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As Saudi Arabia looks to diversify its economy, the country is on a rapid urban expansion, ensuring that there's enough infrastructure to accommodate a growing number of tourists.

Series: Middle East Travel Roundup

Middle East Travel Roundup

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In line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the recently-launched New Murabba Development Company will be developing what it calls the world’s largest modern downtown in Riyadh. The New Murabba project will be built around the concept of sustainability, featuring green areas and walking and cycling paths, according to a release. “It will also feature an iconic museum, a technology and design university, a multipurpose immersive theatre, and more than 80 entertainment and culture venues,” the release further stated. Built over an area of 19 square kilometers, the project will also have its own internal transport system and will be located at a distance of 20 minutes’ drive from the airport. As part of the project, Saudi Arabia will also be developing a 400-meter-high-cue shaped skyscraper Mukaab touted to be the world’s first immersive destination offering an experience created by digital and virtual technology with the latest holographics. The project is expected to add $48 billion to non-oil gross domestic product and create 334,000 direct and indirect jobs by 2030. The project is due to be completed in 2030.

Annual passenger traffic at Dubai airport more than doubled last year even as it is yet to fully recover after the coronavirus pandemic, the airport said on Tuesday. Dubai airport handled 66.1 million passengers in 2022, exceeding its forecast of 64.3 million while retaining the title of the world’s busiest international hub for the ninth consecutive year. The airport is forecast to welcome 78 million passengers this year. Traffic volumes were propelled by strong growth in the final quarter of the year during which the airport recorded 19.7 million passengers, up 67 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2021. India retained its position as the top destination country for Dubai Airport by passenger volume, with a total traffic of 9.8 million passengers, followed by Saudi Arabia with 4.9 million passengers, and the United Kingdom with 4.6 million passengers.

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has revealed positive signs of recovery for the travel and tourism sector in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as overseas travellers head back. The report, researched in partnership with Oxford Economics, analysed key indicators such as travel and tourism’s contribution to gross domestic product (GDP), employment and traveller spend. The analysis of the impact of the travel and tourism sector in both cities shows that, the direct GDP contribution, jobs, and visitor spending are all bouncing back. The report shows that in 2019, the travel and tourism sector contributed almost $14 billion to Dubai’s and $3.4 billion to Abu Dhabi’s economy. While this number dropped drastically to $5 billion for Dubai and $1 billion for Abu Dhabi in 2020, the global tourism body’s research shows a strong recovery for both cities. Dubai’s travel and tourism sector is forecast to have reached $12.5 billion, only 10 percent below 2019 levels and for Abu Dhabi the sector is expected to have grown to $3 billion last year, just 12 percent below 2019 levels. 

Online travel marketplace Wego has partnered with Japan National Tourism Organization to promote a new campaign to showcase the best winter experiences in the country. Wego will be promoting this through all its marketing channels. Mamoun Hmedan, chief commercial officer and managing director, Middle East, North Africa and India of Wego, said, “Japan has a wealth of cultural and natural treasures that are sure to inspire visitors. This partnership allows us to give people an authentic experience and help travelers discover the unique beauty of the country. Highlighting how cherry blossom season in spring, is not the only attraction, Daisuke Kobayashi, executive director of JNTO Dubai office, said, “Cherry blossoms in spring, green nature in summer, colored leaves in autumn, and snow in winter. The greatest feature of Japan is the diversity that allows you to enjoy the natural scenery of each season and unique experiences throughout the year.

Kuwait’s Jazeera Airways recorded its highest-ever annual net profits in 2022, carrying 3.6 million passengers, up from 2.4 million passengers in 2019. The airline announced record net profits of $65 million for the year 2022, an increase of 183.6 percent over 2021. Operating revenues for 2022 increased to $594 million, up 126.5 percent, and operating profit increased by 148.4 percent to $87 million. “With our growing fleet, new upcoming routes and planned enhancements to our operations, 2023 is going to be another exciting year,” said Marwan Boodai, chairman of Jazeera Airways. In 2022, Jazeera Airways received two additional A320neos, the first to be delivered from a 2021 order for 28 aircraft from Airbus. The airline’s fleet now includes 19 aircraft and is anticipated to grow to 35 by the year 2026, in line with the airline’s expansion plans for the coming years.

Saudi Arabia launched a digital platform to facilitate the entry and movement of tourist yachts in the country. Connected to more than 20 government entities, the “Ebhar” platform would be a unified online portal allowing access to yacht registration services, procedures for entry and exit, issuing navigational licenses, registering yachts under the Saudi flag and sailing permits. Talking about the promising future of the boat and yacht market, Saleh Al-Jasser, minister of transport and logistic services, said, the kingdom has been witnessing a significant expansion of coastal and maritime assets, including the development of exciting new destinations such as Neom, Amaala, and Red Sea projects. “The yacht market is expected to grow annually at 19.4 percent between 2022 and 2028.”

With the return of quarantine-free travel, Hong Kong state carrier Cathay Pacific has reported a surge in traffic from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region as it carried 187,106 passengers from the region. Across its global network, the airline carried more than 1 million passengers in January, an increase of more than 4,000 percent compared to January 2022. “Looking at February and beyond, we are working hard to increase our passenger flight capacity as much as possible over the coming months, especially in the lead-up to the Easter holiday. Demand for flights to and from the Chinese Mainland, both for point-to-point and connecting traffic via Hong Kong, is expected to grow and we are endeavouring to provide more options for our customers as quickly as feasible. We are on track to operate more than 100 return flights per week to 14 cities in the Chinese Mainland by the end of this month,” Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Lavinia Lau said.

The world’s largest inflatable park opened in Dubai on Friday. Located at Riverland Dubai at Dubai Parks and Resorts, the inflatable park JumpX is spread over 1,262 square meters and can accommodate around 400 people. JumpX broke the Guinness World Records for the largest inflatable bouncy castle, a world record earlier held by Big Bounce America in the U.S., which is spread over nearly 1,000 square meters. The inflatable park is open to everyone above five years of age. Prices start from $16 for an hour. The inflatable park opening comes after the recent addition of ‘Dino Mania’, a free dinosaur parade at Riverland at Dubai Parks and Resorts.

Expo City Dubai will host a Ramadan festival from March 3 to April 25. Hai Ramadan will run for more than 50 days, beginning on the weekend prior to the United Arab Emirate’s traditional celebration of Haq Al Laila. The festival will take visitors on a cultural journey where they can share unique experiences from across the Islamic world, the organisers said. Entry to Hai Ramadan, including the Al Wasl show and sports activities, is free, with charges for some workshops and games. The festival will also host a night market. Hai Ramadan will take place from 4pm to 10pm in the run-up to Ramadan, and from 5pm to 2am during Ramadan.

Emirates has announced plans to build an advanced training facility to accommodate six Full Flight Simulator Bays (FFS) for its future Airbus A350 and Boeing 777X aircraft. The 63,318 square feet facility is slated to open in March 2024 and will be adjacent to the existing Emirates Training Facilities in Dubai. Emirates will be investing $135 million to build the new pilot training centre. The training centre will ensure Emirates’ readiness to commence its pilot training ahead of the delivery of its new aircraft fleet starting from 2024, said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief executive of Emirates Airline and Group. “The building will be equipped with the latest, technologically advanced simulators to provide the best training for pilots, while using solar power to reduce energy consumption,” Al Maktoum said. In line with the scheduled delivery of Emirates’ first Airbus A350 aircraft, the airline’s newest training college will commence training its first batch of A350 pilots by June 2024.

Makram Queisi, the tourism minister of Jordan, affirmed the ministry’s keenness to enhance the competitiveness of tourist transport in the country and provide visitors the best services by offering modern transport systems. On Saturday, Queisi met with the president and members of the Tourist Transport Association, as well as the president and members of the Sector Skills Council for Tourism and Hospitality during which he stressed on the importance of tourist transport for the Jordanian tourism industry. He also spoke about the need to consolidate Jordan’s position as a global tourist destination, by providing high quality hospitality services to visitors during each stage of their visit.

Choice Hotels Middle East (CHME) and Seera Hotels, a fully owned subsidiary of Seera Holding Group, have announced the opening a new property in Riyadh – Comfort Hotel Riyadh Olaya. With 88 guest bedrooms, spread across eight floors, Comfort Hotel Riyadh Olaya is located in a busy area of Riyadh. Choice Hotels Europe Middle East Africa (EMEA) recently announced a refresh of the Choice Hotels branded guest experience including Comfort Hotels. The hotels look to deliver for today’s value-driven midscale traveller. This opening is the third hotel of an agreement between Choice Hotels and Seera Holding Group to open at least ten hotels in the Saudi Arabia within the next five years. The first two properties, Clarion Jeddah Airport and Comfort King Road Jeddah, opened in 2022. “Our refresh programme of Choice Hotels’ brands, targeting a range of guest profiles and segments and informed by independent research of midscale traveller perceptions, is underway across the region,” said Jonathan Mills, CEO of Choice Hotels EMEA.

As part of Neom’s ongoing efforts to promote investment opportunities and highlight the rapid progress it has been making across its various sectors, the Discover Neom tour kicked off in Jeddah. The tour will take place in cities around Saudi Arabia. Through the tour and meetings, Neom will reaffirm its commitment to sharing its unique vision and strategic objectives to achieve exceptional livability and thriving businesses, redefine sustainability, and develop key economic sectors, in line with Saudi Vision 2030, said Neom CEO Nadhmi Al-Nasr. During the Jeddah visit, Neom executives highlighted the tangible progress in the construction of its futuristic cities and the development of its regions. The discussions particularly focused on the projects supporting Neom’s tourism sector, Trojena and Sindalah, which will create a new model for tourism that blends extraordinary designs and state-of-the-art technology with the breathtaking natural landscapes, making Neom a global destination for sustainable tourism on the Red Sea coast while unlocking a wide range of opportunities to collaborate with investors from Jeddah.


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Tags: abu dhabi, cathay pacific, dubai, dubai expo 2020, dubai international airport, emirates air, japan national tourism organization, jordan, saudi arabia, Seera Group, Skift Pro Columns, wego, wttc

Photo credit: Saudi Arabia will also be developing a 400-meter-high-cue shaped skyscraper Mukaab touted to be the world’s first immersive destination. Saudi PIF

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