The latest data underlines the strength of the travel recovery in the Middle East, thanks in large part to the FIFA World Cup. What next after the World Cup is the million-dollar question here.
Middle East Travel Roundup
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The Middle East is leading international travel recovery in the fourth quarter as inbound arrivals to the region witnessed an increase of 4 percent, long ahead of the global average of a decrease of 30 percent, according to travel analytics firm ForwardKeys. “The FIFA World Cup is certainly the key driver for its travel recovery,” said Juan Gomez, head of market intelligence at ForwardKeys. The latest air ticketing data by ForwardKeys also shows that international arrival levels may be back to normal in 2023, with travel to the Middle East up by 15 percent on pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter. Overall, the outlook for 2023 looks promising, despite high inflation in key source markets and the looming recession, FowardKeys noted. The Middle East is also attracting more premium travellers than in 2019, the travel analytics firm noted with Saudi Arabia showing the greatest growth. Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon are also showing growth, with a regional average of 11 percent above 2019.
In line with its national tourism strategy, Saudi Arabia will be developing Sindalah — the first luxury island and yacht club destination in the Red Sea. Spread over an area of 840,000 square meters in its futuristic city NEOM, Sindalah is expected to start welcoming guests from early 2024. The facility is expected to create 3,500 jobs for the tourism sector and hospitality and leisure services. Featuring a prestigious 86-berth marina, Sindalah will offer 413 ultra-premium hotel rooms and 333 top-end serviced apartments. The facility will also feature a luxe beach club, yacht club, 38 culinary offerings and a golf course.
Airlines in the Middle East saw a 114.7 percent rise in passenger traffic in October compared to the same period last year, according to a report by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Capacity also increased 55.7 percent during this period compared to October 2021, and load factor climbed 21.8 percentage points to 79.5 percent. The October passenger demand and forward bookings signal continuing recovery in the region. International traffic for the period climbed 102.4 percent versus October 2021. Forward bookings for international travel increased to around 75 percent of pre-pandemic levels, following the re-openings announced by multiple Asian economies. Calling October traditionally a slower autumn travel season in the Northern Hemisphere, Willie Walsh, director general of IATA said the strong demand and forward bookings bodes well for the coming winter season and the ongoing recovery.
Dubai received $29.4 billion in tourism receipts in 2022 topping the list of cities with the highest spending by international visitors, according to a World Travel and Tourism Council (WTCC) report. WTTC’s latest Cities Economic Impact Report analysed 82 international destinations. Doha ranked second with a total spending of $16.8 billion while London was third at $16.1 billion. Doha ranked on top as the most recovered destination with international traveller spending and direct travel and tourism contributions to the city’s gross domestic product expected to increase by 21 percent from 2019.
In a bid to make micro, small and medium enterprises more innovative and competitive, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has outlined plans to support 10,000 such enterprises in Morocco to make the shift to digital. The joint action plan, developed alongside the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism, was announced against the backdrop of UNWTO’s Executive Council in Marrakesh. Calling these enterprises the backbone of the global tourism sector, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said they were the hardest hit by the pandemic. “With the right support, they can grow to become true agents of change and help build a more inclusive and sustainable sector.” Small enterprise account for around 98 percent of all tourism businesses in Morocco and UNWTO has identified the country as a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship. The Morocco program represents the first pilot project of the UNWTO Digital Futures Programme. Overall, the program aims to reach 2 million enterprises globally, giving them support to make the shift to digitalization through tailored training and mentorship initiatives with key big tech partners.
Hong Kong-based Langham Hospitality Group has announced its foray into Saudi Arabia with the launch of The Langham, Diriyah in 2026. The hospitality group will be partnering with the Diriyah Gate Development Authority to bring the 200-room The Langham to Saudi Arabia. “For our foray into the kingdom, we’re delighted to be part of a vision where The Langham’s proud traditions in hospitality will become integral to a 21st century vision that positions Riyadh on the global stage as an authentic and unique destination,” said Brett Butcher, CEO of Langham Hospitality Group.
Saudi Arabia‘s sovereign wealth fund Public Investment Fund announced the launch of its new investment arm in the Aseer region to develop and transform the region into a year-round tourism destination. The Aseer Investment Company would look to unlock a wide range of investment opportunities for domestic and international investors across number of sectors, including tourism and hospitality. This in turn would create job opportunities for the local community, and promote the region’s tourism and investment opportunities. Aseer Investment Company will promote the region’s natural and cultural heritage and heritage, and transform it into a world-class tourist destination for visitors from across the globe in line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, said Raid Ismail, Head of Direct Investments for the Middle East and North Africa at Public Investment Fund.
As part of its expansion and development plan, Fujairah International Airport has now secured the operating licence for a new runway. Besides the construction of a new 3,050 meters-long and 45 meters-wide emergency runway with an airfield lighting system, the Fujairah airport expansion project involves a new parallel taxiway, aircraft rescue and fire-fighting building, as well as the installation of air traffic management systems and navigational aids. Ismail Al Baloushi, Director-General of Fujairah Airport, said that the new runway underscores the airport’s strategic objective to improve and maintain its operations, in line with the highest international standards. This will increase its capacity to accommodate more aircraft, noting that the project is ongoing and is running on realistic time frames. Earlier reports had estimated the total cost of the expansion project to be around $445 million and had stated that the project is being financed by the Federal Government of the United Arab Emirates in collaboration with Abu Dhabi Airports. Fujairah is the only emirate in the country situated on the Indian Ocean coast and the airport shares strategic proximity to Fujairah Port. The airport earlier focused on cargo but is now looking at charters and commercial operations to help develop the tourism sector.
Parent company of Atlantis Resorts & Residences — Kerzner International Holdings announced that its inaugural hotel under the fitness-themed lifestyle brand Siro — Siro One Za’abeel would launch in the fourth quarter of 2023 in Dubai. Being developed by Ithra Dubai, a fully owned subsidiary of Investment Corporation of Dubai, Siro One Za’abeel is positioned as “Dubai’s first fully integrated fitness and recovery hotel.” The first property under the Siro brand was initially planned to open in Porto Montenegro, however, the brand will now launch in Dubai. CEO Philippe Zuber said his company consulted with top international athletes, including boxer Ramla Ali and swimmer Adam Peaty and footballers for the team A.C. Milan, in designing the brand’s details and amenities. The property would also feature a fitness club spread across two floors.
United Arab Emirates has launched the third edition of the World’s Coolest Winter campaign highlighting Ajman as the starting point for the new season. The campaign to promote the country as a winter sun destination helps to support domestic tourism and attract international travellers to make the most of the warm winters. Last year’s campaign helped generate $408 million in revenues attracting 1.3 million domestic tourists, with an increase of 36 percent compared to the first edition, and an increase of 50 percent in the number of hotel guests. Highlighting the importance of cooperation between the government and private sectors to support the tourism sector, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the country, and ruler of Dubai called tourism a major component of the Emirati economy.
French luxury fashion house Christian Dior held the first-ever fashion show at the Giza pyramids in Egypt. “It is the first Dior fashion show in Egypt and the first time in history when a fashion show took place at the Pyramids of Giza,” the tourism ministry stated in a press release. The fashion house chose the pyramids as far more than “just a useless background,” drawing on Egyptian astrology for the collection named “Celestial,” Dior CEO Pietro Beccari said. In October, Italian designer Stefano Ricci held a fashion show at the ancient Egyptian Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor in southern Egypt. This forms part of the effort made by the Egyptian government to revive tourism in the country, which accounts for 10 percent of the gross domestic product.
Reed & Mackay, a global service provider for corporate travel and event management, on Monday announced the opening of its office in Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City. Having first opened its office in Dubai in 2016, Fred Stratford, group CEO for Reed & Mackay said the Dubai team has done an excellent job nurturing the company’s growing client base in the region. “We are seeing real momentum in the Middle East as Covid-19 restrictions relax and demand continues to grow,” he said. Jane Warren, Reed & Mackay’s CEO for the Middle East and Asia Pacific, talked about accelerating the growth of the company’s operations in the country.
Photo credit: Hegra in Saudi Arabia. Seera Media