The buzz around the ongoing Arabian Travel Market in Dubai offers a glimpse into the thriving tourism industry in the region. Tourism in the Middle East is set to grow in coming years.
Middle East Travel Roundup
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Dubai welcomed 4.67 million international overnight visitors in the first quarter of 2023, compared to 3.97 million tourists during the same period in 2022, according to the latest data published by the Department of Economy and Tourism. This marks a 17 percent year-on-year growth and the city’s best first quarter performance since the pandemic. The number of visitors in in the first quarter was just two percentage points short of pre-pandemic volume of 4.75 million tourists that arrived in Dubai in the first three months of 2019. Dubai’s traditional source markets in its key regions continued to perform strongly during the first quarter of the year. The Gulf as well as the Middle East and Northern Africa region collectively contributed 29 percent of total volumes, while Western Europe accounted for 22 percent of tourism arrivals, and South Asia accounted for 16 percent of total international visitation. “The tourism sector is not only the strongest pillars of our economy but also a key enabler of Dubai’s distinctive role in the world as a bridge between markets, cultures and regions,” said Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, crown prince of Dubai and chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai. The crown prince said Dubai would continue to introduce new initiatives to achieve its goal of becoming the world’s best place to live, visit, work and invest in. “The first quarter has set us off on a very strong trajectory for the year and is driving us closer towards realizing the vision of making Dubai the most visited and re-visited destination,” said Helal Saeed Almarri, director general of Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism.
United Arab Emirates-based tour operator Holiday Factory announced the launch of its new brand, Holiday Factory Premium, at the Arabian Travel Market event in Dubai on Monday. With a rapidly expanding expatriate population the UAE market boasts of a distinct demographic makeup, as a result disposable income has risen significantly leading to a surge in demand for high-end vacations, said Namrata Bhatia, director marketing at Holiday Factory. Holiday Factory premium’s General Manager Sandra Dammrich said around one-third of the population in the country is seeking premium holidays and is underserved with all-inclusive packages.
Gulf-based travel conglomerate Kanoo Travel and destination management company Desert Adventures Tourism signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a joint venture in Saudi Arabia. Through the collaboration, the two organizations aim to create the most comprehensive destination services company in the region, the companies said in a release. Desert Adventures Tourism is managed by Thomas Cook India Group and wholly owned by Fairfax Financial Holdings Canada. The partnership between Desert Adventures and Kanoo Travel marks a significant milestone in developing Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry, supporting the country’s ambitious Vision 2030 goals, the release stated. Desert Adventure plans to leverage Kanoo Travel’s extensive local knowledge and resources, said its CEO Peter Payet. “Our partnership with Desert Adventures Tourism brings together our collective expertise, industry knowledge, and innovative approach to deliver exceptional solutions and services,” said Ali Abdulla Kanoo, deputy chairman of Yusuf Bin Ahmed Kanoo Company.
Announcing the name of its new multi-billion-dollar integrated resort, debuting in Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates in 2027, Wynn Resorts has also unveiled the design vision of its first-ever beachfront resort — Wynn Al Marjan Island. For its first project in the Middle East North Africa region, the U.S.-listed developer and luxury resort operator said it aims to transform and accelerate the emirate’s rise as a major global tourist destination, while also creating substantial value to its economy through tourism and job creation. With an estimated project cost of approximately $3.9 billion, the foundation construction work began onsite earlier this year. “We have spent the past year meticulously programming and concepting Wynn Al Marjan Island, carefully considering its unique location,” said Craig Billings, CEO of Wynn Resorts, “I am incredibly proud of our design and development team’s ability to impart our legacy of rich, thoughtful design into a sun-soaked beachside resort that will delight customers, new and old. We look forward to opening Wynn Al Marjan Island in early 2027.”
Diriyah Company, in partnership with luxury lifestyle brand Aman Group, has announced the launch of two properties in Saudi Arabia — Aman Wadi Safar and Janu Diriyah from Aman’s sister brand Janu. Located near the city of Riyadh, Aman Wadi Safar will feature 78 keys, a collection of up to 34 fully-serviced Aman branded residences. Close to the UNESCO Heritage Site of At-Turaif, Aman’s sister-brand Janu Diriyah will come with 120 hotel rooms. “Diriyah, the City of Earth, will be the world’s largest cultural and heritage destination and these projects will enhance our luxury offerings to guests who come to explore our identity,” said Jerry Inzerillo, Group CEO, Diriyah Company. Early this year, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund Public Investment Fund added Diriyah Gate as its fifth giga project after taking on Red Sea, Neom, Qiddiya and Roshn. It is then renamed to Diriyah Project.
Luxury hospitality company Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts has announced plans for a new luxury resort as part of the Neom master project, located on Sindalah Island. The Four Seasons upcoming resort in Neom will be a one-of-a-kind project, blending the natural wonders of the Red Sea with the future-forward technologies on which this new, exciting destination is being built, said Bart Carnahan, president, global business development and portfolio management, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. The resort will feature 225 guest rooms and suites with terraces, as well as 52 villas with one to four-bedroom configurations. “Sindalah follows Neom’s vision and purpose of mitigating the impact of unchecked urban development, while protecting and regenerating the rich natural capital of the region,” said Chris Newman, executive director, hotel development at Neom.
United Arab Emirates-based private developer Azizi Developments has announced its plans to launch a hotel brand across the country and beyond. Azizi has appointed Michael Zager as its new chief operating officer — hospitality. Azizi will soon introduce the new global brand, under which it will both develop and acquire hotel real estate that it will then own and manage. Zager has previously held senior leadership positions across several global four- and five-star hotel groups in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, including Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Marriott, and InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG Hotels & Resorts), for which he served as vice president in charge of the franchised and managed portfolio comprising more than 300 hotels spread over 26 countries. Talking about Dubai witnessing a substantial influx of visitors year after year, Farhad Azizi, CEO of Azizi Developments, said, “We see our expansion into the tourism sector as the next big stride in our overarching mission of enhancing lifestyles and look forward to showcasing our upcoming hospitality projects to our stakeholders in the UAE and beyond, as well as more announcements in this regard, in due course.”
Abu Dhabi plans to attract more than 24 million visitors to the emirate by the end of 2023. The new targets follow a surge in Abu Dhabi’s tourism sector in 2022, with hotel occupancy rates and other metrics demonstrating that the sector’s revival is well under way. The emirate received a total 18 million visitors in 2022 representing a 13 percent increase from 2021, while the hotel occupancy rates reached 70 percent, which surpasses the Middle East average of 67 percent. The top four source markets for international visitors were India, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the U.S. The ambitious goal to welcome more 24 million visitors by end of 2023 builds on healthy growth over the past year, said Saood Abdulaziz Al Hosani, undersecretary at Department of Culture and Tourism at Abu Dhabi. “In Abu Dhabi we are demonstrating the power of partnerships across the tourism sector and the fact that collectively we can thrive,” Al Hosani said. Last year, Abu Dhabi launched two tourism campaigns — Experience Abu Dhabi, Find Your Pace, and Summer Like You Mean It. The emirate has said it is determined to offer even more ambitious campaigns and events that showcase its commitment.
Sharjah Airport announced that it welcomed more than 3.8 million passengers in the first quarter of 2023, recording a 28 percent increase over the same period in 2022. The airport expects the growth rate to go up by the end of the year. The aircraft movement for the same term also increased by 9 percent, with 23,261 flights by the end of March, compared to 21,336 flights during the same period last year. “The upsurge in passenger numbers is a true reflection of our strategic efforts to promote the travel and tourism sectors, and further solidify Sharjah’s position as a global destination,” said Ali Salim Al Midfa, chairman of Sharjah Airport Authority. Midfa called it a step closer to realizing the emirate’s vision of elevating Sharjah Airport to the top five regional airports and boosting its competitiveness on the global travel landscape. Sharjah has committed to advancing passenger and cargo growth, particularly in light of the airport’s expansion efforts, which will increase its capacity to 20 million passengers by 2026.
Saudi travellers are spending more on longer trips with the average trip length having increased by 13 percent to 9.1 days, up from 8 days in 2019, according to a report published by Saudi Arabi-based travel company Almosafer. The report shows that the top international destinations for Saudi travellers include Dubai, Cairo, London, Istanbul and Doha. “The resumption of travel to Turkey in the summer of 2022 has catapulted the destination back to one of the top choices for Saudi travellers,” the report noted. Trending destinations include Rome, Bangkok and Seoul, with other Asian destinations also gaining popularity. The report shows that the demand for domestic travel in the country remains very strong, despite the full resumption of international travel. In the year to date, domestic bookings have accounted for 56 percent of total bookings, up from 47 percent for the same period in 2019. In terms of booking channels, the data shows that 89 percent of total bookings are made online compared to 11 percent made offline. This is especially true for domestic bookings, where almost half (49 percent) of all bookings are placed via retail channels, indicating that Saudi travellers are seeking travel advisory services for leisure trips in their own country.
Hotel management company Rotana aims to reach 120 operating hotels spanning across 28,000 keys by 2030. The company currently operates 73 hotels in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and Turkey. Spearheading a pipeline of 50 hotels in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and Turkey region, Rotana said the hospitality industry has seen tremendous results in the last year and is positive the momentum would continue building in the region. Rotana plans on developing seven new hotels in Saudi Arabia, including five new properties in Riyadh and one in Al Baha, under the Edge by Rotana brand, adding triple the number of rooms it currently runs in the country to 6,000 over the next four years. In Egypt, the group is gearing up for the much-anticipated luxury resort Luxor Rotana opening in 2025 as well as five new hotels in the pipeline across Cairo and the North Coast.
The Gulf region is now Germany’s top performing inbound source market in Asia and Australasia. Around 404,707 guests from the region generated almost 1.13 overnight stays during 2022, representing an increase of 117.6 percent, compared to the same period in 2021. “These figures confirm that Germany continues to be a preferred tourism destination for visitors from the Gulf and unspoilt nature and careful use of resources are clearly becoming increasingly important to them. We also want to encourage longer stays in order to reduce the carbon footprint per travel day,” said Yamina Sofo, director at the German National Tourist GCC Office speaking at the Arabian Travel Mart in Dubai. The German National Tourist Board presented a campaign update on Monday for their vision of “Making Tourism More Sustainable” to travel professionals from the Gulf region at the Arabian Travel Market.
In 2022, Thailand welcomed approximately 314,882 visitors from the Middle East, with the highest number of visitors around 100,000 coming from Saudi Arabia and 66,000 visitors from the United Arab Emirates. “Visitors from the Gulf countries have a high average length of stay and daily expenditure. For example, in 2019, visitors from the UAE had an average length of stay of 11.14 days, while Thailand’s overall average was 9.26 days. The average daily expenditure of UAE visitors was more than $220, while the overall Thailand average was $166,” said Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. In line with the growing interest of the Middle East market in sustainable travel, shopping, health and wellness activities, Supasorn said Thailand aims to create meaningful travel experiences for travelers that would also benefit the local communities and the environment. For this, Thailand said it would look to deliver fresh travel experiences through the five Fs — food, fight, fashion, film and festival.
Photo credit: Dubai welcomed 4.67 million international overnight visitors in the first quarter of 2023, Dubai tourism