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With its sights set on transforming the tourism sector into an economic powerhouse, Oman is placing a strategic focus on Chinese tourists.

Series: Middle East Travel Roundup

Middle East Travel Roundup

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Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Tourism is seeking to establish a tourism representative office in China, part of the ministry’s efforts to develop marketing plans that promote Oman’s tourism attractions through its global offices.

The primary objective of opening this office is to strengthen relationships between local partners, including tourism companies and hotels, in the Chinese market. Interested parties have until August 1, to submit their bids for consideration.

To equip partners in the Omani tourism sector to effectively engage with Chinese visitors, the ministry had organized a workshop called China Ready in September 2022. Oman has experienced growth in the number of Chinese tourists, witnessing a 141% increase from 44,580 in 2018 to 107,446 in 2019.

Oman has been embarking on an ambitious journey to elevate its tourism sector. The country aims to increase the tourism sector’s contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) from 2.4% in 2021 to 5% by 2030 and to 10% by 2040. Additionally, Oman plans to attract 11.7 million tourists by 2040. To achieve these goals, the country is looking to attract more than $51 billion in investment.

The envisioned increase in investment is expected to have a profound impact on the tourism industry, with the potential to generate over $22.5 billion annually in tourism revenue.

Since the reopening of outbound group tours for Chinese travelers in February, Middle East destinations have embarked on efforts to attract this lucrative market. Dubai, for instance, has launched targeted campaigns in China and maintained its visa-free policy for Chinese visitors, while also adopting a comprehensive “China Ready” approach.

Saudi Arabia, aiming to receive 4 million Chinese tourists by 2030, has included China in its e-visa program and introduced a 96-hour stopover visa with a complimentary one-night hotel stay for Chinese guests.

Having welcomed 989,000 Chinese tourists, China was Dubai’s fifth-largest source market in 2019. When Saudi Arabia opened to tourism in 2019, the maximum number of tourist visas issued were to Chinese tourists as more than 100,000 Chinese tourists visited Saudi Arabia in 2019.

Skift last month released a report on “Understanding the Chinese Traveler Post-Covid.”

Frasers Hospitality Expands in Middle East with New Property in Bahrain

Frasers Hospitality has expanded its presence in the Middle East through a new management agreement to operate Fraser Suites Al Liwan Bahrain. The new property is scheduled to open in the fourth quarter of 2023, joining the existing Frasers Hospitality portfolio in the Middle East, which has seen consistent growth over the past two decades. Frasers Hospitality has partnered with Seef Properties, a real estate development company in Bahrain for the project.

Under the extended management agreement with Seef Properties, Fraser Suites Al Liwan Bahrain will join the existing portfolio, including Fraser Suites Seef Bahrain and Fraser Suites Diplomatic Area Bahrain. The anticipated property will feature 63 serviced apartment units spread over three floors, offering a range of one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. Mark Chan, chief operating officer of Frasers Hospitality, emphasized their dedication to expansion in the region, particularly in the extended-stay market.

Neom Partners with BWA Yachting to Create Ultra-Prime Superyacht Destination

Neom recently announced its partnership with BWA Yachting, a global entity in superyacht concierge and maritime agency services. BWA Yachting will establish an office at Sindalah, the luxury island development in Saudi Arabia’s Neom. Sindalah aims to become the Red Sea’s highly anticipated first ultra-prime superyacht destination. Sindalah is the first among Neom’s assets to be unveiled. Among Neom’s 39 islands, Sindalah will be home to a world-leading yachting ecosystem, offering over 5,000 berths.

BWA Yachting will contribute to the operations at Sindalah’s international superyacht marina. This includes customs and clearance procedures, provisioning, logistics, shipping, concierge services, and financial services. By collaborating with BWA Yachting, Sindalah aims to deliver a seamless experience for customers, positioning itself as the new must-visit destination on the yachting calendar, offering six months of winter sun annually. Sindalah is scheduled to open its doors in early 2024. On land, Sindalah will feature restaurants with cuisine curated by globally renowned Michelin-star chefs, futuristic luxury retail offerings, and a one-of-a-kind golf course.

IndiGo Unveils Plans for Middle East Expansion with New Direct Routes

IndiGo, the Indian low-cost carrier, has revealed its plans for expanding its presence in the Middle East. The airline aims to launch additional direct international services, connecting more Indian cities to destinations in the Middle East. This includes connecting Dammam to Lucknow, Chennai, and Kochi; Abu Dhabi to Goa, Lucknow, and Ahmedabad; Ras Al Khaimah to Hyderabad; Bahrain to Kochi, and Jeddah to Ahmedabad.

These new routes will be introduced over the next few months, bringing Middle Eastern destinations closer to various Indian cities. IndiGo has been focusing on an international expansion strategy, which involves adding six new destinations across Asia and Africa. In order to meet the increasing demand for international travel to, from, and via India, the airline will be adding 174 new weekly international flights between June and September. This expansion includes the introduction of new destinations, routes, and flight frequencies. It plays a crucial role in IndiGo’s overall strategy.

Hajj Pilgrimage Sees Over 1.8 Million Worshippers, Slightly Below Expectations

This year’s annual hajj pilgrimage has attracted over 1.8 million worshippers, according to Saudi Arabia’s statistics authority. Despite initial predictions of record-breaking attendance, this falls short of the expected 2.5 million pilgrims.

In 2019, the highest attendance to date, 2.5 million worshippers participated in the rituals. However, this year’s figures represent a significant increase from last year’s 926,000 participants, when numbers were limited to one million due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2020, only 10,000 individuals were allowed to participate due to the coronavirus pandemic. The number rose to nearly 59,000 the following year. Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and is considered a mandatory pilgrimage for all Muslims who have the means to undertake it at least once in their lifetime.

Dubai Retains Top Spot as TikTok’s Most-Watched Travel Destination

Dubai continues to top the list of TikTok’s most-watched travel destinations for the second year, according to travel and luggage experts at Bounce, a luggage storage app. Bounce found that views for TikTok videos using #Dubai have increased 72% to over 140 billion, since its study last year, up from almost 82 billion.

New York City was the second most popular destination with almost 102 billion views and London followed with around 73 billion views. Bounce conducted an analysis of the number of views for hashtags related to popular travel destinations in order to uncover the most sought-after destinations on TikTok. Additionally, they examined the top influencers on the platform and estimated their earnings. The U.S. tops the list of TikTok’s favorite countries to travel to, with over 357 billion views.

Qatar’s Cruise Visitors Soar by 151% Despite Delayed Start

In spite of a delayed start to the cruise season, Qatar experienced a surge in cruise visitors during the 2022-23 season, a substantial 151% increase from the previous season. The country welcomed a total of 253,191 visitors even as the 2022-2023 cruise season commenced in December instead of October. The delay was due to Doha Port hosting floating hotels to accommodate visitors and fans attending the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 tournament.

Out of the total cruise visitors this season, 37,144 were turnaround passengers, a 790% increase from the previous season (4,172 passengers).

Throughout the 2022/23 cruise season, Qatar received a total of 54 calls, including both transit and turnaround, a 59%. The country has recently renovated Doha Port to now accommodate two megaships simultaneously and cater to up to 12,000 people daily. The upcoming Qatar Cruise Season 2023-24 is set to commence on October 8.

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Expands Presence in Saudi Arabia

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has announced the upcoming opening of Ramada Encore by Wyndham Al Khobar Corniche in Saudi Arabia. Located in the heart of Al Khobar – one of the key leisure and commercial destinations in the Eastern Province, the 79-key hotel is expected to open in August. Ramada Encore by Wyndham Al Khobar Corniche adds to Wyndham’s portfolio of 13 operational hotels in the country under the Wyndham Garden, Ramada, Ramada Encore, Howard Johnson, Hawthorn Suites and Super 8 by Wyndham brands.

The latest opening in Saudi Arabia builds on Wyndham Hotels & Resorts’ foothold across the Middle East and Africa with almost 70 hotels and a development pipeline of more than 25 additional properties across the region. Wyndham recently re-introduced direct franchising and management rights for its Ramada brand in Saudi Arabia.

“There is a significant need for high-quality mid-scale hotels in the kingdom and we are committed to ensuring we make hotel travel more inclusive and less exclusive,” said Panos Loupasis, Market Managing Director for Türkiye, the Middle East and Africa, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.

Oman’s Three-to-Five-Star Hotels Witness 35% Revenue Increase in May

Three-to-five-star hotels in Oman welcomed 800,952 visitors by the end of May 2023, compared to 629,143 guests in the corresponding period last year, according to the latest data from the National Center for Statistics and Information. The increase in guest numbers also led to a 35% increase in revenue. At the end of May 2023, hotel revenues reached OMR98.426 million ($256 million), compared to OMR73.058 million ($190 million) during the same period in 2022.

Additionally, the occupancy rate experienced a notable increase of 13.6%. While the increase in the number of domestic guests was less than 1%, the number of guests from Gulf countries rose by 17% to reach 54,571, and the number of European guests surged by an impressive 47.2% to stand at 239,686. Asian guests reached 110,324, representing a rise of 46%, while the number of American guests reached 26,166, a 4.1% increase.

Kerala Launches Monsoon Tourism Campaign for Middle East Tourists

In preparation for the upcoming vacation season, the southern state of Kerala, a popular tourist destination in India, is actively promoting monsoon tourism to attract Arab tourists from the Middle East. The primary objective of this campaign is to draw a significant number of Arab tourists to Kerala, providing a welcome respite from the scorching heat in the Middle East and also indulge in Ayurveda-based wellness activities. To support this initiative, the government has allocated $854,000 to conduct a focused campaign targeting Dubai and Doha airports.

As a precursor to this campaign, Kerala Tourism showcased its products and themes in Dubai during the Arabian Travel Market in May. Additionally, road shows were conducted in Riyadh, Dammam, and Muscat. Kerala Tourism said that it is also devising attractive packages specifically tailored for Arab tourists, who often travel in large groups. In 2019, the state welcomed approximately 150,000 tourists from the Middle East, and with this new campaign, it seeks to build upon that number and further boost tourism from the region.

Air Astana to Launch Direct Flights between Almaty and Jeddah

Air Astana is schedule to commence direct operations between Almaty and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, from October 1. The flights will initially operate on Wednesdays and Sundays with plans to increase the frequency in the future. The departure from Almaty is scheduled for 18:40, with an arrival in Jeddah at 22:30. The return flight will depart at 23:30 from Jeddah and arrive in Almaty at 08:15. All times are local.

The airline is also promoting convenient connections for passengers traveling to Jeddah from other cities in Kazakhstan, as well as from Tashkent, Dushanbe, and Bishkek. Adel Dauletbek, vice president of marketing and sales at Air Astana, highlighted the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia, which appeals not only to Muslim pilgrims visiting the holy cities of Mecca and Medina but also to tourists interested in exploring cultural, historical, and natural attractions along the Red Sea. Ticket bookings for the new flight have commenced. Citizens of Kazakhstan would need to obtain an e-visa before traveling to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia Railways Sets New Record as Thousands Depart from Makkah

Saudi Arabia Railways has achieved a new milestone in rail passenger numbers as pilgrims departed from Makkah after completing their Hajj rituals. The railways reported that a total of 33,494 pilgrims left Makkah in a single day, utilizing the Haramain Express Train for 129 trips, with a punctuality rate of 98 percent.

The Haramain Express Train plays a vital role in Saudi Arabia’s transportation and logistics system, providing pilgrims and visitors of the Two Holy Mosques with a fast and seamless travel experience to the holy sites. It serves as a crucial mode of transportation, ensuring a smooth and efficient journey for all.

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Tags: asia monthly, Chinese tourists, cruise, dubai, hajj, indigo, kerala, middle east newsletter, oman, saudi arabia, tiktok, wyndham

Photo credit: Oman is looking to equip its partners to effectively engage with Chinese visitors. bhart9070 / Pixabay

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