From issuing the first tourist visa in September 2019 to the announcement of a free-of-charge four-day stopover transit visa for air travelers, Saudi Arabia has indeed come a long way. And then of course there's the target to attract 100 million tourists per year by 2030.
Middle East Travel Roundup
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Saudi Arabia launched the electronic stopover transit visa for international visitors arriving in the country by air from Monday. The transit visa entitles visa holders to stay in the kingdom for four days and the duration of the visa is three months. The visa is free of cost and it will be issued instantly along with the flight ticket, the Saudi Press Agency reported quoting sources from the foreign affairs ministry. The ministry clarified that applications for transit visas can be submitted through the electronic platforms of Saudi Arabian Airlines and Flynas. The transit visa allows transit passengers, who wish to enter Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah and visit the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah in addition to traveling inside the kingdom, as well as attending tourism events. The ministry confirms that the digital transit visa service will contribute to achieving the objectives of Vision 2030 by strengthening Saudi’s position and benefiting from its distinguished strategic location connecting various continents, and attractive station for transit passengers as well as a global tourist destination.
Hotels in the Middle East recorded revenue per available room of $110.12 during 2022, which is an increase of 18.2 percent over 2019, according to hospitality data provider STR. The occupancy rate touched 63.6 percent during the year, still 3.3 percent below 2019 rates, while the average daily rate skyrocketed 22.2 percent to $173.10. Asia was only the region that witnessed a decline in revenue per available room from 2019, according to STR. The industry’s resilience has been underpinned by significant pent-up leisure travel over the summer along with the return of corporate demand, as the nature and length of this business travel has evolved, said Robin Rossmann, STR’s managing director. “Though occupancy came in below the pre-pandemic comparables, the metric is anticipated to stabilize throughout 2023. Despite economic headwinds, the industry is operating from a position of strength in the new year,” Rossman said.
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, the ultra-low-fare national airline of the United Arab Emirates, announced its operational results for 2022. The joint venture established between Abu Dhabi Developmental Holding Company and Wizz Air Holdings operated more than 6,000 flights and transporting more than 1.2 million travelers. The airline has doubled its fleet size and organization with a 100 percent growth from 4 to 8 state-of-the-art brand-new A321-neo aircraft. Wizz Air currently flies to a total of 36 destinations to 25 countries from Abu Dhabi. “Our incredible growth during 2022 reflects our commitment to making affordable travel possible for everyone and continuing the growth of the burgeoning tourism sector in the United Arab Emirates,” Michael Berlouis, managing director of Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, said.
Headed towards a faster rebound, the hotel industry in Jordan expects to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2024, according to the Jordan Hotels Association. “The industry’s recovery is progressing at a solid rate,” the association’s spokesperson and board member Mohammed Al Qasim told Jordan Times. Low-cost carriers that allowed the tourism sector to tap into new markets also helped to fuel this growth, according to Al Qasim. The kingdom’s tourism income increased by 115 percent during the first 11 months of 2022, compared with the same period of 2021, reaching $5.3 billion, according to the Central Bank of Jordan.
Saudi Arabia registered the maximum number of international arrivals in the region during the first nine months of 2022. Figures released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization show that Saudi Arabia attracted more than 18 million visitors in the first three quarters of 2022, followed by the United Arab Emirates with 14.8 million tourists, and Morocco with 11 million tourists. Tourism spending in Saudi Arabia also skyrocketed last year hitting $7.2 billion in the first half of 2022, according to the ministry of investment.
The United Arab Emirates’ hospitality sector has witnessed steady activity during the January-November 2022 with the occupancy rates of Dubai’s hotels surging 72 percent over the first 11-month period, according to real estate consultant JLL. Simultaneously, the city’s average daily rate rose 22 percent year-on-year to $184, stated JLL in its UAE 2022 Year in Review. With the completion of around 6,800 keys in 2022, Dubai’s hotel stock rose to 148,000 with most deliveries comprising 4 & 5-star properties and the addition of 600 keys raised the total supply of hotel and hotel apartment keys to over 32,000 keys in the capital. In the forthcoming year, approximately 13,000 keys are scheduled to be added in Dubai while Abu Dhabi will see an expected delivery of an additional 400 keys, said JLL in the report.
Kanoo Travel, one of the largest travel management networks in the Middle East, has partnered with dcs plus, a global travel technology company, to enhance its tech infrastructure, strengthen operational activity and upgrade customer service. Kanoo Travel will power its operations with dcs plus’ travel software. The software is an advanced web-based enterprise resource planning system for the travel industry used by global travel management companies, dcs stated in a release. With this partnership Kanoo Travel aims to achieve greater control through seamless processes, reducing operational costs and offering best-in-class traveler experience at every touchpoint of the customer journey. Kanoo Travel will also leverage the state-of-the-art technology from dcs plus to optimize business processes, utilizing smart analytics and data, which will be integrated across different platforms at group level for Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Egypt.
Oman Tourism Development Company (Omran Group) has signed an agreement to develop several tourism projects at prominent destinations across Al Buraimi. The agreement is part of Omran Group’s efforts to enhance partnerships with various stakeholders and achieve its tourism development objectives in Oman and improve the tourism sector’s competitiveness in line with the National Tourism Strategy 2040. As per the agreement, Omran Group will provide technical support and oversee operations for Al Buraimi Gate and Al Abila Park.
Saudi Arabia’s port city of Jeddah is set to see $90 billion of real estate and infrastructure projects by 2030, according to global property consultant Knight Frank. According to Knight Frank’s analysis, nearly $14 billion of the total spend is dedicated to new infrastructure, including a new “land bridge” that will involve the construction of 1,500 km of railway lines linking towns and cities between the eastern and western parts of Saudi while $7 billion has been earmarked for Jeddah Islamic Port expansion. New hotels are also being planned as part of the economic transformation plans. According to Knight Frank, Jeddah has 9,300 rooms under construction or in the planning stages that are expected to be completed between now and 2030, which would bring the city’s total supply to 21,000 rooms.
The tourism sector of the United Arab Emirates expects to welcome a record number of visitors in February. Boosted by several events such as the International Defense Exhibition which kicks off on February 20 in Abu Dhabi, the country is expected to maintain a sustainable recovery of tourism following the Covid-19 pandemic. Events which are expected to further boost the number of visitors include the 28th edition of Gulfood which will kick off on February 20 in Dubai. The monthlong Sheikh Zayed Festival, which kicked off in Abu Dhabi from January 25, is also expected to attract visitors with its motorcycle shows that feature professional motorcyclists and drift car drivers from around the world.
Italian shipbuilder T Mariotti will be building a 100-passenger luxury cruise ship for Neptune Co, a joint venture of hotel group Aman and Cruise Saudi. After Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and Accor, Aman becomes the fourth luxury hotel company to enter the high-end ultra-luxury segment of cruising. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and London-based real estate investment firm Cain International announced in August 2022 that they had invested $900 million in Aman to support its global expansion. Provisionally named Project Sama, the vessel will host guests in fifty luxury suites, with large public spaces and extensive entertainment facilities. Project Sama is expected to be launched in 2026 and its official name will be revealed later.
Dubai will be hosting the 22nd edition of the Airport Show from May 9-11. The annual event looks to connect over 200 aviation brands and more than 100 buyers from over 30 airports and aviation authorities from 20 countries. Taking place on the sidelines of the Airport Show will be exhibitions and conferences — the Global Airport Leaders’ Forum, Air Traffic Control Forum, Airport Security Middle East, and the Women in Aviation Anniversary. The event is expected to witness over 4,500 visitors, with its key themes being sustainability at airports, automation and urban air mobility. The confirmations include exhibitors from the U.S., Italy, France, Germany, Denmark, Turkey, Netherlands, China, Belgium, Korea, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates.
The Egyptian Parliament has approved in principle a draft law to form a federation of tourism chambers, according to the State Information Service on Sunday. The bill requires the federation to be in charge of reviving the tourism sector, organizing the work of the tourism chambers, and assisting the government in developing and implementing tourism promotions plans.
Saudi Entertainment Ventures has announced that it will be investing $13 billion to develop 21 integrated entertainment destinations across 14 cities in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Entertainment Ventures (SEVEN) is a wholly owned subsidiary of the country’s sovereign wealth Public Investment Fund. Construction of the first entertainment destination in the Al Hamra district of Riyadh has commenced. Saudi Entertainment Ventures has also secured partnerships with global entertainment companies, including Clip ‘n Climb, Warner Bros. Discovery, Mattel for its Hot Wheels brand and Hasbro for its Transformers and Play-Doh brands, to develop entertainment attractions. The entertainment sector in Saudi Arabia forms a strong basis for creating jobs and is a strong driver for a large number of other economic sectors including the local tourism sector, said Abdullah AlDawood, chairman of Saudi Entertainment Ventures. “We will provide opportunities for local small medium enterprises, develop Saudi talent, localize technical expertise and transfer knowledge through our global partnerships.”
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Photo credit: Saudi Arabia launched the electronic stopover transit visa for international visitors arriving in the country by air from Monday. Stourism / Wikimedia Commons