Destinations in the Middle East understand that to realize their very ambitious tourism goals, they need to create enough infrastructure. Little wonder then that Saudi Arabia is now racing ahead of United Arab Emirates to build more hotel rooms.
Middle East Travel Roundup
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Saudi Arabia has the largest hotel construction activity in the Middle East and Africa region, followed by United Arab Emirates, according to hotel research firm STR. Saudi Arabia topped the regional list with 42,033 hotel rooms, followed by United Arab Emirates with 22,324 rooms, as per March 2023 pipeline data report from STR. Most of the region’s pipeline activity is focused in the Middle East, STR said. In March, around 119,505 rooms were under construction in the Middle East and Africa, which is down 6 percent compared to March 2022. STR further noted that each of the four world regions — Europe, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa, and the Americas — showed a year-over-year decline in hotel construction activity, with Asia Pacific coming closest to its 2022 comparable. However, the picture is more positive for the Middle East and Africa. The region has 45,529 rooms in the “final planning stage,” up 20 percent year-on-year, while the rooms in the “planning stage” have gone up to 84,116, an increase of 21.2 percent year-on-year.
Yas Island Abu Dhabi has appointed American actor Jason Momoa as the destination’s newest chief island officer. Momoa takes over from stand-up comedian and actor Kevin Hart, who had been appointed the chief island officer of Yas in May last year. In the new trailer video, Momoa is seen making a casual yet epic entrance on a paddle board announcing that his calling has led him to “this ridiculously awesome job”, as the W Hotel façade is lit up to welcome him officially, as the new chief island officer. In his new role, Momoa said he looks forward to showing fans how they can “Live It Up Like Momoa.” “As Yas Island Abu Dhabi continues to entertain guests with best-in-class experiences and with offerings that resonate with visitors from all over the world, we look forward to raising the bar even higher in the days to come with Jason Momoa as the island’s newest officer,” said Liam Findlay, CEO of Miral Destinations.
Fueled by a steady influx of tourists from three top source markets — India, Russia and Oman, the United Arab Emirate’s hospitality sector witnessed a strong growth trajectory in the first quarter of 2023, according to the latest JLL UAE Real Estate Market Overview Report. Dubai welcomed around 3.1 million tourists in the first two months of 2023, representing a 42 percent increase as compared to the same period last year. The rise in inbound tourism also benefited the lower and mid-tier hospitality segments, which saw gains between 7-8 basis points in occupancy and revenue per available room of 15 percent for the first two months of the year. “While all sectors continued to build on the performance of 2022, the year’s well-planned calendar of events coupled with the continuous increase in tourist numbers, have firmly placed the hospitality sector on a growth track, reaffirming its position as one of the strongest pillars supporting the UAE’s economic acceleration,” said Faraz Ahmed, associate, research at JLL Middle East and North Africa. However, macroeconomic volatilities continue to influence global travel trends, making it critical for operators to employ effective revenue management strategies to boost topline revenues, particularly those in the luxury segment, Ahmed noted. Dubai’s hotel stock climbed to 150,000 keys with the delivery of around 2,000 keys. Moreover, propelled by increased demand, around 8,000 keys are expected to be delivered in the year. In comparison, Abu Dhabi’s hotel supply completions were limited, with around 200 keys added to the existing inventory, bringing the total stock to 32,500 keys. The capital’s future supply pipeline for the year remains modest at around 200 keys.
Marriott’s Aloft Hotels has now made a debut in Oman as the first Aloft property opened doors in Muscat. The 193-guestroom hotel with its signature public spaces A have been described as a “haven for digital nomads and business guests,” with three “tactic meeting rooms” for up to 40 people, equipped with audio-visual facility and fast complimentary wifi. Oman is a thriving leisure destination for travellers who seek original experiences and warm hospitality, said Sandra Schulze-Potgieter, vice president – premium and select brands, Europe, Middle East & Africa, Marriott International. “With this first venture into the hotel market, we were eager to apply the knowledge and expertise we have gained from 35 years in real-estate development to create an exciting, fresh new destination,” said Aadil Thomas Alexander, owner and executive director.
Japan has now facilitated online electronic visas (eVisas) for United Arab Emirates’ residents, Saudi nationals and Saudi residents. Travelers from these countries can now simply apply online for a short-term tourist visa to Japan. Applicants need to apply via the Japan eVisa website following which they will receive a digital confirmation visa. At immigration, travelers would need to log on to the Japan eVisa website and show the visa. No screenshots or printouts will be accepted. Qatari nationals can apply at Japanese embassies, consulate-generals or consulates, to have their passport registered. Upon registration, applicants will then receive a “visa waiver registration” seal within their passport, which will entitle them to multiple short-term stays in Japan without a need for a visa for a period of 3 years. From May 8, travelers will also not be required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test, in line with Covid-19 being classified as a common disease. “Travel to Japan from Gulf countries has been steadily increasing, making it one of the few international markets showing post-Covid recovery levels surpassing 2019 numbers,” said Kobayashi Daisuke, executive director of Japan National Tourism Organization Dubai office.
United Arab Emirates-based Sunset Hospitality Group and Morocco’s African Hospitality Group have announced a strategic partnership to develop new lifestyle experiences in Morocco. The new alliance with the Moroccan company enables Sunset to extend its operations into North Africa, said Antonio Gonzalez, CEO and founder of Sunset Hospitality Group. The partnership between two groups further supports Sunset’s diversification strategy, contributing greatly to the evolution of the hospitality landscape to meet ever-changing consumer demands, Gonzalez said. Collaborating with Sunset Hospitality Group provides a great opportunity to introduce new lifestyle food, beverage and entertainment experiences to Morocco, whilst supporting the new strategic vision of Africa Hotels Management to be the leading local platform to showcase celebration, gastronomy, culture and creativity, said Abbas Azzouzi, CEO of Africa Hotels Management, African Hospitality Group’s management branch.
Saudi Arabia’s Royal Commission for AlUla has partnered with luxury hotel operator General Hotel Management (GHM) to develop The Chedi Hegra. Situated within Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site the Chedi Hegra is scheduled to open by fourth quarter of 2023. Offering 35 bespoke guest rooms, each with its own distinct connection to the Hegra landscape, the AlUla royal commission is building the hotel directly into several existing structures, including an old railway station and surrounding buildings, Hegra Fort, and others. Structural and exterior walls, some with historical mud-brick construction, are being preserved and integrated with modern architecture. The vast majority of the UNESCO World Heritage Site will remain untouched by construction and carefully preserved by the royal commission to maintain the integrity of Hegra’s incredible human and natural heritage, a release stated. “As the first hotel within Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, we are committed to preserve the site’s integrity while seamlessly integrating modern architecture and comforts,” said Tommy Lai, CEO of GHM.
Jordan’s Queen Alia International Airport welcomed 738,860 passengers during March, recording a 32 percent rise against 2022 figures for the same month, according to Airport International Group. Queen Alia airport also received 6,179 aircraft movements and 5,603 tons of cargo, marking increases of 22 percent and 3 percent respectively, compared to 2022 figures. Talking about the airport’s efforts at expanding network through the addition of new airlines and destinations, Airport International Group CEO, Nicolas Claude, said the positive results in traffic demonstrate the value and strength of the group’s partnerships with various industry players in enhancing the regional and global connectivity of Queen Alia airport. He also spoke about the group’s efforts to elevate customer experience for passengers traveling via Jordan’s prime gateway to the world.
Luxury hospitality company Four Seasons and Bahrain-based real estate development firm Bayside Developments have announced that Four Seasons Private Residences Bahrain Bay is on track for its scheduled completion. Set to open in late 2023, Bayside Developments announced that 50 percent construction milestone of its one-of-a-kind waterfront property has been completed “The two towers are now 100 percent complete structurally, and are a beautiful addition to the waterfront skyline of Bahrain Bay, seamlessly integrated with their neighbour the Four Seasons Hotel,” said Yusuf Haji, sales director of Bayside Developments. Haji also spoke about receiving strong response in the first phase of sales from all around the world. The collection of 112 homes will feature 98 luxurious apartments, eight duplexes and six penthouses, will be led by a director of residences and a dedicated Four Seasons team, a company release stated. Four Seasons currently operates 51 branded Private Residence properties around the world, with three-quarters of future Four Seasons projects including a residential component.
The Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi has announced a $100 million Culinary Investment Fund that will help introduce iconic brands to the United Arab Emirates capital. In addition, the fund will support building and establishing a culinary school to aid with recruitment, training, and other staffing resources in the sector. The newly-launched culinary fund is an incentive for world-class culinary brands to enter the emirate and further elevate the culinary scene by co-investing with local asset partners and incentivising top chefs, top restaurants, and culinary educational institutions, to enter the market and make Abu Dhabi their new home. “This fund, in combination with the Culinary School will ensure that Abu Dhabi appeals to even more visitors around the world, who can experience increasingly diverse and high-quality dining in the emirate, centred on our tradition of Emirati hospitality,” said Saleh Mohamed Al Geziry, director general for tourism, Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi recently welcomed the Michelin team to launch the first-ever Michelin Guide Abu Dhabi. The guide details 42 restaurants across Abu Dhabi and awarded three establishments with one Michelin Star.
Deciding to continue the “Your Expectations are History” promotional campaign till the end of June, Egypt’s tourism promotion authority said it expects an increase in the number of tourists coming to the country in June. The campaign comes as part of the new media strategy adopted by the authority to promote tourist destinations in Egypt. The campaign targets Germany, UK, Italy, U.S., Arab Gulf and Russia. The campaign highlights the diversity and richness of the Egyptian tourism products which suit all categories of tourists, Amr el Qadi, head of the Egyptian General Authority for Tourism Promotion, said. Egypt has also announced a multiple-entry visa for tourists for the first time and has been adding more nationalities to its visa-on-arrival eligibility. During the first quarter of fiscal year 2022-2023, tourism revenues rose by 43.5 percent to record $4.1 billion from $2.8 billion, according to the Central Bank of Egypt’s report on the balance of payments performance. Egypt’s tourism revenue is expected to grow by 18 percent to hit $13.6 billion in 2023 and is expected to reach $17.9 billion by the end of 2026, according to Fitch Solutions.
Tourist destinations in the Middle East and Asia are gaining prominence among Russian travelers, especially Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Thailand, according to travel intelligence provider Mabrian. Georgia, Armenia, and Kazakhstan also feature among the top 20 preferred destinations for Russians in 2022. Mabrian conducted a study on the new travel trends in the Russian market, based on analysis of the hotels’ demand in 2022, compared to 2019. The impact of sanctions on Russians, travel restrictions and the fall of the rouble have combined to drastically reduce the number of travelers and changed the destinations Russians visit for holidays, Mabrian noted. Meanwhile, classic European tourist destinations, including Italy, Germany, France, Spain, and Greece, have had the most significant negative impact, showing a drastic decrease in the number of Russian tourists. Of all the countries, Italy has been the worst hit.
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Photo credit: Saudi Arabia has the largest hotel construction activity in the Middle East and Africa region. Haidan / Unsplash