Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.


Vakkaru Maldives Launching Sister Resort in UAE

3 months ago

The $1,500-a-night Vakkaru Maldives resort in the Baa Atoll will launch a sister resort in the UAE’s relatively quiet emirate of Fujairah. The project is called Naama Beach Villas and Spa, vying to become the most luxurious property in the emirate.

The opening date is currently unknown.

The all-villa product will deploy dedicated butlers and is currently calling for staff with experience with the likes of Four Seasons, Shangri-la and Aman Resorts. Naama is led by general manager Iain McCormack, who will now run both the Vakkaru Maldives and the new Fujairah retreat.

Naama Fujairah will be small, with 44 keys. Vakkaru Maldives has 113 villas and suites, five restaurants, two bars, a wine cellar and an over-the-water spa.

The Vakkaru is owned by Hamed El Chiaty, Travco Group International’s chairman and the head of the Egyptian El Chiaty family. He is the only Egyptian to wholly own a resort in the Maldives.

Travco Group also owns Nile Cruises and the Jaz Hotel Group, making it a major player in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) travel.

Fujairah Tourism

Fujairah is located on the east coast of the UAE, around a 90-minute drive from Dubai. Its tourism sector isn’t as large as the likes of Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Ras Al Khaimah, and is rarely mentioned by the local government. In 2018, Fujairah had 800,000 visitors, Dubai had 15.9 million that year.

Similar to Oman, which it borders, Fujairah has remained focused on its cultural tourism sector. The emirate had recorded nearly 113,000 visits to its top seven archaeological sites in 2022.

Al Bidya Mosque was the most visited archaeological site with some 88,740 visitors, followed by Fujairah Fort in second place, and then Fujairah Museum and Dibba Fort.

UAE-wide Travel

Unified tourism between the seven emirates and the wider Gulf region has been spoken about more and more by regional leaders over the years. In 2020, the ruler of Dubai announced the “UAE Strategy for Domestic Tourism”, which looks to boost tourism in all the sheikhdoms and promote each of their cultural nuances.

The UAE’s domestic tourism sector contributed 41.2 billion Dirhams ( approximately $11.2 billion) to the economy in 2019. It constituted 23 percent of the total tourism sector revenue, compared to 77 percent from international tourism. As part of this 2020 strategy, the country aims to double the domestic tourism revenue and achieve a greater balance between the two forms of tourism by 2030, without citing exact targets.

In October 2023, Gulf states approved the GCC unified visa, effectively agreeing to create a Schengen zone-like policy for the countries.


Emaar Revives Hotel Project in Ras Al Khaimah, Now Five Times Bigger

3 months ago

The Address resort is going ahead in Ras Al Khaimah. First announced in 2018, Dubai operators Emaar never gave the luxe property a firm opening date, until now. The property will open in 2028, one year after the Wynn resort on the same off-shore Al Marjan island of the emirate.

The project has a whole new master plan, now leaning heavily towards upmarket branded residences. When it was announced five years ago, it had 234 apartments planned. Plans now show more than 1,100 units spread across six standalone towers surrounding the resort. There will also be villas and townhouses.

Apartments start from $462,000, going into the millions for larger units.

Since the announcement of the Wynn at the beginning of 2022, the northern emirate has experienced a surge in high-end development agreements. The hub of these deals is predominantly the artificial Al Marjan Island, a four-island archipelago located off the coast, where the Wynn is also situated. Marriott has plans for four five-star properties, including Le Meridien, a JW, a Westin, and a W hotel. Additionally, smaller and more exclusive operators, such as Nobu, are establishing a presence on the island. In midscale, Rove, backed by Emaar, is set to open on Marjan Island, and a locally established brand named Earth, originally co-founded by the emirate’s current tourism chief, is preparing to open its own resorts.

Emaar did not immediately respond to Skift’s request for comment.


Siranna: Saudi Arabia’s Idea of a Boutique Hotel

3 months ago

Saudi Arabia’s ambitious mega-development Neom continues to announce small boutique hotels. With more than half a trillion dollars at its disposal, Neom could build the biggest hotels in the world, but, for now, is opting to unveil properties no more than 100 keys in size.

Siranna is the latest. A 65-room hotel with 35 residences attached as well. It will also have a beach club, a “sunset terrace,” and a string of high-end restaurants. It joins two other futuristic hotel projects within the surrounding Gulf of Aqaba region, including Epicon and Leyja. All three projects maintain a focus on integrating themselves with nature and disconnecting guests from the noise of modern life.

To this end, architects involved in Siranna say they have drawn inspiration from the architecture of the ancient world.

No opening date, operator or price tag was announced with Siranna, as is the norm with Neom. Thus far, we know that Leyja will be operated by barefoot luxury brand Habitas, which received a $400 million investment from the Saudi government earlier this year.

Neom’s Potential Boutique Hotel Collection

Earlier this month, Skift reported that Neom had trademarked a dozen terms under the “hotel services” category, suggesting a big push into hospitality by the Saudi giga-project. These trademarks included Epicon and Leyja, as well as Siranna, which is now confirmed this week.

You can see all the other trademarks here.

Leyja Hotels At Neom

Saudi’s Leyja project announced last month comprises three hotels with 40 keys each in the mountain area near the Gulf of Aqaba. Habitas has been confirmed as the operator, and its founder and CEO has promised he will create something people will flock to.

Leyja Saudi Arabia NEOM unveiled
A rendering of the three Leyja hotels. Supplied.

“Human connection is at the core of our brand and ethos,” said Habitas CEO Oliver Ripley, during a virtual press conference in the metaverse. “We want to send guests on a transformative journey and they are invited to attend a welcome ceremony. Really, the essence is about reconnecting with themselves, their loved ones and with new friends and people. It’s all about human connection.”

Epicon Hotels At Neom

The plan for Epicon, situated along the Gulf of Aqaba coastline, comprises a select few hotels and restaurants, including two towers – one standing at 225 meters and the other soaring to 275 meters. These towers will host an “ultra-premium” 41-key hotel and 14 suites and apartments constituting luxury residences. Near the hotel, the Epicon resort offers 120 rooms and 45 residential beach villas. Neom has not disclosed the opening date or development cost. In addition to the accommodations, Epicon will encompass beach clubs, lounges, restaurants, and boutique shops.

A rendering of Epicon.
A rendering of Epicon. Supplied.


Atlantis The Royal Names Its Managing Director

3 months ago

The Atlantis The Royal resort in Dubai has appointed a managing director. The property’s long-time SVP and general manager, Tom Roelens, takes on the role, who has led the mega-resort since its pre-opening phase.

Roelens joined Atlantis The Royal in January 2020, taking charge of 795 guestrooms and suites, 231 private residences and 17 restaurants. He also played a pivotal role in the resort’s grand opening party where Beyonce held a private concert.

Prior to joining Atlantis Dubai, Roelens spent more than 20 years with Four Seasons.

His move up to managing director comes at a time where Atlantis Dubai is shifting around its leadership team and moving more towards global operations. In October, Timothy Kelly was named president of Atlantis Global – a clear sign the group is planning more hotels beyond Dubai.

Kelly now oversees Atlantis Dubai, Sanya and the expansion of the Atlantis brand globally. This puts him in charge of both Atlantis The Palm and Royal, and the China hotel.

In May of this year, Kelly told Bloomberg he wants as many as four more Atlantis hotels around the world. “We’re hoping this year to earmark a couple of deals,” he said, adding that the company is looking at Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North America.


Tolga Lacin Leaving Marriott To Become Regional Ennismore COO

3 months ago

One of the most prominent general managers in Dubai, Tolga Lacin, is leaving his post. The Marriott leader is moving on for a role in Ennismore.

Lacin led some of Marriott’s flagship destinations in the emirate, including The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi, the long-standing Le Meridien Dubai by the airport, and the newest W Dubai. He has been Marriott’s area general manager in Dubai since 2020 and its complex GM before that since 2019.

He will now become COO for Ennismore’s lifestyle brands in UAE and Turkey. In the UAE, Ennismore has 25hours, SLS, Hyde and a new SO in Dubai, while in Abu Dhabi, it will open a Mondrian hotel. In Turkey, the operator is expected to open the Hyde Bodrum resort next year.

In total, he leads 14 hotels either in development or operational. Ennismore has eight pipelined hotels in the region, including a Delano in Dubai.

Lacin shared: “I’ve long admired what Ennismore has been doing in both the UAE and globally, and I’m delighted to be joining the team at such a pivotal moment in their growth. I look forward to working across such varied and iconic global brands such as SLS, 25hours, and SO/, and supporting our general managers and hotel teams to continue to deliver outstanding service and experience to our guests.”

Before becoming Marriott’s area GM, Lacin was a Starwood man. He has been with the original Westin and Le Meridien Mina Seyahi cluster in the city since 2009.

He will leave Marriott for his new role with Ennismore in early 2024.


Dubai’s First Dorchester Collection Hotel Pushed To 2024

4 months ago

Dubai’s first and only Dorchester Collection hotel, called The Lana, has been delayed again. Announced in 2021 and expected to open the following year, the super-luxury city hotel has announced numerous opening date revisions since then.

February 2024 is the newest opening date and could be the real deal as it is also accepting bookings from that month.

Before March 2022, Dorchester’s page for The Lana contained the statement: “(Opening 2022) The latest gem in our collection is soon to be unveiled as a landmark of luxury in the heart of Dubai.”

The website later underwent a modification, announcing that the hotel’s unveiling would take place “by the end of 2022.” Come August 2022, the website underwent another alteration, with the expected opening date shifted to spring 2023. It then shifted one more to September 2023, before executives said it would, instead, open before the end of 2023.

When the hotel does open, it will add 225 rooms to the city, along with seven restaurants. It will become the operator’s first hotel in Middle East and Asia, joining a collection of legendary properties and celebrity haunts such as Hotel Eden in Rome, The Beverly Hills Hotel in LA and The Dorchester in London.

The Lana Rates

Including taxes and fees, rooms start from $1,390 a night, comfortably making it one of the most expensive hotels in the city.

Rates can reach more than $13,000 for the royal suite that sleeps five people.

The hotel is owned and developed by a local firm called Omniyat, a real estate major that also owns the ME Dubai hotel operated by Melia. The company also has a portfolio of Dorchester Collection-branded luxury residences, including The Vela connected to the hotel itself and standalone projects on Palm Jumeirah.

Dorchester Collection declined to comment when asked by Skift.


Generator Completes $805 Million Refinancing Deal With 3 Lenders

4 months ago

Generator Group has completed a refinancing deal worth approximately $805 million (€750 million) with new and existing lenders across Europe and the US. Generator Group, which owns or runs 21 hotels, has seen strong results following the pandemic, giving its owner Queensgate the ability to refinance the group’s global debt.

Described as “one of the largest and most innovative real estate financings that the market has seen in years,” by Queensgate Investments CEO Jason Kow, different debt facilities have been used for different arms of the business.

For the Europe business, firm Ares Management backed private bond issuances and debt facilities in Pounds, Euros and Danish Krone of approximately $472 million (€440 million). While in the US, existing lenders Waterfall Asset Management and Värde Partner backed US debt facilities of around $330 million.

At the start of October, Generator gave a financial update, showing it is on track to produce revenues of about $238 million (€225 million) this year — 25% more than its revenues before the pandemic.

With the new refinancing scheme, Generator said that it is “now armed to continue its strategy of superlative organic growth.”

To find out more about Generator’s expansion strategy, watch the interview with its CEO from last year’s Skift Global Forum East (below) or read Skift’s piece Generator’s Takeover of Paramount Hotel in Times Square Is Part of Broader Hostel Reboot.


Red Sea Global Creates Own Luxury Hotel Group Called Shebara

4 months ago

Saudi Arabian development group Red Sea Global has created its own luxury hotel brand called Shebara. The Shebara brand will be deployed for the upcoming Sheybarah Island resort – seen as the most exclusive of the current 16-property lineup in the archipelago development.

Opening next summer, the resort contains 73 keys, including overwater and beach villas and guests arrive either by a 45-minute boat ride from the mainland or 20 minutes by seaplane. The resort has been designed by renowned firm Killa, behind the Museum of the Future in Dubai, and is most recognizable for its stainless steel orbs which act as private villas.

The Shebara Resort will be run by Red Sea Global, meaning the firm both owns and manages the asset. Last month, RSG also announced it would self-operate a private island project called Thuwal Island near the Red Sea Project.

It is the latest hotel brand to come out of Saudi Arabia. At the start of last year, Boutique Group was announced: A hotel brand designed to repurpose former palaces and government buildings into luxury hotels. Both Shebara and Boutique Group come under the ownership of the vast Public Investment Fund.

Much like how Jumeirah Group has become a showcase of Dubai’s approach to Arabian hospitality, Red Sea Global hopes Shebara will do the same for Saudi.

RSG CEO John Pagano said: “Shebara is a beacon for all that RSG stands for, showcasing the very best in Saudi hospitality while setting new standards in responsible development and sustainable operations.”


Four Seasons Names New EMEA President, Succeeding Simon Casson

6 months ago

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts has named a new regional president: Adrian Messerli is now president of hotel operations for the EMEA region. He succeeds Simon Casson, who held the role since 2016 and announced his departure from the group earlier in the year for a to-be-confirmed new opportunity.

Unlike Casson, who was regional VP and general manager for the group in Dubai and Doha on separate occasions, Messerli has more international experience.

A significant step up in his 18-year career with Four Seasons, Messerli was previously regional VP and general manager of Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences Madrid. Before that, he held the same position for the group in Shanghai. Prior to his executive-level positions, he spent time working in Seychelles, Egypt, Portugal, Uruguay, Bahamas and the U.S.

Messerli is relocating to Dubai for the role.

During Casson’s tenure, Four Seasons focused heavily on Middle East development. The group has two hotels in Dubai, one in Abu Dhabi, two in Qatar, one in Saudi Arabia, and plans for a property in Oman and many of Saudi Arabia’s giga-projects.

Four Seasons has long had a close relationship with the Middle East. Saudi billionaire Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal’s Kingdom Holding Company has a 23.75% stake in the company.

Four Seasons did not immediately respond to Skift’s request for comment.