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Dubai's tourism bull run continues. Rates are at some of their highest levels, the city has more than 800 hotels, and close to 10 million travelers have flown in to bear witness. Neighbor Qatar, sitting on its supply of lush World Cup hotels, is probably feeling jealous.

Series: Middle East Travel Roundup

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Dubai continues to pull ahead of its pre-pandemic tourism numbers. The emirate drew in 9.8 million international travelers up to July this year, according to the latest data from Dubai Tourism. For the same period in 2019, Dubai had 9.6 million international visitors, and in 2022, welcomed 8.1 million up to that point.

The data displays all the typical flocks coming into the city – India up to July 2023 accounted for 1.4 million travelers, the city’s perennial largest tourism driver. Russia also remained comfortable in the second spot, with 673,000 travelers coming from the country since July.

Travel from Russia has boomed in Dubai, increasing 93% from a year earlier, with many Russians – the wealthy ones at least – settling in Dubai amid conflict in their own country.

Average daily rates in the city’s 800-plus hotels were 508 dirhams (approximately $138), 20% higher than July 2019’s 422 dirhams (approx. $114).

While a million travelers ahead of where it was at the same time last year, the city is still behind its previous aspirations set before the pandemic. Before Covid-19 struck, the emirate had set out to reach 20 million travelers by 2020, and it managed to hit 16.73 million for 2019.

After the pandemic, Dubai authorities focused on surpassing its 2019 figures. With 9.7 million travelers in the seventh month of this year, the city is averaging 1.4 million travelers a month, whereas it would need a 1.7 million per month average to hit 20 million annually.

Qatar’s Flood of FIFA Hotels See Dry Spell

Qatar travel is a mixed bag. After the highs of last year’s FIFA World Cup (in terms of travelers coming in), the small Arab state has struggled to fill the many rooms it scrambled to open in time for the 2022 sporting event.

The latest data from Qatar Tourism shows 38,842 hotel keys in the country last month, an additional 8,000 compared to August 2022. While this has given the country a 26% increase in room nights for the month, both average daily rates and revenue per available room (RevPAR) dipped 7% as hoteliers have to lower their prices to fill rooms.

In fact, with an average daily rate (ADR) of 367 Qatar riyals ($100) last month, it is the lowest average daily rate in the country since before 2019.  

Bahrain Bounces Back This Summer

Elsewhere in the GCC, Bahrain had a hotter summer. The Kingdom’s data is a bit behind Dubai and Qatar’s, only now releasing its half-year performance for tourism.

In those six months, Bahrain saw visits jump 51% YoY from 3.9 million to 5.9 million. Total inbound tourism revenues increased by 48% to 924 million Bahraini dirhams ($2.45 billion).

The number of one-day visitors jumped by 43%, from 2.3 million visitors seen in the first half of 2022, to reach 3.3 million visitors this year. The number of overnight visitors increased by 63%, from approximately 1.6 million visitors in the first half of 2022, to reach about 2.6 million visitors during the same period in 2023.

Abu Dhabi Continues to Look for Ways to Stimulate Hotel Sector

In a bid to boost its tourism economy, UAE capital Abu Dhabi has announced it will refund hotels that previously paid fees during exemption periods. A circular from the government’s tourism department said it will return tourism and municipality fees paid during the second half of 2021, when the city had a freeze on certain business taxes to help the sector through Covid-19.

It is the latest in a string of such relaxations made by the capital. As of this month, the tourism fee issued to customers has been lowered from 6% to 4%. The municipality fee of AED15 per night has been removed. The 4% municipality fee and 6% tourism fee on hotel restaurants has been removed as well.

Abu Dhabi’s Bold Airport Terminal Begins Massive Training Drive

In a much larger display of its healthy travel sector, Abu Dhabi’s soon-to-open Midfield Terminal has commenced final testing ahead of its November opening. More than 6,000 people are ‘stress-testing’ the terminal’s check-in systems; baggage handling systems; boarding gates; and immigration checkpoints.

Covering 742,000 square meters of built-up area, Terminal A, as it is also known, is among the largest airport terminals in the world and will significantly increase Abu Dhabi International Airport’s passenger and cargo capacity. Once operational, the new terminal will see up to 45 million passengers per year, be able to process 11,000 travelers per hour and operate 79 aircraft at any given time.

Dubai Sees South Africa as an Untapped Tourism Market

National carrier Emirates is conducting training of its own. A pact between the airline, the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism, and the Association of South African Travel Agents has brought in new training courses. These courses are being rolled out by Dubai’s own College of Tourism to better verse Emirates staff in the travel landscape between the emirate and South Africa. It is all part of a mission to better “sell Dubai.”

Otto de Vries, CEO, Association of Southern African Travel Agents explained: “The Association of South African Travel Agents believes that offering free online training courses to existing travel professionals will empower them with essential skills and underscores the commitment to quality education and development within the sector when it comes to selling Dubai. This initiative exemplifies how collaboration can drive progress and equip professionals with the tools to excel in a dynamic industry.”

Red Sea International Aiport Chooses its First Carrier

Saudi Arabia’s upcoming airline is keeping things circular – The Red Sea International Airport (RSI) has chosen Saudia as the first airline to operate. RSI is on track to open this year along with the first three resorts at The Red Sea destination. Initially, it will open for domestic flights to and from Riyadh and later Jeddah, before expanding to handle international flights from 2024.

Red Sea Global on a Mission to Show it Leads the Way in Sustainability

In the same week, Red Sea Global shared a sustainability milestone for one of its developed hotels. Its Turtle Bay Hotel – which is primarily used as lodging for staff and consultants – has been given ‘Diamond’ certification by Mostadam for its use of green building practices, including energy efficiency, renewable energy uptake and water use efficiency.

Red Sea Global has constructed five solar farms to enable the first phase of The Red Sea to be off grid powered solely by sunlight, with more than 760,000 solar panels, in place.

Marriott Triples Down on Ritz-Carlton in Saudi Arabia

Marriott continues to use Saudi Arabia as its sandbox for luxury. The company has signed to operate a new-built Ritz-Carlton in the country, opening in 2027. Set for the Al Khobar shore, Marriott execs say the new property will add a level of luxury as yet unseen in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom.

Since the announcement of the Saudi Vision 2030 to diversify the petro-kingdom’s economy, Marriott has been one of the first to home in on the market. The new Al Khobar hotel is the group’s third Ritz-Carlton property, joining locations in Riyadh and Jeddah. There is also a top-of-the-tree Ritz-Carlton Reserve opening within the Red Sea project later this year, expected to be the operator’s most costly hotel in the country.

Fresh Wave of Tourism Talent Graduates in Egypt

A fresh batch of students in Egypt graduated from Marriott’s Tahseen program this week. In collaboration with the Helwan University Cairo, 63 Egyptians completed their four years of study with a hotel operations management degree with the support of Marriott.

The four-year program was launched in 2018. It includes one year of university, followed by three years that include 16 weeks of classroom learning and 32 weeks of on-the-job training across Marriott International properties in the country. Marriott typically offers the graduates full-time roles in Egypt, across the majority of guest-facing and back-of-house departments.


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Tags: airlines, Dubai Tourism, hotels, middle east newsletter, qatar tourism, tourism, Travel Trends

Photo credit: Dubai Tourism

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