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Hopefully this demand from travelers will encourage more tourism businesses to adopt sustainable practices as it now makes business sense for them to do so.

Series: Middle East Travel Roundup

Middle East Travel Roundup

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Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important consideration within the Middle East’s luxury travel sector, especially in the United Arab Emirates where 61 percent of residents say they are willing to pay a premium for more responsible, eco-friendly and sustainable tourism experiences, according to YouGov’s Global Travel and Tourism Whitepaper 2023. One in 10 consumers has stayed in luxury eco-friendly accommodation during the past three years, the whitepaper found. This trend is especially prevalent among high-income travelers, whose sustainable luxury hotel stays have increased by 50 percent during the same period. The United Arab Emirates topped global rankings in terms of the value placed on exploring, with 58 percent of respondents reporting that travel has become more important to them since the Covid-19 pandemic. In terms of luxury travel priorities, a quarter of those living in the country are looking for great entertainment, whereas 19 percent place the biggest emphasis on premium-quality accommodation when booking trips.

Qatar Tourism announced the relaunch of the Hayya platform on Monday as it looks to simplify the tourist visa process in the country. The revamped Hayya platform will now become the single portal for all tourist and business visas to Qatar unifying visa processes for tourists, residents of Gulf countries as well as companions traveling with Gulf citizens. Tourists who require a visa to enter Qatar can apply through the Hayya platform, or through the application on their smartphones. The tourism sector forms an important pillar for Qatar’s economy and initiatives such as these reflect the longer-term strategic vision to position the country as a leading tourism destination in the region. The Hayya platform, which facilitated the entry of over a million visitors during the FIFA World Cup last year, is a key component of this strategy, as it simplifies visa processes and makes it easier for tourists to visit Qatar. Hayya holders will enjoy seamless travel and connectivity into Qatar as it will be enabled for e-gate entry at Hamad International Airport. For those entering Qatar via land at the Abu Samra border, the Hayya platform will provide a pre-registration option for faster entry of vehicles. “The Hayya platform is the legacy which we build upon, inviting visitors from all corners of the earth to visit our country,” said Saeed Ali Al Kuwari, CEO of the Hayya platform.

The search for air tickets increased 300 percent in the Middle East and North Africa region since the start of Ramadan, according to flight search platform Wingie. In the days leading up to Eid-al-Fitr, Wingie noted that 75 percent of travelers booked international flights while 82 percent of bookings were made by solo travelers. The majority of flights were booked from Cairo, İstanbul, Riyadh and Dubai and the most popular destinations were Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan. The most popular route was between Jeddah and Cairo. Wingie also observed that people made their travel plans early as 70 percent bookings included traveling before Eid wile 30 percent bookings were made to travel after the start of the holiday.

Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) and the country’s low-cost carrier flyadeal sets course to add 25 new destinations in 2023 on the Saudia Group Network. The destinations include Beijing in China, Birmingham and London Gatwick in UK, Izmir, Trabzon, Antalya and Bodrum in Turkey, Nice in France as well as destinations in Africa, Greece, and parts of Europe. The new routes are set to begin throughout 2023. The airline will publish more schedule details on announced destinations soon. Given the increase of demand in international travel, this is the right time to expand our global network, said Saudia Group CEO, Ibrahim Al-Omar. In January, Saudia launched a first-of-its-kind free of cost electronic stopover transit visa for international visitors arriving in the country by air.

Most travel managers across Asia, Australia, and Middle East and Africa expect corporate travel volumes in 2023 to exceed pre-pandemic levels at their organisation, according to meetings, events, travel and hospitality technology provider Cvent. According to the Cvent Travel Manager Report, 82 percent of respondents in Middle East and Africa expect corporate travel volumes at their organization to increase in 2023 relative to 2019. Highlighting the increasing impact sustainability has on choice of venue, the report also encourages hotels to showcase not just their unique facilities and points of difference, but their sustainability efforts and initiatives to better attract todays’ corporate travel buyers. The findings also reveal that organizations in Asia and Australia will witness an increase in travel to Asia and Europe. Approximately 80 percent across Australia, Middle East and Africa, and Asia say their travel budgets will rise in 2023, including 34 percent who predict it will increase significantly. However, travel managers are proactively looking for ways to reduce accommodate budgets to help offset the rising cost of travel. Hotels can highlight unique experiences and offer incentives to encourage additional spend onsite.

India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Thailand are some of the popular destinations for travelers from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during the Eid vacations, according to online travel marketplace Wego. India tops the list of most searched countries this Eid, according to Wego’s data, while Egypt is the second most popular choice. Wego noted that residents may opt to explore their own country as a result of which United Arab Emirates ranks third. “With the long weekend, UAE residents may also opt to explore their own backyard, which will explode with festivities and a plethora of activities to indulge in,” Wego said. Saudi Arabia is also a popular choice among UAE travelers as the country stands fourth followed by Jordan, Morocco and Turkey. The other popular destinations include Thailand, U.S., UK and Canada.

Hilton announced the signing of a management agreement for a new hotel in Jeddah. The hotel is owned by Alahli Reit Fund, a listed investment fund managed by Saudi Arabia’s SNB Capital. In the coming years, Hilton expects to grow its portfolio in Saudi Arabia to more than 75 hotels across multiple brands. Saudi Arabia represents a significant opportunity for Hilton to grow its portfolio, said Carlos Khneisser, vice president, development, Middle East and Africa, Hilton. A brand debut in Jeddah, DoubleTree by Hilton Jeddah Al Andalus Mall will open next year, following an extensive renovation programme that will see upgrades to both guest rooms, restaurants and recreation facilities. The hotel will offer guests 164 contemporary guest rooms and serviced apartments as well as seven meetings and events spaces, a release said. Hilton currently operates 16 hotels in Saudi Arabia with another 51 under development. The company plans to expand its operations to more than 75 properties in the coming years, including the introduction of brands such as LXR Hotels & Resorts, Canopy by Hilton, Embassy Suites by Hilton and Hampton by Hilton.

Egyptian low-cost carrier Air Cairo has announced that it will be operating twice-weekly direct flights connecting Dubai with the Egyptian holiday destination of Sharm El Sheikh. The carrier that will begin operation from April 20 will charge $406 for a roundtrip.  Air Cairo recently added its 20th A320 Neo to its fleet, bringing the total number of aircraft to 30 by the end of March. The direct flight will make a significant difference and traffic a pool of tourists out of the major hub of travelers from the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries, said Erkan Yildirim, managing director of Rixos Hotels Egypt. Sharm El Sheikh had hosted the UN Climate Change Conference in November last year. Egypt has set a target to attract 30 million visitors by 2028 as it aims to boost its tourist numbers by 25-30 percent annually. In 2019, Egypt received 13 million tourists which went down to 3.7 million in 2020 and 8 million in 2021.

The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has announced that it will expand the accommodation offering in AlUla with Dar Tantora by The House Hotel. As part of its “Journey Through Time” master plan, the AlUla Commision will be partnering with Kerten Hospitality brand to open the 30-room property that will house a pool and spa as well as a restaurant and café. Restored as historical mud-brick buildings, the development will showcase the Old Town village as a vibrant cultural hub. “Steeped in the past yet embracing progress, Dar Tantora by The House Hotel encapsulates AlUla commission’s vision for a diverse range of accommodations as we continue to deliver on our plans for more than 5,000 keys by 2030,” John Northen, vice president- head of hotels and resorts, Royal Commission for AlUla, said.

Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways has launched complimentary chat messaging service for members of its loyalty program — Etihad Guest on the airline’s wide-body fleet. Travelers without an Etihad Guest membership have the option to enroll online before flying to avail the free of charge messaging service. The chat feature includes access to popular messaging apps like WhatsApp, Messenger, and WeChat. For non-members, the chat package is priced at $2.99 for flights under 7 hours while for flights over 7 hours, the chat package comes for $4.99. Etihad has also introduced a surf package that allows guests wishing to surf, catch up on social media and work while they fly to purchase a plan for a flat fee with unlimited data for the duration of the flight. While guests belonging to the Etihad Guest Platinum and Exclusive tiers as well as those travelling in Etihad’s first-class cabins are offered the surf package for free, Etihad Guest Gold members will receive a 25 percent discount on the surf package. For everyone else, the surf package is priced at $9.99 for flights under 7 hours, the package costs $19.99 for flights over 7 hours.

IHG Hotels & Resorts has announced a new signing for its luxury InterContinental Hotels & Resorts brand in Bursa, Turkey. The 231-key InterContinental Bursa is being developed in partnership with owner Atis Yapi, a Turkish real estate company. Expected to open in late 2024, the new-build InterContinental Bursa will bring a luxury option to Turkey’s fourth largest city with a population of over 3 million people. When completed, InterContinental Bursa will feature 231 rooms, which the brand claimed will be the largest hotel in the city. The hotel will be part of a larger development in Bursa which will include 850 residential living spaces, 112 branded residences and a 75,000 square meter shopping, living, entertainment and medical center, plus a local museum and playgrounds. “Turkey is a key growth market for IHG and the signing of our first InterContinental property in Bursa is a wonderful milestone,” said Willemijn Geels, vice president development, Europe at IHG Hotels & Resorts. This latest signing demonstrates IHG’s ongoing commitment to bring our market-leading brands to new and inviting destinations across Europe, Geels said.

Qatar’s Hamad International Airport has teamed up with Dell Technologies’ advanced server and network infrastructure solutions as the aviation hub continues with Phase-B of its expansion plan. Currently serving over 170 global destinations and more than 40 airline partners, Hamad airport chose the Dell PowerEdge servers to secure and enhance the airport’s infrastructure capabilities, improve efficiencies and costs, as it looks to welcome millions of visitors. Dell solutions would help support the airport’s ambitious plans to deliver the best passenger experience and operational excellence, a release stated. As the aviation sector continues to move upward and passengers demand enhanced travel experiences, a robust and flexible digital infrastructure supporting high-density growth will prove crucial, said Travers Nicholas, country general manager for Qatar, Dell Technologies. In 2022, as Qatar welcomed football fans from around the world, Hamad International Airport witnessed around 102 percent year-on-year surge in passenger traffic and a 28 percent growth in overall aircraft movement, compared to 2021. Building on this momentum, the airport’s Phase B of the expansion project started in January, will include two new concourses, increasing the airport capacity to over 70 million passengers per year.


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Tags: cvent, dubai, egypt, Etihad Airways, hilton, ihg, inflight wifi, luxury, qatar, saudia airlines, sustainability, turkey, uae, wego, world cup

Photo credit: Travelers in the Middle East are now willing to pay more to travel sustainably. Source: rawpixel / Freepik

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