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Middle East Update

Written by  Lisa Loverro

Africa-MiddleEast
While you might surmise that tourism to the Middle East has taken a decline over the past years, and this is certainly true for some parts of the region, there are areas - primarily the Gulf Region - that continue to see substantial tourism growth.
The magical and beautiful country of Oman is building new airports, hotels, and a state-of-the-art convention center to boost tourism. This is a very calculated move by the government as they try to reduce their reliance on oil revenues, which accounted for 72 percent of Oman’s revenue in 2013. The capital city of Muscat has also begun development on a new passenger terminal at their international airport, looking to receive up to 12 million passengers annually. Figures released by the World Travel and Tourism Council projected that by 2024, 8.2 percent of Oman’s GDP will come from tourism, which contributed to 6.4 percent in 2013.

Additionally, the Oman Ministry of Tourism has approved the building of 54 more hotel facilities, which will add 2,908 more rooms to the country. The majority of the new hotels will be one- and two-star facilities, while 14 of them will be in the capital of Muscat. The Ministry has also approved 74 hotel apartments and when completed, they will add to the existing 282 accommodation facilities in Oman. The Ministry’s latest annual report shows that 24 new hotels were added in 2013, representing a growth of 9.3 percent. The number of hotel rooms grew by 12.3 percent last year to 22,521, while the number of tourists visiting the country grew by 7.8 percent to 2.1 million. At the end of 2013, there were 12 five-star hotels, 21 four-star hotels, 24 three-star hotels, 33 two-star hotels and 53 one-star hotels, in addition to 95 hotel apartments, 28 rest-hotels and 16 camping sites.
In hotel opening news, the high-end Anantara hotel chain is launching a new hotel in the “Green Mountain” region known as Jabal Akhdar, in a section known as Lady Di Point (named after the late Princess’s favorite spot in Oman when she visited the country) overlooking a spectacular canyon. This is the second luxury hotel to open in this area. In June, the Alila Hotel and Spa Resort (www.alilahotels.com) opened in the region. Boasting itself as an unparalleled retreat in the mountains, it clientele are guests seeking a holistic experience to soothe the body and mind. As someone who has visited this area in Oman, I can say that this is a very positive step for this region. When I visited in 2009, there were no luxury properties to stay overnight, so I opted to make the trip to Jabal Akhdar and back to Muscat the same day.
 In Muscat, the Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa saw the opening of new rooftop lounge - B.A.B. Lounge. Located on the roof of the popular Bait Al Bahr seafood restaurant, it features a dramatic mountainous backdrop and will add a new level of “hip and trendy” to the resort.
In addition to leisure resort openings, the country is also looking to attract a luxury business tourism market with the addition of the Hormuz Grand Hotel (www.hormuzgrand.com), considered one of Muscat’s most complete luxury hotels. It’s conveniently located just three-minutes driving time from the Muscat International Airport and offers guests the warm Omani hospitality for which the country is known.
In cultural news, the historic city of Nizwa has been selected as the Islamic Culture Capital next year. Nizwa lies approximately 100 miles from the capital Muscat, at the foot of Al Jabal Al Akhdar (Green Mountain). The city is full of historic forts, rivers, orchards and palm trees, and one should be sure to visit on Fridays when Omanis come from many miles away to visit the “Cattle Market,” where you’ll see trucks filled with camels and plenty of goats.

United Arab Emirates
The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority showed the first five months of 2013 enjoying a 30 percent increase in arrivals from January through May. The tally translated into 4,375,395 guest nights, which was up 22 percent. Hotel revenues increased 14 percent to $728.6 million, with food and beverage income climbing 12 percent to just over $277.6 million.
“Overall, the performance makes for good reading, though there are two areas of concern - the average-length-of-stay and the average room rate, both of which dipped in 2013,” explained HE Jasem Al Darmaki, Deputy Director General, TCA. The average-length-of-stay slipped six percent to just over three nights, while the average room rate slid four percent to $122.
“There is increased and enhanced product coming into the market to give people more compelling reasons both to visit and to stay longer,” explained Darmaki. “We are poised to achieve our 2014 guest arrivals target of 3.2 million and anticipate increased business from Australia and Italy with Etihad Airways’ launch of new routes from Perth and Rome,” added Al Darmaki.
The adventure travel sector has taken off in Abu Dhabi as well, and hotels are joining in on this trend. Anantara Hotels Resorts & Spas has revealed plans for a three night, four day fitness event, branded the “Anantara Adventure Challenge,” to take place across three of its properties in Abu Dhabi from December 1-13, 2014, with an impressive prize pool of luxury getaways from Anantara in the Maldives, Thailand and UAE. Designed to test the physical endurance of some of the UAE’s fittest athletes and adventurers, this first ever team event of its kind will allow up to fifty athletes (both male and female) in teams of two, to make the most of the natural landscape at the various Anantara properties throughout Abu Dhabi.
In airlines news, Etihad Airways operating non-stop daily flights from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, DC, will expand when Etihad begins direct flights from Dallas/Fort Worth to Abu Dhabi three times a week starting in December 2014.

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