apartment Summit Middle East 2017

More than 150 international delegates attended the third annual Serviced Apartment Summit MEA in Dubai this week.

Held at a new venue for 2017 - the Address Boulevard in Downtown Dubai, the event attracted delegates from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kenya, India, the US, the UK, Italy, Mauritius, Singapore, Russia, the Netherlands and Germany.

The first day of the Summit began with property tours of two near neighbours, the Time Oak Hotel and Suites, and the newly opened Tryp by Wyndham Dubai. This second venue then hosted a drinks reception and speed business card swap for delegates, at its bar and terrace area.

Day two kicked off with a welcome from host Piers Brown, then Simon Townsend of CBRE shared his thoughts and his company's research on the economic outlook for the real estate sector, both globally and locally. Middle East sovereign wealth fund investment in real estate in 2016 was $4.5 billion, he said, down 17 per cent on the previous year. Townsend attributed this drop to Middle East capital not being deployed as aggressively as that from Asia.

He also said that there is now less emphasis from GCC capital on acquiring trophy five-star assets, and more credibility given to emerging hospitality sectors, as well as predicting an increase in supply across all hospitality asset classes in all MEA markets.

A panel of industry leaders was then moderated by Grant Salter of Deloitte. Neme Imad Darwiche, CEO of Jannah Hotels & resorts, predicted that the serviced apartment sector would need to innovate over the next five to ten years, as guests demanded co-working and co-living spaces.

Cheval Residences managing director Mohammed Almarzooqi said the relationship between owners and operators needs to be based on teamwork and partnership, a theme which was echoed by several speakers during the day. He is also said that Cheval is looking at a new model which featured basic room units made from pods, and more communal space where younger guests can work and socialise.

While the main room session looked at emerging markets in Africa, a breakout Serviced Apartment Masterclass presented by Omar Eltahry of Colliers, features some fascinating detail join the growth of the serviced apartment sector in Dubai. Airbnb properties are now competing directly with rental pool serviced apartments, said Eltahry, emphasising that lower consumer spending power is the new normal, and stressing that OTAs dominate the serviced apartment distribution landscape in Dubai.

A session on brand and operator section kicked off with Cheval Residences director George Westwell describing himself as a "MiB" - Baby Boomer in a Millennial's body! Wastrel predicted an increase in the use of building design to encourage people to integrate and communicate with each other.

Costas Verginis, VP lodging development at Marriott International, said that in dual branded hotel and extended stay components must compliment each other rather competing which each other. he also stressed the importance of interaction with the local community, not just as a source of customers but also of employees.

Blurred lines - a  session about distribution inevitably over on to the subject of direct bookings and OTAs. Maxxton's Severine Obertelli said operators shouldn't expect to get direct bookings if their website makes it difficult to book the same units that can be booked in just two clicks on an OTA.

A debate about Airbnb saw the panel debating the sharing economy's pros and cons. Ali Manzoor of Knight Frank said Dubai is a very different market from most, and regulation for the short term rental sector was introduced before Airbnb entered the market. Dubai will avoid the situation which has occurred in other cities where locations have become places where nobody lives because all the homes are being rented on platforms such as Airbnb, said Manzoor.

Other sessions covered topics including consumer awareness, marketing, investment,and mixed-use development.

Speaker presentations from the conference can be downloaded here.

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"A great first event of its kind in the Middle East. Excellent content and overall quality of speakers."

Anthony Liddiard, group director of projects, JA Hotels & Resorts

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