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Asfar's launch aligns with the Saudi sovereign fund’s broad strategy, which is centered around tapping opportunities within the tourism sector and building strategic partnerships with private companies.

Series: Middle East Travel Roundup

Middle East Travel Roundup

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Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund Public Investment Fund (PIF) has announced the establishment of the Saudi Tourism Investment Company (Asfar) to support the growth of the country’s tourism sector.

What Will the Tourism Investment Company do?

  • Invest in new tourism projects.
  • Develop attractive destinations.
  • Invest in the local tourism value chain.

Involving the Private Sector: The company will help the private sector by partnering on investments and by creating an attractive environment for local suppliers, contractors, and small and medium-sized enterprises to develop tourism projects and destinations.

Other Tourism-Related Companies Owned by PIF:

  • Aseer Investment Company, which aims to transform Aseer into a year-round tourism destination
  • Saudi Downtown Company, mandated to build and develop downtown areas within Saudi Arabia.

Dubai Hotel Market Finds Its Balance

We read JLL’s second quarter market overview report and this is what we found out about the hotel market in Dubai and Abu Dhabi:

For Dubai
Dubai’s hotel market began to show signs of stabilization in the second quarter. While average daily rates (ADR) decreased by 6% to $188, occupancy increased to 78% from January-June.

However: The decline in rates is not a sign of a slowdown but rather a healthy indicator of the market finding its balance, JLL said. In the second quarter, around 1,000 keys were added in Dubai, increasing the total supply to 151,000 keys. By the end of this year, another 6,000 keys are slated to be added.

Source: JLL second quarter market overview report

For Abu Dhabi
Hotel Figures: The hotel industry maintained its steady growth from January-June in Abu Dhabi. Average daily rate increased by 26% to $137, while city-wide occupancy surged to 71%. Revenue per available room went up 28%. Abu Dhabi’s total stock remained stable at 32,500 keys and the capital is slated to add another 200 keys by the end of this year.

Decoding the Dubai Sustainable Tourism Stamp

What? Dubai’s sustainable tourism stamp seeks to serve as a validation of hotels’ dedication to sustainability and showcase its sustainable practices. The stamp will feature a three-tier scheme with categories ranging from Gold, Silver and Bronze.

Who? The Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) has developed the new stamp in collaboration with Dubai’s hospitality sector. DET announced that the accreditation process would be overseen by a committee of senior industry professionals “to ensure integrity and independence, with the initiative designed based on global best practices.”

How Does it Work? To obtain the stamp, hotels of all classifications must meet the highest standards of DET’s 19 sustainability requirements, which include:

  • Energy and water efficiency
  • Waste management programmes
  • Staff education
  • Engagement initiatives.

When? Nominations for hotel establishments to obtain the Dubai Sustainable Tourism Stamp will begin on August 3 and end on August 31.

Global Hotel Brand to Debut in the Middle East

Which Hotel Group: IHG Hotels & Resorts.

Brand: Regent Hotel.

Where: Saudi Arabia.

When: The hotel is expected to open in mid-2024

Other Destinations Featuring the Regent Brand: Bali, Santa Monica and Hong Kong.

One of the first new generation Regent Hotels to open globally, Regent Jeddah will feature 182 rooms and five penthouses.

Haitham Mattar, managing director, IHG Hotels & Resorts India, Middle East and Africa, called Saudi Arabia a priority market for IHG in the Middle East.

  • IHG currently operates 39 hotels across five brands in Saudi Arabia
  • 30 more hotels are set to open within the next three to five years.

Saudi Arabia Gets a New Luxury Address

Saudi Arabia-based developer Red Sea Global has announced a partnership with luxury lifestyle brand Equinox, to create Equinox Resort Amaala.

Set to open as part of the first phase of development, the 129-key hotel will also include two luxury penthouses.

Amaala: Amaala is a destination expected to be home to more than 3,900 hotel rooms across 29 hotels and approximately 1,200 luxury residential villas, apartments, and estate homes.

When is it Opening? Phase One of Amaala, consisting of eight resorts offering upwards of 1,200 hotel keys, is underway, with the first guests set to be welcomed in 2024.

Some more hotel openings in the Middle East:

Ennismore will be debuting its first lifestyle hotel in Turkey in early 2024 with the Hyde Bodrum. The brand’s debut property in Turkey, the Bodrum property will be the first Hyde to offer an all-inclusive experience.

Qatar Airways Joins Forces with British Airways and Iberia

Qatar Airways, British Airways, and Spanish national carrier Iberia are joining forces to create the world’s largest airline joint business covering more than 60 countries.

How? Iberia will add a new daily service from its hub, Madrid Barajas International Airport, to Hamad International Airport, from December 11. Passengers will be able to connect to more than 200 destinations through the three global airlines.

Frequency: Iberia and Qatar Airways’ expanded service will operate three times daily on the route.

Aircraft: Iberia will operate the Airbus A330-200, with 288 seats in Business and Economy cabins.

Loyalty: Members of British Airways Executive Club, Iberia Plus, and Qatar Airways Privilege Club can collect and spend using their common currency, Avios. Loyalty members are able to transfer Avios between accounts and combine their balances to claim rewards offered by each programme.

Welcome Chinese Certification for Riyadh Airports

Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport has obtained a Welcome Chinese Certification, the first in the region.

What Does the Certification Mean? The accreditation affirms Riyadh Airports’ competency in studying and assessing passengers’ needs. Chinese travelers look at it as a global standard for travel and hospitality services.

Why Is This Necessary? Chinese tourists still face difficulties whilst travelling abroad, which are mainly caused by language barriers, dietary customs and inconvenient payment methods.

Standards and Requirements: The Welcome Chinese Certification released by the China Tourism Academy in cooperation with Select Holding has developed a number of standards for travel services provided to Chinese tourists. It requires travel-related businesses to tailor their services accordingly in order to improve them.

Why Does Riyadh Airport Need This? With its ambitious vision to attract 100 million tourists by 2030, Saudi Arabia would need to tap the Chinese tourists, who were the strongest outbound market in 2019 with 155 million outbound international trips.

Oman Airports Look to Surpass 2019 Operation Levels This Year

Airports in Oman are now operating at nearly 70% of pre-pandemic capacities. Forecasts predict that activity levels will surpass those of 2019 in the coming months.

How does the country plan to do this?

Bilateral arrangements: Oman plans to sign three additional bilateral air agreements soon with negotiations underway with several countries for similar arrangements. Oman plans to bring this number to 122, including 66 open skies agreements.

Airlines: Approximately 40 airlines are currently serving Oman’s airports.

The authorities plan to return to 2019 passenger levels by:

  • Introducing the national carrier Oman Air to new destinations
  • Expanding the national fleet with new aircraft
  • Inviting more carriers to operate in Oman.

In the first half of 2023, passenger numbers at Oman’s airports reached over 1.1 million passengers. Aircraft traffic also rose until the end of June 2023, with 9,784 flights compared to 7,622 flights in June 2022.

According to a report issued by international firm BMI, a Fitch Solutions Company, 3.5 million international tourists are expected to visit Oman in 2023.

S. Korea’s Onda Enters Turkish Hotels Market

South Korean hospitality technology company Onda, is looking to make inroads into the Turkish hotel solutions market.

How: Through a partnership with Turkish hospitality company CMH Solutions, Onda will offer its cloud-based hotel management solution to hotels in the Turkish market.

The Arrangement: Onda will initially provide its software as a service-based (SaaS) hotel management solutions to hotels that CMH Solutions newly opens this year, and also plans to expand its offering to a broader range of CMH-operated hotels in the future.

Other details: The agreement also includes the introduction of Onda’s branded hotels in Turkey, including SoTA (State of The Art) Collection. CMH Solutions will undertake the development, construction, and operation of Onda-branded hotels in the country, while Onda will provide SaaS hotel management solutions.

Earlier South Korea-CMH collaborations: Another South Korean travel tech company Yanolja Cloud had also  collaborated with CMH in 2021 to jumpstart its entry into the Turkish market.

Etihad A380 is Back

Abu Dhabi’s national carrier Etihad Airways celebrated the return to service of its Airbus A380 on a special inaugural commercial flight from Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow.

The first of Etihad’s four Airbus A380s.

Onboard the A380:

  • 68 economy space seats offering an additional 4 inches in leg room
  • 337 Economy Smart seats
  • 70 Business Studios on the upper deck
  • 9 First Apartments
  • The Lobby, a serviced lounge and bar area on the upperdeck.

The Highlight: The three-room suite in the sky – The Residence features a private living room, bedroom and ensuite bathroom.

The Residence can now be booked online, by selecting a first-class ticket and then choosing to upgrade, from $2,500 per person, one way.

Doha Airport Receives Over 2 Million Passengers from Jan-June

Doha’s Hamad International Airport saw a total of 20,775,087 passengers during the first half of 2023 recording a 33.5% increase in passenger traffic.

Aircraft movements during the first half of 2023 also went up to 116,296, recording an 18% increase from the same period last year.

Processing Time: 28 seconds is the average processing time at security screening for transferring passengers

The Future: Phase B of the airport expansion is currently underway and once completed will increase the airport’s capacity to more than 70 million passengers annually.

Saudia Fleet Expands To Include New A321neo Aircraft

Saudi Arabian national carrier Saudia announced the expansion of its fleet with the addition of new aircraft type, Airbus A321neo.

Expansion Plans: The airline aims to add 20 more A321neo aircrafts to its fleet by 2026.

What’s the A321neo: The A321neo aircraft is a narrow-body airliner part of the A320 family, the most popular single-aisle aircraft family. The aircraft offers seating for 180 to 220 passengers in a typical two-class interior layout.

Why Does Saudia Want it? The main reason behind the purchase of the aircraft is its ability to run on much less fuel. Saudia in a release listed out some of the advantages of the aircraft:

  • The A320 family of aircraft has reportedly saved 20 million tons of Co2 since the A320neo came into service globally in 2016.
  • The A320neo is also said to have seen a 20% decrease in fuel burning and Co2 emissions.
  • A 50% reduction in noise footprint.
  • 5% lower airframe maintenance costs.
  • 14% lower cash operating costs per seat versus previous generation aircraft. 

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Tags: a380, abu dhabi, asia monthly, british airways, Chinese tourists, doha, dubai, ennismore, etihad, hotels, iberia, ihg, jll, middle east newsletter, oman, qatar airways, red sea, riyadh, saudi arabia, saudia airlines, sustainable tourism, turkey, yanolja

Photo credit: Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has announced the establishment of the Saudi Tourism Investment Company (Asfar). Haidan / Unsplash

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