And Still They Come

The Middle East, April 2012 | Go to article overview

And Still They Come


Despite the political upheavals in the Arab world and the financial crisis in the Eurozone, the Middle East and North African region is gaining ground to become one of the world's top tourist destinations. Business is booming in places like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Oman, while in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, the emphasis is on new policies which aim to promote investment and job creation, along with more moderately-priced facilities for both business travellers and tourists.

The region's airlines are rapidly expanding their routes in the US, Europe, Asia and Africa, while cruise operators, from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, report increased bookings. Global chains such as Marriott, Radisson, Golden Tulip and Accor, along with private entrepreneurs in the region, are planning multimillion-dollar new hotels, resorts and theme parks. Speciality tourism, featuring shopping holidays, sporting events, eco-tours, luxury beauty, health and spa treatments, home stays and culinary delights, is adding a level of sophistication to an industry that is already renowned for its year-round sunshine, historic and cultural sites and, most importantly, its traditional hospitality.

Within the region, Turkey's hotels recorded an impressive increase last year in revenues per available room (revPAR). These were up by an average of 24%. Stability, strong economic growth and value for money were the key factors supporting the rise, according to Paris-based consultants, MKG Hospitality.

In the Gulf, Abu Dhabi reported the highest growth in the region in 2011 in terms of hotel occupancy. This rose by just under 10% to 64.8%, according to the international benchmarking analysts, STR Global. Dubai came second, with a figure of 7%, to 75.4%, but scored first in terms of revPAR, which jumped 10.7%.

By the end of January, the improvement was more widespread. Occupancy rates in Beirut rose 32.0% to 53.4%, followed by Amman, where the figure was up by 30.8% to 64.7%. Jeddah came third, up by 26.9% to a remarkable 74%, partly because of a rise in religious tourism.

"The Middle East started the new year with good results across all key indicators with double-digit RevPAR and occupancy growth," reports Elizabeth Randall, managing director of STR Global. Its figures for the month, put into a global perspective, are even more impressive: the Middle East and Africa reported the highest average daily rate for hotel rooms--$182--compared to $153 for the Asia Pacific region, $126 for Europe and $104 for the Americas. Occupancy rates amounted to 56%, second only to Asia Pacific, with a figure of 60%.

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The locally owned luxury chain, Jumeirah, which competes with Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons, is setting new global standards with its revPAR rates. These reached $712 at its Madinat Jumeirah, Jumeirah Beach and Jumeirah Zabeel Saray beach-front hotels in Dubai during the holiday season in late December and early January. At its famed 7-star Burj Al Arab, the figure was a phenomenal $1,983, with an occupancy rate of almost 81%, thanks in part to demand from Asian visitors. The Group is now planning to extend its brand further outside the Arab world, adding new hotels in Bali, Majorca and Azerbaijan, as well as in Kuwait. It has already signed management contracts for premium hostelries in Frankfurt, the Maldives and Shanghai.

International chains are also recognising the Gulf's huge potential, given its role as an intercontinental transport hub as well as its rapidly rising incomes and capital surpluses. J.W. Marriott is building what will become the world's tallest hotel, the 1,608-room J.W. Marquis Dubai, which is aimed at business travellers and the luxury market. Hyatt is adding three new hotels--the Park Hyatt Riyadh, Grand Hyatt Jeddah and the Hyatt Regency Jeddah--to its portfolio of six hotels in Saudi Arabia alone. …

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