Region heads for hotel boom

28 March 2024


This report on hotel investment also includes: GCC becomes a top tourist destination

Alongside the major infrastructure and construction schemes currently under way in the region, contractors in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) are looking forward to a significant inbound spree of hospitality-linked project work.

A combination of government-led touristic masterplans – led by expansive and ambitious schemes in Saudi Arabia – alongside private sector investment in individual hotels and resorts has led to the build-up of a $54bn pipeline of hospitality-linked projects in the pre-execution, study and planning stages across the Mena region, according to regional projects tracker MEED Projects.

With this ramp up in planned hotel schemes, the region is now leading the global recovery in tourism projects, in a reflection of broader travel trends that have seen tourist arrival numbers grow to exceed pre-pandemic levels by 22%, according to GlobalData.

Projects under way

The $54bn project pipeline compares to a value of $22.7bn of work currently under execution in the region, and a long-term tally of $95.4bn-worth of hotel and resort project contract awards over the past decade and a half.

In contrast to the pace of activity since 2009, however, the region’s upcoming projects are set to be delivered in a much tighter timeframe. Almost the entire $54bn-worth of planned hotel and resort projects is scheduled or expected for award before the end of 2025 and set to be completed in advance of 2030.

This sets the stage for an intensified period of hotel investment and development over the next five years that could surpass the last investment boom cycle in 2014 and 2015, when hotel project award totals reached $9.1bn and $10bn, respectively.

Since 2009, the average annual value of hotel and resort project awards has been $6.4bn, with activity waxing and waning over the intervening period. Hotel and resort schemes fell away dramatically in 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with awards reaching a low of $2.6bn in 2021. Activity then recovered in 2022 and 2023 to the above-average values of $6.7bn and $6.6bn, respectively.

So far in 2024, there have been $1.3bn of hotel and resort project awards, but there is a further $5.2bn in work under bid and set to be awarded this year. The award of those projects would take the tally for 2024 up to $6.5bn – a comparable awards total to those of 2022 and 2023. There is then an additional $15bn-worth of projects in design and due for award in 2024 on the basis of announced and expected delivery timeframes.

If the value of projects under bid and just a third of the projects under design and also provisionally due for award in 2024 are let as expected, it will be a record year for hotel project awards in the region.

Saudi investment spree

Looking at the $54bn-worth of projects split by market, the pipeline is dominated by the touristic megaprojects currently under development in Saudi Arabia, which account for $39.9bn or 74% of the total value of upcoming work.

The hotel and resort projects in the kingdom are in turn heavily weighted towards several provinces that have been targeted for touristic development. These include Tabuk Province, which has $12.6bn-worth of upcoming hospitality-linked projects as part of the Neom and Red Sea Project developments; the Medina and Mecca provinces, which together hold $16.4bn-worth of upcoming schemes linked to the annual Hajj and Umrah tourism industry; Riyadh, with $7.1bn-worth of upcoming work, including that linked to the Qiddiya masterplan; and smaller values in Asir, the Eastern Province and others.

In recent months, several hotel schemes have been announced in the kingdom. In late February, Neom announced plans for a Raffles-branded property at its Trojena mountain resort development. The hotel will be located in the Discover cluster of the resort and is slated to open in 2027. The first hotel projects at Trojena are meanwhile well under way, with local contractor Isam Khairi Kabbani Group beginning work in December on the estimated $100m Chedi Trojena, with completion expected in 2026.

In early March, Red Sea Global (RSG) announced plans for a Four Seasons hotel at its Triple Bay development at Amaala, with Dubai-based U+A Architects, owned by the French engineering firm Egis, as project architect. Four Seasons has also announced other upcoming projects in the kingdom, including a Red Sea project at Shura Island, another at Neom’s Sindalah Island and projects on the Jeddah Corniche and at Diriyah, outside of Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding Company has a 24% stake in Four Seasons, alongside majority shareholder Cascade Investment.

March also saw work begin on Neom’s Epicon Towers – a technically complex twin-tower hotel – with enabling works being undertaken by the local Ammico Contracting. Previously known as the Gas Station Hotel, the design for the project was developed by Singapore’s Meinhardt Group, with the Hong Kong-based 10 Design serving as the lead consultant on the project.

These upcoming schemes are set to join $7.8bn-worth of Saudi hotel projects awarded in the past three years, including $1.8bn-worth of awards in Tabuk. In July 2023, RSG awarded a contract at Triple Bay to the local Mas Engineering for the construction of the Marina Lifestyle Hotel & Village. In May, RSG contracted a joint venture of Egypt’s Hassan Allam Holding and the local Rawabi Specialised Contracting to construct the Triple Bay Rosewood Hotel.

Also in Tabuk, Hilton International opened its first Hampton hotel in March, having jointly developed the project with the Riyadh-based Cayan Group. The project was awarded in January 2022 to local contractor BEC Arabia, with Egypt’s Sabbour Consulting acting as project manager.

Elsewhere in the kingdom, the Public Investment Fund-backed Dan Company also tendered three hotels to be operated by Hilton at its Palm One project, a farm-based tourism destination in Al Ahsa. The deadline for bid submissions is 30 April. Hong Kong-based LWK Partners is the lead designer for the project.

Broader regional spending

In a prominent example of government-led hotel and resort development activity outside of Saudi Arabia, Oman has recently been progressing several new touristic masterplans.

Oman’s Heritage & Tourism Ministry issued a tender in February inviting consultants to bid to develop a tourism project masterplan for the Remal Al Sharqiyah dunes of North and South Al Sharqiyah. The tender was issued on 27 February, with a bid submission deadline of 17 April.

Earlier in February, Oman’s Housing & Urban Planning Ministry (MHUP) also revealed the designs for a new $2.4bn development on Jebel Al Akhdar named the Omani Mountain Destination and masterplanned by Canadian engineering firm AtkinsRealis.

The same month, the MHUP also announced the $1.3bn Al Khuwair Downtown and Waterfront project in Muscat, engaging Zaha Hadid Architects for the project design alongside real estate consultant CBRE.

In the UAE, much of the hotel and resort development is proceeding in a more piecemeal manner, with a greater number of smaller, more discrete touristic schemes. One major development in November was Dubai developer Al Wasl’s award of the $1.3bn contract to build The Island to China State Construction Engineering Corporation in the largest construction contract in Dubai since 2017.

The Island is a 10.5-hectare reclaimed island that will feature MGM, Bellagio and Aria branded hotels. The local APCC was the earthworks contractor, with the project being managed by Germany’s Buro Kling Architectural Engineering Consulting and the local Consultant HSS.

Another recent example of UAE project activity was Modon Properties’ award in November of the contract for a four-star sports hotel on Abu Dhabi’s Al Hudayriyat Island to Trojan General Contracting. The UK’s Atkins is the project consultant, with Canada’s Ellisdon as the project management consultant.

What is apparent from all of this activity is the clear strengthening of hotel project development as regional governments pursue tourism investments both as a long-term economic diversification strategy and one that dovetails with robust and rising visitor traffic to the region.

As long as these trends remain, strong ongoing government and private sector investment in hospitality-linked projects can be expected, and with it, the delivery of the region’s $54bn hotel project pipeline by 2030.

GCC becomes a top tourist destination
John Bambridge
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