Skift Travel News Blog

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

Tourism

International Tourism Hit 84% of Pre-Pandemic Level

2 days ago

International tourism reached 84% of its pre-pandemic level between January and July 2023, according to the UN World Tourism Organization. Around 700 million tourists traveled internationally.

The Middle East had the strongest international tourism demand among all regions, having exceeded 20% above its pre-pandemic level between January and July. 

Other regions have not exceeded their pre-pandemic level. Europe hit 91% thanks to strong intra-regional demand and travel from the U.S., according to UN WTO. Africa reached 92% and the Americas reached 87%.

Asia-Pacific was far behind other regions in its recovery, having reached 61%. Many destinations and source markets in the region like China weren’t open for travel until the end of 2022 or earlier this year. 

UNWTO expects pent-up demand and increased air connectivity in Asia-Pacific will bring international tourism to 80% to 95% of its pre-pandemic level by the end of 2023.

The challenging economic environment could slow the recovery. UNWTO pointed to persisting inflation and rising oil prices leading to higher transport and accommodation costs for tourists.

Hotels

Four Seasons Names New EMEA President, Succeeding Simon Casson

1 week 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.

Tourism

Middle East Exceeded Its Pre-Pandemic Tourism Level in Early 2023: UNWTO

4 months ago

The Middle East welcomed 15 percent more international tourists in the first three months of 2023 than it did for the same period in 2019, according to the UN World Tourism Organization’s latest data. 

Over 230 million people traveled internationally in the first quarter of 2023, more than double for the same period of 2022 and which is 80 percent of its pre-pandemic level, according to the UN World Tourism Organization.

Europe reached 90 percent of its pre-pandemic level in the quarter. That region’s recovery was driven by strong intra-region demand.  Africa was at 88 percent and the Americas were at about 85 percent. Asia Pacific was at 54 percent, but the UNWTO expects this will accelerate thanks to China’s reopening.

While the global tourism industry heads toward recovery, there are risks ahead. UNWTO experts pointed to the uncertainty around the global economy, high inflation, rising oil prices and the Russia-Ukraine war as factors that could impact the recovery.

UNWTO also revised its 2022 data and found that over 960 million tourists traveled last year, which was two-thirds of its prep-pandemic level.

In 2022, international visitor spending reached 64 percent of its pre-pandemic level.

Airlines

Dubai Sets 2026 for Launch of Air Taxis

7 months ago

Dubai has yet again revealed its plans to connect the city through flying taxis and expects to launch aerial taxi operations by 2026.

In 2017, the city had test-flown a driverless vehicle called the Autonomous Air Taxi, that was touted to be the world’s first self-flying taxi service set to be introduced by Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA).

Announcing the plans for the aerial taxi on Sunday evening, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai, tweeted, “We approved today the design of the new air taxi stations in Dubai, which will start operating within three years.”

The prototype models of aerial taxi vertiports have been developed by the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority.

Vertiports encompass a range of facilities such as designated take-off and landing zones, a passenger waiting area, security protocols, and electric charging stations, said Mattar Al Tayer, director-general and chairman of the board of executive directors of Dubai Roads and Transport Authority.

“These stations seamlessly integrate with other modes of transportation,” Al Tayer said.

The aerial taxi vertiport will be located near Dubai International Airport, which when complete will make Dubai the first city in the world with a fully developed network of vertiports.

The terminal for aerial taxis will be connected to the Emirates Metro Station via an air-conditioned bridge, according to a release.

“The next step involves identifying exceptional investors who are experts in building the necessary infrastructure for the air mobility industry,” Al Tayer added.

With top speeds of 186 miles per hour and a maximum range of 150 miles, the aircraft will seat a pilot and four passengers.

The promotional video released by the Dubai government features an aircraft from air taxi startup Joby Aviation.

The initial network of vertiports will connect four main areas of Dubai — Downtown Dubai (Burj Khalifa area), Dubai Marina, Dubai International Airport and Palm Jumeirah.

While working on a comprehensive framework for the operation of such vehicles, Dubai Roads and Transport Authority will also outline the flight paths for the vehicles, identify take-off and landing sites, and specify necessary equipment for safe and efficient operations.

“The launch of the service hinges upon the preparedness of the companies and the legislative requirements for operating aerial taxis. This also involves a thorough examination of all operational details and ensuring that all safety and security measures are in place,” Al Tayer explained.

Business Travel

Amex GBT Partners With Dnata to Meet Middle East’s Growing Corporate Travel Demand

10 months ago

American Express Global Business Travel has partnered with Emirates Group-owned dnata to offer its global clients more local expertise in the Middle East region.

The agency has signed a “preferred travel partner agreement” with Dubai-based dnata Travel Management. It will provide full end-to-end travel and meetings management services to Amex GBT’s customers, the company said.

Dnata Travel Management is part of the dnata Travel Group, which is the travel division of dnata, a global air and travel services provider. Amex GBT, and other travel agencies, often establish these types of partnerships with “local travel partners” in countries where they do not have a proprietary operation.

The pair also have some history, as dnata acquired a 23 percent stake in corporate travel agency Hogg Robinson Group in 2008, which was bought by Amex GBT a decade later. Alongside investment firm Boron it was a significant minority shareholder at the time.

The tie-up comes as the Middle East embarks on a number of large scale projects, including Saudi Arabia’s Neom project. The country is eying a 100 million-visitor target per year by 2030. “Saudi has huge ambitions,” the tourism authority’s chief technology officer Choon Yang Quek said during Skift Global Forum earlier this year.

“We look forward to working with Amex GBT and its clients as the region sees strong growth in corporate travel, fuelled by mega-projects and companies that are seeking to expand,” said Rashid Al Awadhi, senior vice president – dnata Travel Group, Middle East and India.

Adnan Kazim, chief commercial officer at Emirates Airline, will be speaking at Skift Global Forum East in Dubai, which takes place December 13-15.

Short-Term Rentals

Oman Tourism Opens the Way for Approved Short-Term Rentals

10 months ago

UnderTheDoormat Group CEO Merilee Karr said her company’s new technology and distribution agreement with Visit Oman can be a novel approach to short-term regulation — one where technology can spur governments to embrace the sector rather than shun it.

UnderTheDoormat CEO Merilee Karr and Shabib Al Maamari, managing director, Visit Oman, signed a a short-term rental distribution partnership last month at the Omani Ministry of Heritage and Tourism in Muscat, Oman. Source: Oman Ministry of Heritage and Tourism

Through an agreement signed last month in Muscat, Oman, government-approved property listings delivered through the UK’s UnderTheDoormat Group’s Hospira property management and distribution platform were live in November in time for the World Cup in Qatar.

Oman already offered had short-term rentals through hotel licenses and from a variety of players on big global platforms such as Airbnb and Booking.com.

But Karr said the tech partnership breaks new ground, officially opens the market, and provides Oman with the transparency it sought about an otherwise-fragmented sector.

Property developers, hospitality companies, small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), and eventually individually owned short-term rentals that are licensed can connect their properties through Hospira to access the market, and the major global platforms, she said.

The Visit Oman-UnderTheDoormat Group pact is exclusive, Karr said.

Like others in the Middle East, Oman is trying to develop a more diversified tourism economy.

“Through the Visit Oman gateway, the Hospiria platform will provide an efficient launching point for Omani companies, SMEs, and property owners to place their apartments, villas and homes onto the short-term rental market globally,” said Sahib Al Mamari, managing director of Visit Oman, as part of the announcement. “This latest Visit Oman initiative with UnderTheDoormat falls in line with the broader, existing Oman Tourism Vision 2040 strategy, and serves to shift the Sultanate of Oman towards a more diversified and developed tourism economy, and one that leverages digital innovation and technology to maximize value for the Omani tourism market, as well as the tourism-related SME economy in Oman.”

Travel Technology

Dubai-Based Silkhaus Raises $7.7 Million Seed Funding to Digitize Short-Term Rentals

10 months ago

Silkhaus, a United Arab Emirates-based platform for short-term rentals, announced on Tuesday that it has raised $7.75 million in a seed funding round.

Following this investment, Silkhaus has said it will accelerate its expansion across Middle East and North Africa region, as well as in South Asia and Southeast Asia. The company had earlier identified a $13 billion target market in these regions.

Having raised its seed round, the company said in statement that it would will focus on growing global supply on its platform. Silkhaus anticipates its market opportunity to grow to $18 billion by 2026, across Middle East and North Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia. 

Investors joining this round included Dubai-based Nuwa Capital, London-based Nordstar Partners, Berlin’s Global Founders Capital, Singapore-based Yuj Ventures, India’s Whiteboard Capital, and VentureSouq from Dubai.

Highlighting the global rise of short-term rentals, Aahan Bhojani, CEO and founder of Silkhaus, noted that the management of such properties is highly fragmented and largely offline as property owners lack the technology and know-how to deliver a world-class and standardised experience.

“We are building the operating system for property owners — large or small — to operate high quality short-term rentals,” Bhojani said.

Skift had earlier in an article highlighted how the tourism boom in the United Arab Emirates has allowed short-term rentals to thrive.

The Dubai-based company calls itself a platform that builds cutting-edge technology to provide asset owners with tools to monetise and manage their properties as short-term rentals.

Coming out of stealth mode, Silkhaus, founded in 2021, claims to have grown over 10 times through the past 12 months.

The company has said that it will grow the supply of properties on its platform, with a focus on hiring extensively for technology and strategic roles.

Tourism

UAE Developer Nakheel Secures $4.6 Billion Financing to Develop Dubai Islands 

11 months ago

Dubai-based property developer Nakheel announced it has secured $4.6 billion in strategic financing deal to drive what it calls, “the new phase of growth.”

The amount includes refinancing of $3 billion, and additional funds of $1.6 billion.

The developer of Palm Jumeirah said that the finance would be utilised to accelerate the development of its new projects including Dubai Islands and other large waterfront projects.

Looking to redefine the concept of waterfront living, Nakheel announced its plan to develop another man-made island — Dubai Islands — situated along the emirate’s northern coastline, comprising five islands over a total area of 17 square kilometres.

The property developer said Dubai Islands would be home to over 80 resorts and hotels, including luxury and wellness resorts, boutique, family and eco-conscious hotels.

This year, Nakheel announced that it would also relaunch and rebrand Palm Jebel Ali, a project that has been left dormant since 2009.

Recently, one of the mansions at the Palm Jumeirah sold for $82 million, pegging it to be the most expensive house sale ever in Dubai.

The $4.6 billion financing reflects the confidence of the banking institutions in the strategic new focus of the company, a Nakheel spokesperson said.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Nakheel said that it has invested in building a strong assets portfolio and pipeline of new developments in the last two years.

The company attributed the robust growth of the Dubai real estate sector to regulatory reforms, such as the issuance of long-term visas, and an economy buoyed by the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors.

Tourism

Qatar Will Allow Ticketless Fans to Enter the Country From December 2

11 months ago

Qatar will allow visitors without football World Cup tickets to enter the country from December 2 after the group stage matches end.

However, even as a match ticket will no longer be mandatory for inbound arrivals to Qatar, visitors will still need to furnish a Hayya Card before traveling, organizers said.

The Hayya Card is an ID that serves as an entry permit to Qatar and also provides stadium access along with the match tickets.

Earlier, Qatar had made Hayya Card mandatory for those wanting to enter Qatar from November 1. 

As it gets set to host the most geographically-compact football World Cup from November 20, Qatar has been easing entry restrictions into the country.

Last month, Qatar announced that it would drop the requirement of a pre-arrival negative polymerase chain reaction test from November 1.

Expecting congested roads during the World Cup, officials had earlier warned that managing four soccer games a day in Doha will be a challenge.

Tourism

Qatar Drops Pre-Arrival Covid Test Requirement Right in Time for World Cup

11 months ago

Qatar will be dropping its requirement of a pre-arrival negative polymerase chain reaction test from November 1, just in time for the FIFA World Cup that kicks off from November 20.

Qatari citizens and residents coming into the country will also not be required to undergo a rapid antigen or polymerase chain reaction test within 24 hours of arrival.

Visitors entering Qatar from November 1 onwards would also not be required to pre-register on the Ehteraz health application. Registration on the Ehteraz app would only be needed to enter healthcare facilities.

The Ministry of Public Health made the announcement on Wednesday, in light of the continuing decline in the number of Covid-19 cases throughout the world and in Qatar. 

Last month, the government had said in a statement that Covid vaccination would not be mandatory football fans coming in to the country for the World Cup.

From this month onwards, masks are also not mandatory while travelling on public transport in Qatar and it was announced that masks would be optional at the eight World Cup stadiums.

However, all visitors would need a Hayya Card to enter Qatar from November 1. The Hayya Card is a mandatory document given to anyone attending the World Cup that serves as an entry permit to the Qatar and also provides stadium access along with the match tickets.

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