Tuesday, April 16, 2024
HomeRLI Food for ThoughtRed or Black – the Global Gamble

Red or Black – the Global Gamble

Red or Black – the Global Gamble 1

Jonathan Doughty, the “RLI Food Guy” is a “C level” executive in the foodservice and leisure industry with 45 years of experience and leadership in restaurants, hotels and global consulting. In his latest article, he discusses the increasing presence of the Saudi Arabian market.

I have just returned from another trip to Riyadh, enjoying the warm and gracious hospitality that the city has to offer, as part of the RLI MENA Connect and Awards event. It was a really busy few days, but incredibly worthwhile.

I am often asked by brands, colleagues, and financial backers about KSA and everything that is going on there at the moment. Many are contemplating a move to the region or extending their existing reach from Dubai or other parts of the GCC and they want to know more about the people, the culture and the projects. I am at great pains to point out that I am no detailed expert in the region and that trying to keep up with the numerous projects and giga-projects that are under way, to be announced or are still under wraps is a tough job, but an enjoyable one.

I was fortunate to be a delegate at the RLI event and a judge of the awards in Riyadh which felt special as it is such an interesting place to be right now. Despite having travelled thousands of kilometres, I met tenants who I am working with in Berlin, new prospects for Germany and several businesses that are going to be inbound into Europe shortly. It certainly was not GCC and Arabia region specific, but that is one of the amazing things about RLI and its reach all over the world and testament to the massive effort that Jayne Rafter and the team put in to make it all happen.

I found myself one evening with some friends and colleagues dining in Gymkhana at Via Riyadh. It was on the evening that Gymkhana in London was awarded 2 Michelin stars and the mood was buoyant. The food, service and ambience were as good as London, really. If you don’t believe me, go. It will be an expensive round trip, but it will be worth it! Talk quickly moved to the region and I tried, in a respectful way to describe what was happening in Saudi Arabia. It is a gamble, for sure. The leadership of the country, under the guidance and direction of MBS is making a huge global play to move away from “black”, the black gold that is oil, to “red” the burgeoning and fast-growing tourism industry that is so beautifully demonstrated by some of the Red Sea projects, by the almost daily announcements of projects by NEOM and many others in Riyadh, Jeddah and beyond. The scale is unprecedented, the speed is breathtaking and the commitment is without question. The answer that most people seek is whether it will happen? It is right under your nose, every day.

The logic is inescapable as to why they are doing it but still there will be failures as well as successes. This is important to realise and there is currently enormous elasticity in the relationship between the supply and demand models at play in the region. Information suggests that restaurant turnovers are softening as new openings continue, without the massive increases in tourism or population yet coming on stream. That is inevitable as there is always a game of “catch up” to be played. Some projects will not be good enough but others, like Via Riyadh can rightfully stand on a global stage and claim “best in class”. For me, this is one of the most impressive projects I have seen in a long time.

If you are under any doubt if it is real or somehow faked, look at the hotel rates, the Uber availability, or the seat prices on airlines and that will point very clearly to strong demand and sometimes totally inadequate supply for some events and occasions.

The gamble is huge, calculated and fully supported. The odds are unknown but the commitment to trying to win is also huge. The prize of becoming a global player in tourism, commerce and business is firmly in their sights and the country is moving at such speed.

What I cannot easily describe is the gentleness, kindness and graciousness that I encountered throughout this trip and all my previous travels to the region from the Saudi nationals. I got to meet fashion designers, restaurant operators, coffee shop supervisors and some amazing food hall professionals and they were all the same. They all had time, they all were pleased to share, and they all really cared about what they were doing. It was truly uplifting, and you can see how the world is changing for them all. I wish them luck, they deserve it…

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