2016 is set to be a banner year for the hospitality industry in Saudi Arabia. After experiencing relatively slow but steady growth since 2006, the number of hotel rooms across the Kingdom suddenly soared in 2015.

This trend is set to continue, with 16,000 new hotel rooms in Riyadh and Jeddah slated for completion in 2018. Geopolitical tensions and fluctuating oil prices have not hampered the government’s future development plans, which will be supported by a budget of over 628 billion USD.

Much of this budget will be allocated to hospitality, in order to support the expected influx of tourists over the next few years. Inbound tourism to Saudi Arabia is predicted to increase by 13% annually, with Makkah and Madinah alone receiving 25 million visitors by 2020.

These visitors will require accommodation, and the Saudi hospitality market is rising to meet this challenge while maintaining its traditionally high standards. Hospitality chains in Saudi Arabia are not simply looking to provide rooms; but the best rooms, supported by the latest technology to enhance guest experience and streamline processes.

With this aim in mind, business facilitation company Naseba has partnered with Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals (HFTP) – the world’s leading global hospitality association and organisers of HITEC – to produce the upcoming Hotel Technology Summit, taking place on 20 - 21 March 2016 in Riyadh.

The summit will introduce pre-qualified hotel technology buyers from Saudi Arabia to global technology providers in a platform designed to create the ultimate deal flow. Over 120 leading decision makers from the hospitality sector will gather at this private platform to discuss developments in hotel technology, tackle the challenges of catering to millennial guests, and share insights built over years of experience in a constantly changing industry.

It is this familiarity with change and rapid development that makes the marriage between hospitality and technology so successful. “Hoteliers are known as innovation seekers,” according to Austine Jarome, Director of Purchasing at Al Khozama Management.

“Saudi Arabia is one of the top 35 countries around the world in terms of using IT technology," says Mohamed Gharib, Director of Information Technology of Burj Rafal Hotel Kempinski. "As it has become part of the daily life of Saudi people, our guests depend on many forms of technology to measure hotel services."

The summit has played host to internationally renowned innovators like Hideo Sawada, President of Henna-na, the world’s first robot-staffed hotel. In its most recent edition, the summit’s agenda will focus not only on the showcasing the possibilities of deploying cutting-edge technology in hotels, but also on the realities of pursuing this technology in times of financial turbulence.

An interactive panel discussion will explore the critical question of what today’s guests value and want – is a personalised experience, tech-enabled amenities, or value for money? Power presentations in the form of ‘tech pitches’ will showcase specific technologies to bring hotels further into the digital age.

Experts including Amine Moukarzel, President of Louvre Hotels Group and Golden Tulip MENA; Denis Sorin, President of Hotel Operations at Dur Hospitality; John Rees, Senior Director of Operations MENA at Marriott and David Henry, Vice President of Marketing, Sales and Distribution at Accor, who will discuss the nuances of marketing to business, religious and tech-savvy travelers.

The summit will also offer both structured and casual networking sessions, in which participants can reconnect with industry peers or build new business relationships in a focused environment.

As the hospitality industry continues to move beyond card keys and physical check-in processes to an age of automated and autonomous technology, hoteliers will need to stay abreast of the dazzling possibilities offered by this technology, but also its many complex challenges. The Hotel Technology Summit is designed specifically to support regional and global hoteliers in this pursuit.

“The Hotel Technology Summit is a vital venue for all industry leaders to become exposed to the latest technological trends in the hospitality sector. Naseba does a great job as always in organising and bringing together hoteliers and suppliers,” says Ismail AlKamal, Chief Executive Officer of Nawatt, who are one of the solution providers presenting their solutions at the summit.

The summit is also hosting well-established technology providers such as Cisco, Infor, Zohoor AlReef, Nawatt and others. Media partners include TTG MENA, Travel and Tour World, ehotelier and Hsyndicate.