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As countries in the Middle East set ambitious tourism targets for the future, Saudi Arabia is investing in infrastructure to drive numbers, while Dubai is investing in technology to adopt "Smart Gates" at Dubai airport and looking to make air taxis a reality.

Series: Middle East Travel Roundup

Middle East Travel Roundup

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The post-Covid recovery of the real estate sector in Saudi Arabia is led by increasing tourist demand and government spending on infrastructure projects such as the investment in King Salman International Airport, Deloitte noted in its latest real estate report. In 2022, both average daily rate (ADR) and occupancy improved from 2021 as market-wide recovery was supported by the ease of travel and faster visa processing for tourists, according to the report. The first three months of the year were the strongest for occupancy performance in Riyadh, reaching 76 percent in March. Meanwhile, Jeddah hotels recorded the highest occupancy performance in May at 59 percent. The facilitation of a tourist visa for Gulf residents and the visa on arrival extension to UK, U.S. and European Union residents aims to support the country’s ambition to welcome 100 million visitors a year by 2030, the global consultancy firm noted in its report.

The United Arab Emirates has issued new rules for all events in hotels that want to serve alcohol. From Wednesday onwards, hotels hosting corporate or private events will require a mandatory Criminal Investigations Department (CID) alcohol permitaccording to Arabian Business. The permit will be applied for by the hotel on behalf of the event organizer. The fee for the permit would be $340 per event, per day. Organizers must apply for the permit at least 14 days in advance, according to the circular quoted by the report. The documents that would be needed to apply for the permit are a valid Emirates ID, DET permit (as per event/entertainment type provided by hotel). “The hotel’s obligation to secure CID Alcohol Permit to serve alcohol for the event is conditional upon the UAE CID and Department of Economy and Tourism regulatory requirements and laws then prevailing, submission of required documentation and payment of CID Permit,” the circular read.

Qatar recently announced the extension of Hayya Card validity till January 24, 2024. This entitles Hayya Card holders for the recently-concluded FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, to enjoy a free multiple-entry permit to Qatar, and also use the e-gate system at state ports. Travellers will be required to provide proof of hotel reservation or accommodation with family or friends approved via the online Hayya portal, and a valid passport for no less than three months upon arrival in Qatar. They will also need to show a valid return ticket, and health insurance that is valid for the duration of the stay in the country.

Guests arriving and departing at Dubai International Airport Terminal 3 would now be able to go through passport control in a matter of seconds using the enhanced “Smart Gates,” featuring a new contactless process. The new biometric system allows passengers to travel without a passport or boarding pass from the emirate. The General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs — Dubai stated that verification is done through the iris and biometric information. According to the Dubai airport website, passengers must remove anything that covers their face, including masks, glasses and hats. UAE residents, Gulf nationals, visa-on-arrival guests with biometric passports would be able to use the new smart gates. Wheelchair-bound guests, guests with large strollers, families with children and guests under 15 years old or under 1.2 metres in height are prohibited from using the smart gates.

Novotel Bahrain Al Dana Resort, a beachside property in Bahrain’s Manama, becomes the first hotel in the region to accept crypto payments. The property has partnered with Bahrain-based payment services provider Eazy Financial Services to allow payment in cryptocurrency. “Keeping up with the development of technologies, we are the first hotel in Bahrain and the region to use the latest digital payment technologies in partnership with Eazy Financial Services’ EazyPay,” said Novotel Bahrain Al Dana Resort’s general manager, Amid Yazji.

Sharjah Airport welcomed around 13 million passengers in 2022, an 84.73 percent compared to 2021 during which it received seven million passengers. The growth reflects Sharjah’s commitment to meet evolving passenger expectations and marks a significant step, said Ali Salim Al Midfa, chairman of Sharjah Airport Authority. Sharjah Airport aims to increase its capacity to 20 million passengers by 2026. “We further aim at raising our investments in expanding the airport’s capacity and enhancing the network of tourism destinations,” Al Midfa said.

Dubai recently hosted an event to discuss ways to create an inclusive and enabling workplace environment for disabled people in the hospitality industry. The event is in line with the goal to make Dubai the friendliest destination for all and the most liveable city in the world, said Issam Kazim, CEO of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing. “As momentum continues to accelerate across travel and tourism in Dubai and the United Arab Emirate, it is crucial that industry leaders engage in meaningful conversations around diversity and inclusion in the workplace, paving the way for new initiatives that will further enhance the quality of life for people of determination and create suitable career opportunities within the tourism ecosystem,” Kazim said. Hosted and organised by Hilton in partnership with Dubai tourism, the other hospitality companies present at the event included Accor, InterContinental Hotels Group, Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts, Marriott International, Radisson, and Rotana Hotels and Resorts.

Oman’s national carrier Oman Air has announced the introduction of its first freighter by the end of 2023, the airline announced at its annual cargo workshop on Monday.  Oman Air also announced the launch of new cargo destinations and said that it would increase cargo capacity to high-value destinations. CEO of Oman Air, Abdulaziz Al Raisi said despite a challenging environment, Oman Air Cargo delivered numbers ahead of its budget. “In 2021, our revenues were 86 percent above target. In 2022, we achieved another 44 percent increase, exceeding our budget revenue by 37 percent, as well as a 36 percent increase in the amount of cargo transported compared to the previous year,” Al Raisi said.

The United Arab Emirates Federal Authority for Identity, Nationality, Customs and Ports Security (ICP) launched a new service which allows visitors to extend the validity of visas issued to 60 days. The fee to extend the visa is priced at $55. The service can only be availed once and visitors can only apply for it before entering the country. To extend the visa validity, the applicant’s passport must be valid for not less than three months, and he/she should not be in the emirates for the entry permit to be issued, the ICP said, adding that applicants can extend the validity through the authority’s official website and its smart application via the UAE PASS or username. A confirmation email for extending a visa will be sent to the registered ID, the ICP said.

Dubai expects to launch aerial taxi operations by 2026. Announcing the plans for the aerial taxi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai, tweeted, “We approved today the design of the new air taxi stations in Dubai, which will start operating within three years.” The prototype models of aerial taxi vertiports have been developed by the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority. Vertiports encompass a range of facilities such as designated take-off and landing zones, a passenger waiting area, security protocols, and electric charging stations, said Mattar Al Tayer, director-general and chairman of the board of executive directors of Dubai Roads and Transport Authority. The aerial taxi vertiport will be located near Dubai International Airport. The initial network of vertiports will connect four main areas of Dubai — Downtown Dubai (Burj Khalifa area), Dubai Marina, Dubai International Airport and Palm Jumeirah.

Indian low-cost carrier IndiGo will be operating daily flights between Abu Dhabi and the Indian cities of Hyderabad and Chennai, and will also be connecting Muscat with Chennai from March 26. The airline said the flights would accord new and affordable flying options to business and leisure travellers. The new connections will support the medical students and tourists travelling to Muscat and Abu Dhabi, said Vinay Malhotra, head of global sales, IndiGo, adding, “We will continue to enhance international connectivity and uphold our promise of providing a courteous, on-time, hassle-free, and affordable travel experience across the wide network.”

Polish startup, formerly known as Hotailors, has been invited by the Emirates Group to participate in the Intelak development program in Dubai. Intelak, an acceleration program which identifies innovative solutions for the Middle East tourism market, focuses on companies that already have a well-established direction of development and are keen to enter new markets. Companies selected to participate in the accelerator will have the opportunity to implement their business solutions throughout Dubai. Calling Intelak, the perfect occasion for to enter the Middle East, CEO Filip Błoch said, “The development at Intelak Hub will allow us to meet potential Middle East clients. Accelerating foreign expansion is our strategic goal this year, and the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, as well as the United States, are key areas of this development.” 

InterContinental Abu Dhabi will be launching its brand-new residences in the first quarter of the year in the neighbourhood of Al Bateen district, a stone’s throw from some of the central business and leisure facilities. The residences will feature 130 units comprising studios, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom apartments, along with a selection of accessible apartments specially designed to cater for people with special needs, a release read. “We are looking forward to welcome guests for both short-term and long-term stays,” said Dani Demerjian, general manager of InterContinental Abu Dhabi.


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Tags: abu dhabi, air taxis, asia monthly, cryptocurrencies, dubai international airport, events, hilton, intercontinental hotel group, middle east, oman, qatar, riyadh, saudi arabia, Skift Pro Columns, visas, world cup

Photo credit: Ushaiqer Heritage Village in Saudi Arabia. Abdulrhman Alkhnaifer / Unsplash

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