The number of tourists visiting emerging economies will exceed those visiting developed countries by 2015, according to forecasts by the UN's World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). Little wonder, then, that hotel industry executives are setting their sights on up-and-coming economies.
However, while pinpointing high-growth regions is a relatively easy task, identifying the places that are able to convert such economic success into tourism appeal can prove challenging, according to Peter Norman, senior vice-president of acquisitions and development for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Hyatt Hotels Corporation, a Chicago-based hotel group with more than 540 properties in 48 countries.
Take the Middle East, for example. The region's oil wealth has helped transform many of its cities, but there is still only one – Dubai – that stands out as a tourist destination.
“People in the Middle East are very proud of Dubai, because it shows what can be achieved if the right infrastructure and tools are put in place. But, if you look across the rest of the region, there has not been the same speed of change [in] tourism traffic,” says Mr Norman.
He cites Doha, the capital of Qatar, as an example of a place that is yet to bring the expected returns on investments. The city has been rising in prominence on the global stage recently, largely through the country controversially winning the right to host the 2022 football World Cup. “Authorities in Qatar are doing very well generating business traffic, but are less active when it comes to increasing leisure demand. The leisure demand is starting to pick up, but mostly relating to sports," says Mr Norman.
This might be about to change, however, thanks to Mshereib Downtown Doha, an urban redevelopment project that will see 24 new mixed-use buildings built in the city centre. “This project has a chance to really create the heart of Doha, and change the dynamics of the city,” says Mr Norman.
Another emerging region that brings a promise of high returns is Africa, especially countries in the east. “We have the whole continent mapped out, but now the focus is more on east Africa,” says Mr Norman. “I think east Africa is an interesting place. [Its countries] have made attempts to diversify and its growth is not just based on... commodities.”
Hyatt currently has six hotels in Africa: two in South Africa, two in Egypt, one in Morocco and one in Tanzania. In October 2013, the company announced plans to build two more hotels in Tanzania, as well as one in the west of the continent, in the Senegalese capital of Dakar.
Although Africa's tourist traffic has been on an upward trajectory recently, there is still some way to go before it can be considered a major tourist hub. According to UNWTO, in 2012 Africa welcomed one-fifth the number of visitors as the Asia-Pacific region and 10 times fewer than Europe. So, will Africa live up to the expectations, and bring the expected return on investment for Hyatt? Mr Norman has no doubts: “It makes good business sense for us. We want to be in Africa.”