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A partnership with Trip.com could help Saudi Arabia make inroads into the China market. Saudi hopes to draw 3.9 million Chinese visitors per year by 2030.

Series: Middle East Travel Roundup

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China’s Trip.com Group has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Saudi Tourism Authority to promote Saudi Arabia as a tourism destination. As part of the collaboration, Trip.com and Saudi Tourism Authority will launch joint marketing campaigns in several markets to drive awareness and attract tourists to Saudi Arabia through Trip.com, Ctrip, Travix, and other travel companies. These markets include Australia, China, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and UK. In addition, both parties will also embark on several capacity-building and knowledge-sharing initiatives in various aspects, including digital payment solutions, sustainability, ticketing, and training. “With Trip.com Group’s market capability and advanced technology, I believe the partnership will encourage and entice more visitors worldwide to Saudi Arabia and further enhance recovery in the global tourism sector,” said Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO of the Saudi Tourism Authority. In November last year, Trip.com Group signed an agreement to promote Qatar across the globe as a family-friendly tourism destination, and an agreement with Abu Dhabi was signed in May 2022. Speaking at the Skift Global Forum East, Trip.com’s Chief Operating Officer, Schubert Lou, said old marketing strategies would not work on the new Chinese traveler. Saudi Arabia had earlier said that it aims to attract 3.9 million visitors from China annually by 2030. In 2019, when Saudi Arabia opened to tourism, the maximum number of tourist visas issued were to Chinese tourists. More than 100,000 Chinese tourists visited Saudi Arabia in 2019.

Abu Dhabi Airports, the operator of the emirate’s five airports, has finalized a new partnership with aviation services specialist Jetex to enhance the VIP passenger experience at Al Bateen Executive Airport. The partnership is symbolic of Abu Dhabi Airports’ strategy to further develop their business aviation offerings. Jetex will assume responsibility for managing daily business services while upgrading key infrastructure within the VIP and VVIP terminals. Abu Dhabi will become the 38th destination in the Jetex global private jet terminal network. The Al Batten airport is the only airport in the Middle East dedicated to business aviation. Last year, expansion work was completed at the airport, which involved the resurfacing and widening of the 3.2-kilometer runway to accommodate widebody aircraft, in addition to upgraded ground lighting, enhanced signage and landscape to meet the highest levels of safety, compliance and accreditation. Jetex will further redesign and upgrade the facilities.

United Nations’ specialized agency for tourism development, World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and the Annual Investment Meeting (AIM), an investment platform in the Middle East, have strengthened their cooperation around common interests in tourism-related investments. The two entities will be working together to drive global development and to accelerate the implementation of the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), particularly now that economies are now starting to recover from the pandemic. In line with the two organizations’ commitment to cooperate in implementing projects as stipulated in the agreement, UNWTO will spearhead the Tourism Investment Forum to be held on the framework of the upcoming AIM Global 2023 in Abu Dhabi from May 8-10.

Hospitality and property technology company GuestReady reported witnessing a buoyant booking season, with residents and nationals of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) topping stays in short-term rentals during Ramadan and the upcoming Eid holidays. “Dubai, as a destination, keeps going from strength to strength,” said Reem Alkhatib, GuestReady’s regional managing director. According to GuestReady, bookings by UAE nationals and residents from March 15 to April 30 account for 15 percent of all GuestReady property bookings, followed closely by UK nationals at 12 percent. Russians and Germans are at nine percent and eight percent, respectively, while Saudi nationals account for seven percent of all Dubai bookings during this period. GuestReady, which has seen a 220 percent year-on-year sales growth in the UAE in 2022, said bookings were particularly strong in its top five most popular neighborhoods – Bluewater Island, Palm Jumeirah, Jumeirah Beach Residences, Dubai Marina, and Downtown Dubai.

Minor Hotels is set to debut the Tivoli Hotels and Resorts brand in Oman. The 180-key Tivoli Muscat Hotel and Residences will begin development in the Omani capital later this year, with the property slated to launch in 2026. To be located at La Vie, Muscat Hills, the property will feature an 80-key hotel and 100 branded residences. Tivoli Muscat and master project La Vie are being developed by Oman Real Estate Investment Services, the real estate arm of Oman International Development and Investment Company, one of the region’s largest investment companies with over $1.8 billion in total assets. “With a fantastic location in Muscat, this new property will offer exceptional facilities to both business and leisure guests, with a world-class golf course on its doorstep and easy access to the many cultural attractions the city has to offer,” said Dillip Rajakarier, Group CEO Minor International and CEO Minor Hotels, parent company of Tivoli Hotels and Resorts. Minor Hotels currently operates three Tivoli properties in Qatar, with a further new-build property under development in Bahrain to launch in 2024.

Saudi-based Taiba Investments announced it had signed an agreement to make an offer to acquire a 100 percent stake in Dur Hospitality Company in exchange for issuing new shares in Taiba. In a statement to Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange Tadawul, the companies pointed out that the deal has been concluded per the rules issued by the board of the Capital Market Authority (CMA). Following the merger, Taiba’s capital has increased from $426 million to $692 million, registering a 62 percent increase. The transaction is expected to create a leading hospitality company (by the number of hotel keys) in Saudi Arabia, with ownership and management of multiple real estate properties in the hospitality and residential space across Saudi Arabia, including hotels, serviced apartments, residential properties and retail centers. In addition, the merger is also expected to be well-positioned to support the Saudi economy and help achieve Saudi Vision 2030. In December 2022, Taiba and Dur signed a memorandum of understanding on a possible securities exchange deal, including a non-binding agreement on structuring and share swap coefficient.

Oman’s national carrier Oman Air now allows members of its frequent flyer program, Sindbad, to use their miles to shop at Muscat Duty Free’s online store. The new agreement allows members to pay with their Sindbad Miles when shopping at the Muscat Duty Free online store. Members can also earn miles while shopping in-store at Muscat Duty Free. As Sindbad continues to evolve, we are finding new and unique ways to make their travel more rewarding every time they fly, said Mundher Al Shaikhani, acting vice president — marketing at Oman Air. The frequent flyer program has three tiers — Sindbad Blue, Sindbad Silver and Sindbad Gold with the silver and gold membership offering exclusive lounge access, extra baggage allowance and priority check-in.

Hosting the FIFA World Cup helped to lift Qatar’s real gross domestic product growth, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. The country’s real gross domestic product growth went up 8 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2022. It reached 2.7 percent when compared to the revised third quarter of 2022 estimates, according to preliminary data published by Qatar’s Planning and Statistics Authority. “Qatar’s real GDP grew by a robust 8 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2022, as per preliminary estimates released by the Planning and Statistics Authority, in line with our expectations and propped up by strong services sector activity amid the FIFA World Cup hosting in November–December,” said Jamil Naayem, principal economist, S&P Global Market Intelligence. The group expects growth in the real economy to slow in the near term, within the context of weaker global demand, tighter financing conditions, and unfavorable base effects due to the World Cup hosting in the fourth quarter.”

Bangkok-headquartered wellness hospitality development company GOCO Hospitality is working on seven dedicated wellness projects in Saudi Arabia at Amaala, NEOM and Red Sea. GOCO will also be working in the United Arab Emirates and expects to expand its reach further, said Ingo Schweder, CEO of GOCO. “Clients from the Gulf region frequent the Far East for medical wellness resorts, including Thailand and India predominantly as well as Indonesia and Japan to a smaller extent. Many clients from the region are also found between spring and fall across main European wellness centers in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the UK and France, representing 8-15 percent of the total guest share,” Schweder said. According to boutique advisory firm Stirling Hospitality Advisors, wellness-centric travelers are inclined to spend more money, return more often, and stay longer at a property. It’s evident that the rising popularity of medical wellness resorts offers an untapped potential in the region, which presents a niche that investors should further evaluate, Stirling said in a release.

Slated to open in 2026, the Wynn Al Marjan Island Resort will feature the first casino in the United Arab Emirates and will help Ras Al Khaimah welcome over 3.8 million visitors by 2027, according to a recent report from global property consultant Colliers. Ras Al Khaimah had set a goal to grow its tourist visitors to more than 3 million by 2030. The emirate received 1.13 million overnight hotel guests in 2022. However, based on the impact of the opening of gaming facilities on visitation and considering the characteristics of tourism in the emirate, Colliers estimates that Ras Al Khaimah will welcome 3.8 million tourists by 2030 and more than 5.5 million visitors by 2030. The Colliers report noted that Wynn Al Marjan Island will induce significant demand in its first year, adding, “This is expected to be followed by a prolonged secondary growth period, lasting three years.” As Ras Al Khaimah’s largest foreign direct investment project, the integrated resort, estimated to cost over $2 billion, was announced in January 2022 and is expected to open in late 2026.

Domestic traffic carried by airlines of the Middle East have now reached 95 percent of pre-pandemic revenue passenger kilometers. In comparison, international traffic reached around 94 percent of pre-pandemic levels, according to data released by International Air Transport Association (IATA). The Middle East–North America routes continued to outperform 2019 revenue passenger kilometers, IATA noted. While the domestic traffic for Middle Eastern airlines grew 1 percent year-on-year, the regional airlines grew their international revenue passenger kilometers by 75 percent year-on-year in February. Capacity climbed 40 percent and load factor pushed up 16 percentage points to 80 percent. Globally, air traffic in February 2023 reached around 85 percent of February 2019 levels.

Hotel occupancy rate at Makkah during the Ramadan season of 2023 reached 80 percent, the highest in three years, according to data released by the Hajj and Umrah Committee at Makkah Chamber. The prices of hotels during the current month have also increased due to the high demand, especially in the last 10 days of Ramadan. Hotel room rates in the central area of Makkah during the last 10 days of Ramadan ranged between $800 and $2,400 per day provided that the booking is for the entire last 10 days, according to business daily Al-Eqtisadiah. The pricing of hotel rooms in Makkah is subject to certain criteria, topped by supply and demand, in addition to its proximity to the Grand Mosque and the provided services, said Abdullah Al-Qadi, chairman of the Hajj and Umrah Committee. The high price increase is due to the jump in operating expenses, a surge in food prices, and heightened demand.

Sharjah Airport recently welcomed a delegation from the Arab Civil Aviation Organisation, which examined the initiatives, practices and strategies undertaken at the airport to achieve its sustainability goals. The delegation featured various sustainability experts from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan and Libya. Consistent with its objectives to support the UAE’s declaration of 2023 as the Year of Sustainability as well as its hosting of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP28) later this year, Sharjah Airport announced that it has embarked on a plethora of green initiatives and activities that are intended to promote sustainability. At an interactive workshop held under the theme Arab environmental experts on sustainability in the civil aviation sector earlier this year, Sharjah aviation authority highlighted its extensive expertise and success factors, as well as potential prospects for collaboration in the field of sustainability.

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Tags: abu dhabi, asia monthly, cyprus, dubai, guestready, iata, middle east newsletter, minor hotels, oman, qatar, saudi arabia, short-term rentals, trip.com, unwto, world cup, wynn resorts

Photo credit: Trip.com Group will now promote Saudi Arabia as a tourism destination in select markets. Seera Media

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