Is NFT the Next Big Thing in Hospitality? A Perspective from the Dubai Research Center

Written by: Rochak Khandelwal

In the last two years — especially in 2021 — we all have come across this acronym “NFT” that everyone has been talking about, and how these NFTs are being sold for millions of dollars. Many celebrities and business tycoons have shown interest — but first: what is NFT? Below, find a definition of NFT and how it can be the next big thing for business and hospitality in 2022.

A non-fungible token (NFT) is a cryptographic asset that cannot be duplicated and gives proof of ownership of a single digital item, such as a picture, audio file or video. Blockchain technology is used to record NFTs, ensuring that each item is unique and can be validated as real. The fact that an NFT is a one-of-a-kind structure has a variety of benefits for both owners and content creators. The capacity to use digital files in the same way as physical assets is the most significant gain. As an example, a customer might purchase an original piece of artwork that is then sold to them in digital form.

Because the technology is still new, NFT hospitality marketing is yet under-explored despite having a great deal of potential for hospitality by improving customer engagement, product promotion, brand awareness and business collaborations. It is gradually establishing itself as a viable and preferred choice in the Dubai hospitality sector. You can see how NFTs are being used as a hospitality marketing tool in Dubai and how some restaurants, hotels and celebrity chefs are making use of this technology to enhance their presence in the industry and attract new customers. 

Alexandros Sperxos, an award-winning Dubai chef who has taken on NFTs, is the first in the world to create a series of seven digital artworks of glow-in-the-dark food, and even an NFT of himself. Sperxos was named an official ambassador of Greek gastronomy in the United Arab Emirates in 2019 and has promoted Greek cuisine around the world, including at the Dubai Expo 2020. Now, the chef has entered the NFT market and customers can bid for the NFT collection online. These dishes will be served at a private glow-in-the-dark event held at The Alley in Al Quoz in Dubai, where bidders will also be able to meet Sperxos.

I recently visited a new Vietnamese restaurant Goi Rolls located very near to my university, the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management (EAHM). The restaurant has found a new way to attract customer loyalty by selling its own NFT collection online. Customers buying these tokens get half the amount back to spend on food at the restaurant. As per Hayder Nashie, general manager of Goi Rolls, it is not only a way of publicizing food but also a utility, as they are giving back value to the purchaser of these tokens. It is a different way of engaging with your customers. The virtual sushi rolls (NFT from Goi Rolls) can be purchased with Ethereum and NFTs on the OpenSea marketplace, the main hub for buying and selling NFTs. One is priced at ETH0.0221, or $52.52 at the current rate, with the caveat that cryptocurrency prices have fallen as a result of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

In March 2022, Dubai adopted a new law in the emirate approved by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, vice president and ruler of Dubai, designed to regulate virtual assets, protect investors and provide international standards governing the virtual asset industry. Soon after this announcement, we have seen increased interest in NFTs from various businesses.

NFT in hospitality could be a game-changer. With new laws regulating the technology, many people and investors who originally viewed NFTs as a scam are interested in adopting this technology to promote and grow their businesses, not only in food but also in travel and accommodation.

Internationally, Marriott Bonvoy, an award-winning travel program, was one of the first to introduce its NFT collection. It has created travel-inspired NFTs that were auctioned in Miami in December 2021. Emirates in Dubai has recently announced its NFT collection and have jumped soon after laws were regulated. These examples of big hospitality brands jumping into NFTs to create a unique way of attracting customer loyalty and promote their businesses surely says the NFT could be the next big thing in hospitality.

Rochak Khandelwal is a research scholar with the HFTP Middle East Research Center and student at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management in Dubai, UAE.