Amidst spearheading global travel recovery, the Middle East's ambitious tourism goals come across as pragmatic rather than overly ambitious, backed by strategic capacity building efforts
Middle East Travel Roundup
Get the latest news from the Middle East in one easy-to-digest newsletter.
A Report We’ve been Reading…Skift’s State of Travel report 2023 adds interesting insights into the Middle East’s travel sector. What we learned:
- Except aviation, the performance of all sectors – hotels, vacation rentals or car rentals – have surpassed 2019 levels in the Middle East.
- While international travel in most regions still lags 2019 levels, the Middle East is the only region to witness a complete recovery of international travel in the first quarter of 2023.
- United Arab Emirates was second among the fastest-growing destinations for international arrivals in 2022 after Austria. The country was also the most visited in the region last year with 22.7 million tourist arrivals, surpassing 2019 levels, followed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco.
Who’s Driving Tourism to the UAE?
- India was the top source market for UAE with 806,000 arrivals, which was 11% more than 2019.
- Russian arrivals ranked second, 47% more tourists than 2019.
- UK and Saudi Arabia ranked third and fourth.
- Travel search levels for UAE’s inbound flight and hotel search were much higher than 2019.
- With 66 million passengers, Dubai airport also ranked as the fifth most-busiest airport in the world even as the numbers were much below 2019’s 86 million.
- Dubai-Riyadh was also the fourth busiest international route last month.
Egypt Explores Converting Government Buildings Into Hotels
Egypt has realized that just having an ambitious goal to attract 30 million tourists by the end of this year may not be enough. It also needs to create capacity to accommodate these tourists.
The country is now exploring the possibility of converting certain government buildings into hotels, according to reports from London-based Al-Araby al-Jadeed newspaper.
Where Will These Hotels Come up?
Among the buildings set for transformation into hotels is the Tahrir Complex, situated in downtown Cairo.
The country welcomed a little less than 12 million tourists last year.
Oyo to Add 2,000 Apartments in Abu Dhabi for Expat Housing
Hospitality technology company Oyo has announced its plan to add 2,000 apartments in Abu Dhabi to meet the increasing demand for expatriate accommodation.
What’s Oyo Doing in The Middle East?
Oyo has already added 750 apartments in key locations like Khalifa, Al Zeina, and Al Raha. The expansion aligns with its commitment to providing comfortable premium accommodations worldwide.
What’s Fueling The Expat Accommodation Market in UAE’s Capital?
Abu Dhabi’s thriving startup ecosystem and incentives like the Golden Visa program have attracted prominent companies to the emirate. According to the 2023 Global Startup Ecosystem Report, from July 1, 2020, to December 31, 2022, Abu Dhabi created $3.9 billion in ecosystem value representing a growth of 134% from the previous period.
“We are excited about the opportunity to contribute to Abu Dhabi’s thriving startup ecosystem and expat community and foster a sense of belonging for expatriates living here,” said Ankit Tandon, global chief business officer and CEO Southeast Asia and Middle East, Oyo.
Beware of UAE Visa Scam, Warns VFS Global
Visa-facilitation company, VFS Global, has issued a warning about visa scams in the UAE.
“We have no affiliation whatsoever with any agents — travel companies, typing offices, agents for flight bookings and travel insurances — in the UAE for the provision of any visa-related advice or services to applicants. We will not be responsible for applicants who seek advice or services in regards to their visa from any agents or for fees paid to agents in relation to the same,” VFS said.
What is the Scam?
- Fraudsters are stealing personal data and soliciting money from individuals.
- The company clarified that its employees will never solicit personal information through social media channels and that they do not have control over visa application decisions.
- Additionally, VFS Global emphasized that it has not appointed any agents in the UAE to provide visa-related advice or services.
Jordan Prepares for Record-Breaking 2023
Jordan is gearing up to achieve record-breaking tourism numbers in 2023, and the recipe according to Jordan Tourism Board is fairly simple:
Strategic Partnerships With Low-Cost Airlines: EasyJet, RyanAir, WizzAir, Transavia and Vueling are set to launch new routes to Jordan’s capital, Amman, and the seaside city of Aqaba, according to a report in Jordan Times.
Diverse Tourism Programs: The tourism board is also partnering with Expedia, KAYAK, Tripadvisor and others to promote content focused on local experiences.
Robust Marketing Efforts: Jordan’s marketing strategy also plans to target markets in Japan, Australia, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and India.
Jordan welcomed 4.6 million tourists in 2022, close to the 4.8 million recorded in 2019, with receipts from tourism totaling $5.8 billion for the year, according to United Nations’ World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The destination ranked eighth globally in terms of international tourism receipts growth during the first quarter of 2023.
Flynas revenues soar 46% in the First Half of 2023
In the first half of 2023, Saudi low-cost carrier flynas reported a revenue surge of 46% compared to the same period last year.
What Also Went Up:
- Passenger numbers soared by 26% to approximately 5 million.
- Seat capacity grew by 19%, bolstered by a fleet expansion of 19% to 51 aircraft.
Bander Almohanna, CEO and managing director of flynas, attributed the performance to the growth and expansion plan implemented by the company since the beginning of the year.
- The airline launched 10 new destinations and routes during the summer.
- Flynas also increased frequency of flights to various destinations and transported more than 100,000 pilgrims during the Hajj season.
The airline aims to maintain its strong growth and contribute to achieving the objectives of the National Civil Aviation Strategy, connecting more international destinations to the Kingdom and reaching 330 million passengers and 100 million tourists by 2030.
UAE Passport Ranks 12th Among World’s Most Powerful
The Henley Passport Index, published recently, reveals that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is ranked among the countries with the most powerful passports globally. The UAE passport holds the 12th position globally, granting visa-free travel to 179 countries out of 227.
What’s The Henley Passport Index:
The index ranks 199 passports based on the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa. However, it shares this rank with Cyprus and is surpassed by 36 other countries.
Where Did the Other Gulf Countries Figure:
- Qatar at 52nd
- Kuwait at 54th
- Bahrain at 59th
- Oman at 60th
- Saudi Arabia at 61st
In contrast, Syrian and Iraqi passports are among the weakest globally, allowing access to only 30 and 29 destinations, respectively. Singapore’s passport holds the top spot, providing visa-free access to 192 countries.
Ethmar International Holding Acquires Stake in Nirvana Holding
Abu-Dhabi based Ethmar International Holding has acquired a stake in travel company Nirvana Holding. The acquisition aims to bolster Abu Dhabi’s position as a leading tourist destination and drive tourism investment and activities in the UAE capital.
The acquisition is expected to result in several tourism projects, contributing to the national economy and creating job opportunities for Emirati youth, a release stated. “We affirm our commitment to play an essential role in providing a leading investment environment across multiple sectors, benefiting from Nirvana’s extensive and valuable experience within the tourism sector, Ali El Gebely, managing director and group CEO of Ethmar, said.
IHG to Launch First Holiday Inn Open Lobby Concept in UAE
IHG Hotels & Resorts will be introducing a stylish dual-branded property in Dubai’s Business Bay by the fourth quarter of 2023. This hotel cluster will provide modern and comfortable accommodations for both short and extended stays, conveniently located near key tourist and business areas. The 275-room Holiday Inn Dubai Business Bay will be the first in the UAE to feature the brand’s innovative Open Lobby concept, transforming the traditional lobby into a flexible space for guest connection, relaxation, socialization, and work.
Joining the cluster, Staybridge Suites Dubai Business Bay, the upscale extended stay hotel brand by IHG, will offer 120 suites, including studio, one, and two-bedroom options. These suites will cater to the needs of extended-stay travelers. A release from the company stated that both hotels would be conveniently located just a 15-minute ride from Dubai International Airport and in close proximity to major attractions like Dubai Mall, Dubai Opera, and Burj Khalifa.
IHG has also signed a franchise agreement for a Hotel Indigo in Oxagon, a coastal industrial city in Saudi Arabia’s Neom. The 250-key Hotel Indigo property will be situated in Oxagon’s first residential community and is slated to open its doors in 2026.
Saudia Expands International Flight by 15%
Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) is actively executing its operational plan for summer 2023, offering more than 7.4 million seats for both domestic and international routes during July and August. This is a 10% increase compared to the same period in 2022. As part of its efforts to meet the high demand during peak seasons and ensure smooth operations, the airline will operate over 32,400 flights, a 4% increase. For international flights, Saudia is providing over 4.2 million seats, a 16% increase, and introducing more than 14,800 flights, reflecting a 15% rise. Meanwhile, on domestic routes, over 3.2 million seats will be available through 17,600 flights.
Ibrahim Koshy, CEO of Saudia, highlighted the airline’s extensive experience in managing operations during peak seasons. The plan includes increasing flights, seat capacity, and introducing seasonal destinations to cater to guests’ needs while delivering excellent services. He also acknowledged the challenges faced in the aviation industry, particularly in managing the departure of Hajj pilgrims from Makkah. Comprehensive procedures and facilities have been prepared to ensure a successful summer season and Hajj pilgrimage.
Middle East Customers Looking to Increase Digital Spending in Travel
The rise in travel in the Middle East and globally can be attributed to the increasing adoption of digital channels, both on mobile and websites. According to a survey released by MoEngage, a marketing automation and customer engagement platform, half of the customers are expected to increase their digital spending, particularly in the travel and retail sectors. Almost two-thirds of consumers plan to spend more on domestic travel and around 64% on international travel compared to previous years. The survey also noted that introduction of contactless payments and options like Buy Now, Pay Later has boosted travel confidence globally.
To adapt to this digital shift, travel brands must rethink their customer engagement strategies. Traditional methods like airmiles or simple loyalty points may not suffice. Kunal Badiani, regional vice president, Middle Eat and Africa of MoEngage, highlights the importance of data-driven and insights-led engagement to retain and engage customers. Brands can also focus on creating gamified experiences, immersive emailers, and engaging social content to build loyalty.
Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh Launches Catering Service
The Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh at Kingdom Centre has launched a new catering service called Le Carré. The new service looks to offer world-class catering for events and celebrations in Saudi Arabia’s capital city and across the country. Led by Senior Executive Chef Lucas Glanville, the service draws inspiration from French culinary excellence and promises personalized experiences for business, social, and wedding events. The hotel has previously provided offsite catering for events like the Diriyah E-Prix Formula E Championship and the Future Investment Initiative Institute forum. Le Carré offers clients the opportunity to collaborate with the culinary team to create customized menus and table settings, ensuring a memorable dining experience.
Wego Promotes Azerbaijan to Middle East Travelers
Online travel marketplace Wego, will join forces with Azerbaijan for a new campaign to showcase the country’s incredible attractions to Middle East and Africa travelers. Leveraging Wego’s extensive reach and innovative marketing strategies, the collaboration will highlight Azerbaijan’s rich cultural heritage and diverse landscapes. “We recorded over 830,000 searches globally to Azerbaijan this year and we are expecting to see an increase in the searches towards the summer,” said Mamoun Hmedan, chief commercial officer and managing director, Middle East nd Africa and India of Wego.
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Photo credit: Museum of The Future in Dubai. Editz central Editors / Pexels