Skift Travel News Blog

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

Hotels

Vakkaru Maldives Launching Sister Resort in UAE

7 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.

Ground Transport

IDEAS: dnata Aims to Cut CO2 Emissions by 80 Tonnes with Switch to Biofuel in United Arab Emirates

10 months ago

Dnata has announced a new initiative designed to reduce its environmental footprint across its operations in the United Arab Emirates. 

Credit: dnata

The global air and travel services provider has announced that a number of the group’s brands have switched their vehicles to run on a biofuel blend, which should save around 80 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions per year – the equivalent of over 320,000 kilometers driven by a petrol-powered car.

This includes 31 trucks at the dnata Logistics hub in Dubai, 21 buses as part of a joint venture with City Sightseeing Dubai, the introduction of biofuel generators at Arabian Adventures, and a joint venture with Alpha Flight Services (Alpha) which has seen five landside vehicles converted to run on a biofuel blend.

The latest announcement forms part of dnata’s two-year green operations strategy, with US$100 million already committed to investing in green operations to enhance its environmental efficiency globally.

“We constantly explore and implement emission reduction methods across our fleet and infrastructure to reduce our carbon footprint. The introduction of biofuel to a diverse range of our UAE businesses is an important step in our ongoing journey. It offers a simple and effective method of cutting emissions throughout the fuel lifecycle, without requiring any changes to equipment,” said Steve Allen, CEO of dnata Group.

“We will continue to invest in our operations, including large-scale infrastructure solutions, to further enhance our sustainability performance and achieve our green operations targets,” Allen continued.


Skift Ideas uncovers the most creative and forward-thinking innovations happening across travel. We celebrate innovation through our Skift IDEA Awards and hear from leaders on our Ideas podcast.

You can listen and subscribe to the Skift Ideas Podcast through your favorite podcast app here.

Tourism

Dubai Scraps 30 Percent Tax on Alcohol to Woo More Tourists

1 year ago

In a further liberalization of regulations to attract more tourists, Dubai has scrapped the 30 percent municipality tax on alcohol.

Also, tourists and expats will no longer need to pay a fee to secure a personal liquor license to purchase alcoholic beverages. However, an Emirates ID, or passport for tourists, will still be required.

However, all alcohol sales will continue to attract a 5 percent value-added tax. Also, the United Arab Emirates will be introducing a 9 percent federal corporate tax from June.

The scrapping of the alcohol tax is said to be in place for a trial period of one year, until December 31, 2023, according to local media.

Dubai is looking to position itself as a leading tourism destination in the Middle East in the face of increasing competition from destinations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar that are also looking at tourism as key to diversifying the economy.

Last month, United Arab Emirates launched a national tourism strategy that intends to attract 40 million hotel guests by 2031.

The change that came into effect from Sunday, was confirmed by Maritime and Mercantile International, one of the biggest alcohol retailers in the United Arab Emirates and a subsidiary of the state-owned Emirates Group.

Calling the emirate’s approach dynamic, sensitive, and inclusive, Maritime and Mercantile International, stated, “These recently updated regulations are instrumental to continue ensuring the safe and responsible purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages in Dubai as well as boost the dynamic hospitality industry.”

The alcohol retailer also confirmed that prices in its 21 stores across Dubai have decreased by 30 percent.

The legal age for alcohol consumption in the United Arab Emirates is 21 years and above, and alcohol can only be consumed privately or in licenced public places.

Dubai has been progressively updating its restrictions on alcohol sale and consumption, allowing the sale of alcohol in daylight during the holy month of Ramadan and approving home delivery of alcoholic beverages during the Covid lockdown.

In September 2020, Abu Dhabi had announced that residents as well as tourists would be allowed to buy and possess alcohol from shops and consume it within hotels, clubs and other outlets without having to purchase a special licence.

Hotels

Kerzner to Debut Fitness Lifestyle Hotel Brand Siro, Starting in Dubai

2 years ago

Kerzner International has unveiled its new brand Siro, a set of fitness-themed lifestyle hotels. The developer said on Wednesday that it has slated to open its first property in a tower in One Za’abeel, a luxury community in Dubai, U.A.E., in the last months of 2023.

Kerzner, a developer and operator of hotels, casinos, and residential units, said that Siro One Za’abeel will have a fitness center across two floors that will include the latest gym equipment and studios for yoga and meditation. A so-called “recovery lab” will offer cryo, infrared, and oxygen therapies along with acupuncture and coaching in mindfulness.

CEO Philippe Zuber said his company consulted with top international athletes, including Olympic athletes Ramla Ali and Adam Peaty and footballers for the team A.C. Milan, in designing the brand’s details and amenities.

A rendering of where the first Siro hotel will be. Exterior of the planned tower at at One Za’abeel, a luxury community in Dubai, U.A.E. Source: Kerzner International.

Ithra Dubai is principal developer of the hotel and the whole One Za’abeel project.

Other lifestyle wellness brands and properties include IHG’s Even Hotels, Equinox Hotels in the U.S., and Swissotel The Stamford in Singapore.

A rendering of the fitness center at the first Siro hotel, which will be in a tower at One Za’abeel in Dubai, U.A.E. Source: Kerzner International.

Business Travel

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

2 years 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.

Travel Technology

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

2 years 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.

Hotels

Wynn Resorts Confirms It’s Opening First Casino in UAE

2 years ago

Integrated resort operator Wynn Resorts confirmed that it would be operating a casino at its resort in Ras Al Khaimah.

The casino at Wynn Marjan would be “somewhat larger than” the operator’s flagship U.S. gaming venue – Wynn Las Vegas, CEO Craig Billings said during the earnings call on Wednesday.

Announced earlier this year, the 1000-room Wynn Marjan set to open in 2026 in Ras Al Khaimah in United Arab Emirates will feature the first casino in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region.

The United Arab Emirates adheres to strict Islamic laws, where activities like gambling are not permitted. It was not immediately clear during that time that Wynn Marjan would feature a casino.

“When you think about a market like that where you for some period of time, will be the only operator, you certainly don’t want to underbuild the casino, but you want to maintain that sense of energy,” Billings added.

Currently focused on the United Arab Emirates project and on getting that right, Billing said the projects presents a tremendous, very high return opportunity for Wynn. “That’s really the focus of our design and development efforts at the moment.”

Calling the region a “tremendous non-gaming leisure and luxury market,” Billings said Wynn Resorts strongly believes in the non-gaming elements of the market.

Wynn is in the late stages of programming for the resort and Billings said that the operator would share renderings, programming and plans more publicly in early 2023.

“Given that it’s a man-made island without any existing development, it’s an incredibly flexible location on which to plan,” he said.

In an interview with Skift earlier this year, Raki Phillips, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority had acknowledged that the Wynn Resorts announcement is big for the emirate.

He said it would not just fuel the growth of tourism and hospitality sectors, but would also help to create employment opportunities.

Tourism

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

2 years 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

World Cup Boosts Flight Bookings to Qatar and Gulf Nations

2 years ago

Despite the requirement to present a negative Covid-19 test to enter Qatar, flight bookings to the country for travel during FIFA World Cup — between November 14 and December 24 — have witnessed a massive boom, according to ForwardKeys’ data based on issued flight tickets, including day trips.

The flight bookings to Qatar from countries, including United Arab Emirates (UAE), Spain, Japan France and the U.S., are currently ten times the volume of pre-pandemic levels, according to data analytics firm ForwardKeys. 

The strongest-performing market during the World Cup period is United Arab Emirates, where bookings are currently ahead 103 times compared to 2016. The benchmark period for United Arab Emirates is 2016 as the Qatar diplomatic crisis stopped direct flights between Qatar and the UAE between 2017 and 2021.

Bookings from Mexico have gone up 79 times compared to 2019, while bookings from Argentina are up 77 times. The bookings from Spain and Japan have gone up 53 times and 46 times respectively.

The shortage of accommodation in Qatar and the availability of shuttle flights from cities in the United Arab Emirates will allow many people to stay in the UAE and fly over for on match days. The flight time between Dubai and Doha is a little over 60 minutes.

The UAE’s hospitality market is set to expand by 25 percent by 2030, with a further 48,000 rooms adding to the nation’s extensive 200,000 key portfolio, global consultancy firm Knight Frank noted in Sepetember.

Dubai is set to account for the lion’s share of this total, with 76 percent of all new rooms coming to the emirate, which already has over 130,000 rooms, Knight Frank fother observed.

Currently, day trips account for 4 percent of all arrivals in Qatar during the World Cup, 85 percent of which originate in the UAE.

The World Cup is set to benefit the whole Gulf region, as flight bookings to countries in the region during the competition are currently 16 percent ahead compared to 2019, and, for the initial stages of the tournament 61 percent ahead.

Many World Cup visitors would also be travelling to other destinations in the region as the number of visitors staying at least two nights in Qatar and going on to stay at least two more nights in another Gulf country is sixteen times greater than it was before the pandemic.

Set to capture 65 percent onward visits, Dubai is the biggest beneficiary of this trend by far, followed by Abu Dhabi with 14 percent and Jeddah would be capturing 8 percent of these visits.

U.S. travelers make up 26 percent of the “regional tourists,” followed by travelers from Canada at 10 percent and British tourists at 9 percent. Around 32 percent of travelers coming in to Dubai would be from the U.S.

The FIFA World Cup is one of the most attractive drivers of travel there is, so much so, that other destinations in the Gulf will benefit, not just the host nation, Qatar.

In tourism promotion terms, the World Cup will throw a media spotlight on Qatar and help it become a more established destination, and not just a major hub for intercontinental air traffic.

“Normally, just 3 percent of travel to Doha is destined to stay in the country; and 97 percent comprises onward connections. However, during the World Cup almost 27 percent has Qatar as the ultimate destination,” said Olivier Ponti, VP Insights of ForwardKeys.

Ponti said that the UAE would also benefit substantially from the tournament because it has much more hotel accommodation than Qatar, and two global hub airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Airlines

One-Way Flight Bookings From Russia Up 27 Percent

2 years ago

Booking of one-way airline tickets from Russia soared 27 percent during the week of September 21 when President Vladimir Putin announced partial mobilisation of its citizens, travel analytics firm ForwardKeys noted on Tuesday.

Amid growing concerns about travel restrictions, tens of thousands of military-age men have reportedly been fleeing the country after Putin ordered Russia’s first mobilisation since World War II. As part of the mobilisation, 300,000 Russians would be called up to serve.

The share of one-way tickets jumped from 47 percent the week before to 73 percent during the week of September 21-27, according to data from ForwardKeys.

On a week-on-week basis, one-way tickets from Russia witnessed a triple-digit increase for the week ending September 27 to Georgia’s Tbilisi, Kazakhstan’s Almaty and Astana, Ajzerbaijan’s Baku, Serbia’s Belgrade, Kyrgyzstan’s Bishkek, Istanbul, Tel Aviv and Dubai.  

The top three destinations cities for which Russians booked one-way tickets were Tblisi, which witnessed a 654 percent increase over the week before September 21-26, Almaty witnessed a 435 percent increase and the tickets to Belgrade increased over 206 percent.

Russians are allowed to travel to some of their former-Soviet neighbours like Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan on internal passports and do not require a visa for entry.

Noting the shortening of the booking window from 34 to 22 days, ForwardKeys stated that 60 percent of tickets issued had the travel date within 15 days of purchase, while for tickets purchased the previous week, that share was 45 percent.

“These numbers are quite remarkable and correlate with reports at the time of a sudden increase in ticket sales,” said Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights for ForwardKeys.

One way-fares from Russia to Turkey had shot up to almost $1,150, compared with a little over $375 a week ago, according to Google Flights data.