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When you are a destination as ambitious as Saudi Arabia with an aim to attract 100 million annual visitors by 2030, you have to emphasize year-round appeal to avoid missing out on travelers.

Series: Middle East Travel Roundup

Middle East Travel Roundup

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Saudi Tourism Authority officially launched its seasonal campaign, Rethink Summer, aimed at promoting the country as a diverse, unique summer destination. Calling Saudi the fastest growing destination worldwide, Ahmed Al Khateeb, minister of tourism and chairman of the Saudi Tourism Authority said the campaign builds on the fact that Saudi has proved to be a yearlong destination for visitors. “Our partners in the private sector are instrumental in this campaign, offering over 1.8 million additional seats for inbound flights, more than 15,000 new hotel rooms, and over 100 products tailored to meet the taste of all our visitors this summer. This is the largest contribution of the private sector yet,” Al Khateeb said. The destination is set to hit significant milestones this year, from the opening of the first three resorts at The Red Sea, an ambitious, regenerative, luxury tourism development, to Neom’s Sindalah Island. Diriyah, the 300-year-old mud city and birthplace of Saudi also recently celebrated the welcoming of one million visitors since its opening in November.

In a bid to position itself as a prominent destination for wellness and therapy, the Ajman Department of Tourism Development has partnered with healthcare company Thumbay Group. Through this agreement, Ajman aims to exchange knowledge and expertise to support medical tourism in the emirate. According to the agreement, Ajman Tourism and Thumbay Group would collaborate to organize medical events and conferences and launch promotional campaigns. The goal is to attract more people to their medical facilities and healthcare centers. The two entities would also participate in health-related exhibitions and workshops and work together to train employees and improve competencies. Medical tourism in Ajman is witnessing a great interest from a wider segment, which in return is encouraging the tourism board to fully support this sector which can impact the overall development of the tourism industry. Last year the emirate also witnessed the opening of the Zoya Health & Wellbeing Resort, the first five-star health resort in the Middle East and Africa.

Last year, United Arab Emirates national carrier Etihad Airways achieved a 26 percent reduction in CO2 emissions per revenue tonne kilometre to 482g compared to a 2019 baseline. The carrier highlighted this in its annual sustainability report, detailing the company’s commitment to sustainability and progress towards these goals. Etihad’s sustainability strategy is based on principles of achieving emissions reductions through in-sector measures, aligning with industry voluntary roadmaps and frameworks, collaborating with UAE industrial ecosystems, remaining transparent and proactive about sustainability issues, and continually developing a strategic roadmap for targets. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to reducing our environmental impact and ensuring the sustainability of our operations. Our sustainability strategy is built on a foundation of collaboration, transparency, and innovation,” said Etihad CEO Antonoaldo Neves.

Red Sea Global, the multi-project developer behind The Red Sea and Amaala projects, has pledged that its destinations and experiences will be fully inclusive for guests with disabilities, specific needs and access requirements. The developer has pledged to ensure all guests will enjoy luxury hospitality and unique experiences — from sailing, kayaking and diving among shipwrecks and coral reefs, to exploring the inland environment and stargazing in the desert. “If we are truly going to do better by people and planet, we can’t leave anyone behind. There are approximately 1.3 billion disabled people globally. It is not only totally inexcusable for our industry to exclude so many people, but commercially short-sighted,” said John Pagano, Group CEO of Red Sea Global. Every contractor at Red Sea Global’s destinations must ensure guest experiences take a universally inclusive approach, according to Pagano. This commitment includes using new technologies — such as smart mobility and logistics — to radically enhance luxury tourism experiences for people with disabilities and their families.

Minor Hotels will be partnering with Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Development Fund to jointly develop and operate hospitality and lifestyle projects focused on mountain resorts, wellness resorts and urban hotels. The first project under this partnership is expected to be announced in the second half of this year. The partnership will see the development of multiple hospitality projects over the next couple of years with Minor Hotels as the operator and partner in each of the projects. Currently with a portfolio of 530 hotels and resorts in 56 countries across Asia Pacific, the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Indian Ocean, Minor Hotels’ flagship brands include Anantara, Avani, Tivoli and Oaks. The luxury brand Anantara known for its experience-led hospitality will constitute at least one of the agreed projects. With Thai roots, Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas is already well known in the Gulf region and has more than 10 properties in the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar. Minor’s Avani Hotels & Resorts brand will also debut in the kingdom with multiple properties to be developed as part of the strategic partnership. The partnership will also include the development of properties within the kingdom under other Minor brands, such as Tivoli and Oaks. An industry leader in modern residential-style accommodations, Oaks Hotels, Resorts & Suites provides a home away from home for both savvy corporate travelers and leisure tourists alike.

IHG Hotels & Resorts has signed a master development agreement with Saudi Arabia-based developer Tashyid to set up 12 hotels and 2,500 keys under the Holiday Inn Express brand across Saudi Arabia. The agreement will allow IHG to expand and diversify its mainstream offering across Saudi Arabia, in line with the demand being created by initiatives under Saudi Vision 2030. As part of the agreement, IHG has also signed the first Holiday Inn Express hotel with Tashyid for Hotels Operations Limited which will debut the brand in Jeddah by June 2025. “Saudi Vision 2030 has created tremendous opportunities for the tourism and hospitality industry, and we see an increasing demand for our brands across segments,” said Haitham Mattar, managing director, India, Middle East & Africa, IHG Hotels & Resorts. Holiday Inn Express is IHG’s fastest growing brand with currently over 3000 operating hotels, globally. IHG Hotels & Resorts currently operates 39 hotels across five brands in Saudi Arabia, including: InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Staybridge Suites, and voco, with 30 hotels in the development pipeline set to open within the next three to five years.

Emirates passengers in every class of travel will now be able to enjoy some form of free internet connectivity while onboard once they sign up to the airline’s loyalty program — Emirates Skywards. The airline said it has so far invested more than $300 million into onboard connectivity and sees an average of 450,000 users per month. This represents a 30 percent increase of passenger use in 2023 versus the same period last year. Currently almost 10 percent of all passengers are utilising the complimentary onboard Wi-Fi. On routes through the Americas, almost 20 percent of passengers connect to Wi-Fi onboard, and on European and Africa routes the usage is over 11 percent of all passengers. Skywards members, whether blue, silver, gold, or platinum tier, travelling in any class, whether economy, premium economy, business or first class will enjoy free app messaging. Additionally, first class passengers will have unlimited free internet if they are Skywards members, as will silver, gold and platinum Skywards members travelling in business class. Platinum Skywards members have complimentary internet access in all classes. The airlines also announced that it will offer new high-speed, inflight broadband powered by Inmarsat’s GX Aviation, onboard 50 new Airbus A350 aircraft — scheduled to enter service in 2024.

Oman’s Qarn Alam Airport in Al Dakhiliyah Governorate will resume operations after being suspended for several months for maintenance work, said the Civil Aviation Authority. After shutting operations at Qarn Alam Airport for several months to complete maintenance work, the Civil Aviation Authority said it has issued its approval for the return of the airport’s work after carrying out an examination of the runway to ensure that it is in compliance with operational safety requirements and standards in accordance with the technical systems of civil aviation. A comprehensive examination was also conducted at the airport with the aim of renewing the airport’s operating license in accordance with the national regulations issued by the authority, the aviation authority said in a statement.

Tourism revenue for Jordan grew by 73.5 percent in April 2023 compared with the same month of 2022, reaching $543.2 million, according to data released by the Central Bank of Jordan. During the first four months of 2023, tourism revenue witnessed an 84.5 percent increase reaching $2.2 billion. The bank’s data attributed the increase to a surge in the number of tourists visiting Jordan, which reached 1.9 million in the first four months of 2023, constituting a growth rate of 87.2 percent. Overnight tourism also increased, reaching 1.6 million tourists marking a 78.7 percent increase compared with 894,097 overnight visitors in the same period of 2022. There were 360,300 day-trip tourists during the same time period, with a growth rate of 137.1 percent. According to the Central Bank data, Jordanians spent 49.6 percent more on tourism abroad in April of 2023 than in the same month of 2022, reaching $142 million. In the first four months of the year, Jordanians spent 63.2 percent more on tourism abroad that during the same period of the previous year, recording a value of $564.3 million, the spending of Jordanian residents accounted for 83.2 per cent of the total tourism spending abroad.

The Royal Commission for AlUla will develop a new resort per the Journey Through Time masterplan, aligned with the Sustainability Charter for AlUla, Saudi Green Initiative, and Vision 2030. The Azulik AlUla Resort is an eco-luxury property in the Nabatean Horizon District of the Journey Through Time masterplan, tucked into canyons near the AlMutadil Equestrian Village development and Wadi AlFann. Slated to launch in 2027, the resort will feature 76 luxury villas and a Sfer Ik museum. The development looks to protect and incorporate nearby ancient rock art inscriptions, and utilise a natural system of existing waterways to feed irrigation and safeguard against floods, the Royal Commission for AlUla said in a statement. No private vehicle traffic will be allowed on-property, instead an all-electric mobility system will be provided, along with horse and camel routes, and hiking trails for guests to enjoy the surroundings, a release from the company stated.

The Middle East region is expected to generate the second highest passenger growth during the summer travel holiday season, according to International Air Transport Association’s forward bookings data for May-September. The IATA survey covering 4,700 travelers in 11 countries showed that 79 percent of travelers were planning a trip during the June-August period. While peak travel season disruptions should not be a surprise for 85 percent of travelers, 80 percent said they expected smooth travel with post pandemic issues having been resolved. While Asia Pacific is expected to witness the greatest growth, at 134.7 percent, the growth in the Middle East is expected to be around 43 percent. Expectations are high for this year’s peak Northern summer travel season. For many this will be their first post-pandemic travel experience. While some disruptions can be expected, there is a clear expectation that the ramping-up issues faced at some key hub airports in 2022 will have been resolved. To meet strong demand, airlines are planning schedules based on the capacity that airports, border control, ground handlers, and air navigation service providers have declared. Over the next months, all industry players now need to deliver,” said Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Operations, Safety and Security.         

Travel company Al Rostamani Travel and Holidays announced a strategic partnership with Saudi Tourism Authority on promoting tourism in Saudi Arabia to United Arab Emirates residents. The partnership aims to offer travelers from United Arab Emirates the chance to immerse themselves in Saudi Arabia’s diverse landscapes. Al Rostamani Travel acknowledged the significance of this partnership in supporting Saudi Arabia’s vision to establish itself as a leading global tourism destination. By leveraging their expertise and resources, both entities will work towards raising awareness about the incredible tourism offerings of Saudi Arabia and inviting United Arab Emirates travelers to embark on unforgettable journeys.

Turkey-based home accommodation brand Missafir announced the introduction of its new mobile applicationMissafir Owner, designed for homeowners. The mobile application gives homeowners access to details about their homes in real-time and instantly from their smartphones, Missafir said in a release. Through the application, owners can track the income and expenses of their properties, view reservation information, and manage their calendars. Additionally, they can also receive instant notifications about updates, such as maintenance or cleaning services on their properties. “Our hosts in the short-term accommodation sector expect a detailed and transparent information process as well as easy access and time-saving. We designed Missafir Owner in line with these expectations,” said Mehmet Yüksel, CEO of Missafir.

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Tags: dubai, emirates air, Etihad Airways, iata, ihg, jordan, jordan tourism, middle east newsletter, minor international, oman, red sea, saudi arabia, sustainability, tourism campaigns, turkey

Photo credit: Saudi Arabia's seasonal campaign promotes the country as a diverse, unique summer destination. Seera Group

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