Premier Travel: Hospitality in the Gulf Has Seen Steady Gains Overall throughout 2010; Even the Signs of Civil Unrest in Some Countries Have Been Transformed into Business Opportunities by Neighbouring States, Determined Not to Relinquish Their Lucrative Hold on the Global Tourist Markets, in Which They Have Invested So Heavily

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ACCORDING TO THE UNITED NATIONS World tourism Organisation (UNWTO) World Tourism Barometer report published in February 2011, the Middle East was the fastest-growing region in 2010 (+14%), with all the regional destinations reporting a 10% or higher growth. Countries such as Tunisia and Egypt have seen enormous changes from within but while new brooms are sweeping clean in government offices, the warm seas, blue skies and generous hospitality that have attracted tourists for generations remain unchanged--with the welcome if anything even warmer than before. Locally, events like Abu Dhabi's rotating concert roster and Dubai's multitude of conferences have helped rebuild tourism.

At the International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) 'Leaders Forum' held in Cannes, France, the consensus was that business is improving--with leisure travel ahead of business travel in terms of the speed of rebound, but 2011 will still be viewed as a year of recovery. As an indicator of the positive trend, business-class-only SilverJet, which boasts Dubai and New York as its two destinations, reported a 23% increase in passenger numbers during February 2011.

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2012 is expected to be the first year of real growth post-recession, as it will be the first year to show a significant increase in business since 2007. During the recession in 2008-2009, the idea of 'luxury' was seen as taboo. High-end consumers began developing a 'deals' mentality, and they didn't want to be perceived as flaunting wealth and extravagance.

The word 'luxury' became a diluted, meaningless commodity that needed to be redefined. To meet the demands of today's consumers, the description of 'luxury travel' has been reborn as 'customised', 'bespoke' and 'deeply personal'.

Designers are getting in on the act, launching branded hotels such as the Armani Hotel in Dubai, to be followed by others in Marrakesh and Egypt. Versace is planning to open a Palazzo in Dubai, and the Kuwait Missoni Hotel, which opened in March, is to be succeeded by additional properties in Oman and Turkey. But it's not only hotels that get the couture makeover: Hermes has a range of designer helicopters and recently Versace launched two customised helicopters at a cost of $7 million each. Bespoke planes come in many shapes and forms and in Abu Dhabi there is a giant Vulcan military transporter being converted to civil use as a private 'jet' by the engineering company Gamco. Airports are featuring designer lounges such as Virgin's Heathrow clubhouse, which boasts a roof garden, tanning booth, pool table and retro video games; Lufthansa's Frankfurt first-class terminal has personal assistants to take you through security (and to your flight by car) as well as a cigar lounge; massages are optional at Air France's Paris lounge and at Qatar's Doha lounge there is table service, shower rooms and PlayStations, all aimed at enhancing the travel experience rather than the feeling of being stuck at the airport.

The 5 star + hotel boom is continuing: in December 2010, Ramada opened its first hotel in Sharjah and Waldorf announced that it would open a property in Ras Al Khaimah in 2012. Abu Dhabi's occupancy was at 60.9% in January, up from 50.2% in 2010.

US hotel chain Marriott International has signed a management deal with Abu Dhabi's Real Estate Group. The properties are scheduled to open in 2014 and will swell Marriott's UAE portfolio to nine hotels. …