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Looks like we will no longer be comparing Dubai's tourism to 2019. Time to update those comparison charts!

Series: Middle East Travel Roundup

Middle East Travel Roundup

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Dubai has raised its benchmark once again, officially surpassing its pre-pandemic tourism numbers for the first half of 2023.

  • The emirate welcomed 8.55 million in the first half of 2023 compared to 8.36 million in the same period in 2019.
  • The number of hotels rose to 810 from 714 in 2019.
  • The number of hotel rooms increased from 118,345 in first half of 2019 to 148,689 this year.
  • Average length of stay of guests increased to 3.9 nights from 3.5 nights in 2019.
  • Dubai’s average hotel occupancy of 78% in first six months of 2023 ranks among highest in the world.

Markets: Western Europe emerged as a significant contributor to tourism arrivals, making up 20% of the total international visitation.
Gulf countries and Middle East and Africa regions delivered a combined 28% of the regional share.
South Asia held a 17% share of the total visitation.
Russia, CIS, and Eastern Europe combined contributed 14%.
North Asia and South East Asia contributed 8%.
Americas 7%, Africa 4% and Australasia 2%.

Saudi Arabia Adds 8 Countries to E-Visa List

Saudi Arabia will grant visitor e-visas to travelers from eight newly-eligible countries for leisure, business and religious (Umrah only) travel. The countries are:

  • Albania
  • Azerbaijan
  • Georgia
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Maldives
  • South Africa
  • Tajikistan
  • Uzbekistan

How to Apply? The visa can be applied via the official e-visa portal at

Validity: The visitor e-visa is valid for an entire year, grants multiple entries and permits a stay of up to 90 days.

The Launch: Since launching the e-visa program in 2019, Saudi welcomed 93.5 million visits in 2022, a 93% increase compared to 2021, resulting in a tourism spend of SAR185 billion ($49 billion).

In 2022, Saudi extended regulations to provide a visitor e-visa to holders of valid Schengen, UK and U.S. visas that have been used to enter those countries before arriving in Saudi Arabia, and to permanent residents of EU and GCC countries, and the UK and U.S.

More Visa Relaxation: Earlier this year, Saudi announced the launch of the free 96-hour Stopover Visa, allowing passengers to stay in the country for up to 96 hours. Stopover Visa holders will be eligible for a complimentary one-night hotel stay during the stopover when booking through Saudi national carrier Saudia.

Source: Saudi Tourism

Fairmont’s Eddy Tannous Moves to Rotana

Hotel management company Rotana has announced the appointment of Eddy Tannous as the new chief operating officer.

Role: According to a release, Eddy, in his new role, will assist Guy Hutchinson, President, and CEO of Rotana, in driving its growth and expansion. His responsibilities will include the successful opening of properties across the Middle East and Africa region.

Experience: With over 20 years of experience in hospitality across the Middle East, Tannous most recently, served as senior vice president, operations overseeing the operational performance across Fairmont’s Middle East and Asian properties.

Rotana Profile: Rotana currently operates 72 hotels in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and Turkey, serving more than six million guests per year, including an impressive 10,159 keys across 36 hotels in the UAE alone.

Eddy Tannous. Source: Rotana

Residential Prices, Rents Dip Across Qatar as World Cup Boost Dissipates

Skift’s Takeaways from real estate consultant Knight Frank’s Qatar Real Estate Market Review:

  • The housing market in Qatar faces challenges as a fall in demand for residential properties is coupled with a rise in supply following the construction boom linked to the FIFA World Cup 2022.
  • Total number of residential sales transactions has fallen by 36% over the last 12 months.
  • Total value of residential transactions has declined by 24%.
  • Significant increase of 206% in visitor numbers reaching 1.77 million during the first five months of 2023, compared to the same period last year.
  • Despite increased visitor arrivals, average occupancy fell from 58% to 53% over the year’s first six months, highlighting that supply is ahead of demand.

IHG to Debut in Sharjah With Voco Hotel

IHG Hotels & Resorts has teamed up with Sharjah Asset Management, the investment arm of the Sharjah government, to bring a Voco hotel to the emirate.

Opening: As the first IHG hotel in the Emirate, the Voco hotel is scheduled to open in 2027.

Rooms: With 191 rooms, Voco will also feature around 5,000 square feet of versatile meeting spaces. Located near the Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club on the Al Dhaid-Masafi Road, the hotel will be part of a masterplan encompassing retail spaces and offices.

Growth Plans: The new Voco Sharjah will complement several recent Voco brand signings across the region, including Riyadh, Cairo, and Beirut.

Passenger Traffic at Abu Dhabi International Airport Goes Up 67%

More than 10 million passengers passed through Abu Dhabi international Airport in the first six months of 2023.

Jump in Traffic: A 67% jump in passenger traffic from the same period last year.

Number of Flights: 67,835 flights, compared to 49,919 flights during 2022.

Network: 114 destinations served by 27 airlines.

Highest passenger traffic: Mumbai (461,081), London (374,017), Delhi (331,722), Kochi (316,460) and Doha (261,117).

Hilton to Quadruple Its Presence in Saudi Arabia

Hilton has announced plans to open over 50 new hotels across 10 of its brands in Saudi Arabia, making the country the company’s largest pipeline market in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

Portfolio: Hilton plans to increase its portfolio to more than 75 trading properties across the country. The company currently operates 16 hotels in Saudi Arabia, including Waldorf Astoria Jeddah — Qasr Al Sharq, Conrad Makkah, and Hilton Riyadh Hotel & Residences.

The latest signings:

  • Conrad Riyadh Laysen Valley. Opening: 2025
  • Hilton The Point Residences. Opening: 2026
  • Canopy by Hilton The Point. Opening: 2026
  • Canopy by Hilton Porta Jeddah. Opening: 2028
  • Waldorf Astoria Diriyah. Opening: 2028
  • LXR Hotels & Resorts Diriyah. Opening: 2026
  • Canopy by Hilton Al Khobar Ajdan Waterfront. Opening: 2026
  • DoubleTree by Hilton Jeddah Al Andalus Mall. Opening: 2024
  • Hampton by Hilton NEOM Community. Opening: End of 2023
  • Hampton by Hilton Hafr al-Batin. Opening: 2026.

Flynas Offers Flexible Payment Solutions for Passengers

Saudi low-cost carrier Flynas has tied up with shopping and financial services app Tabby to provide flexible payment solutions to travelers.

The facility allows customers of Flynas to pay for their trips in four interest-free installments.

“This timely partnership will bring air travel closer to so many people who are looking to go on new adventures and reconnect with their loved ones across the world,” said Hosam Arab, CEO and co-founder of Tabby.

Flynas said the agreement underscores its dedication to delivering innovative services and strengthening its position in driving digital transformation within the aviation sector.

Trivia Time: Flynas connects more than 70 domestic and international destinations through its fleet of 51 aircraft with more than 1,500 weekly flights and has flown more than 60 million passengers since its launch in 2007.

What To Expect When Phase 1 of Red Sea Global Opens Later This Year

Here’s what we found out on reading Red Sea Global’s update on construction progress across phase one of the destination:

  • The Red Sea International Airport is progressing as planned and is on track to start receiving its first domestic flights later this year.
  • Desert Rock, a mountain resort being built into the rockface, is more than 50% complete overall.
  • Work is ongoing on all 11 resorts and infrastructure across Shura Island.
  • On Sheybarah Island, Red Sea Global has now installed all 38 stainless steel overwater villas.
  • The start-up distribution center and start-up transportation hub are being completed to provide operational logistic facilities ahead of the opening of the first hotels.
  • Six Senses Southern Dunes, The Red Sea, will be the first hotel to open at The Red Sea in the coming months.

Upon full completion in 2030: The destination will comprise 50 resorts, offering up to 8,000 hotel rooms and more than 1,000 residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites.

Etihad Off to Boston

Etihad Airways has announced it will now be connecting to Boston through four weekly flights from March 31, 2024.

Frequency: Etihad will operate flights to Boston four times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.

Aircraft: Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, featuring the Business Studios and Economy Smart seats.

U.S. Expansion: This will be Etihad’s fourth U.S. gateway, complementing services to Chicago, New York, and Washington, along with flights to Toronto in Canada. Etihad also offers connections to cities throughout North America through its partnership with JetBlue.

A Chart We Loved Reading

On Tuesday, the Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) released its Annual Report 2022. Here’s what we found out:

Source: Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi.

The Daily Newsletter

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Tags: abu dhabi, boston, dubai, etihad, fairmont hotels, fintech, hilton, ihg, middle east newsletter, qatar, red sea, rotana, saudi arabia, saudia airlines, visas, voco, world cup

Photo credit: Museum of the Future in Dubai. Editz central Editors / Pexels

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