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Middle East and North Africa Edition

March 2011, Issue 17

EXPLORE: DUBAI Dubai’s high occupancy rates are being attributed to a redistribution of tourism flows across the region, as travellers avoid areas of unrest – but other, longer-term factors may be responsible for the pick-up in business.

Egypt’s tourism industry is confident that a new, transparent, democratic Egypt will be more attractive to visitors than ever. A short term lull is expected, but so is a rapid recovery.

13 14 LONG HAUL: ARGENTINA The government and tourism industry’s recent strategy has resulted in a change of perception that Argentina is considered only as the home of tango.

28 In This Issue MARKET UPDATE INVESTIGATION: VFR VISIT: Egypt EXPLORE: Dubai ONSITE: Singapore EXCLUSIVE: Luxury Travel TRAVEL CHANNELS TRAVEL TALK TOUR: CIS LONG HAUL: Argentina WHO’S MOVED RENDEZVOUS NEWS & EVENTS MARCH 2011

ISSUE 17

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VISIT: Egypt

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TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY Managing Editor Mary Kammitsi Journalists Rita Kasziba Duncan MacRae Design & Layout Elina Pericleous Sales & Marketing Dimitris Thomaidis Directors Andreas Constantinides Mary Kammitsi Headquarters P.O. Box 25255 Nicosia 1308 Cyprus Tel: +35722820888 Fax: +35722318958 Website www.traveltradeweekly.travel Emails info@traveltradeweekly.travel editorial@traveltradeweekly.travel sales@traveltradeweekly.travel Printed in Cyprus Cyprint Plc P.O. Box 58300 CY-3732, Limassol Cyprus Tel: +35725720035 Fax: +35725720123 Email: info@cyprint.com.cy

MENA Exchange Rates Accurate as of 28/2/2011

IHG: 22 Percent Increase in Operating Profit The InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) reported a significant 22 percent increase in operating profits for 2010.

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he hotels in IHG’s system recorded USD18.7 billion as total gross revenue, achieving 11 percent growth over 2009. Andrew Cosslett, chief executive of InterContinental Hotels Group PLC, highlighted IHG`s strong performance. “2010 was an excellent year for IHG,” said Cosslett. “After a slow start to the year, the industry staged the sharpest recovery in its history, exceeding all expectations. By focusing on our brands and using our scale, we delivered six percent growth in revenue per available room (RevPAR).”

2010 was an excellent year for IHG The total system size of 647,161 rooms had increased by one percent considering that 35,744 rooms were added and 35,262 rooms were removed. “We signed more rooms into our pipeline than in 2009 and despite the planned exceptional number of removals to drive up quality; we grew the number of rooms in our system, led by a 12 percent increase in China.” Cosslett touched upon Holiday Inn’s relaunch. “The USD1 billion Holiday Inn relaunch is almost complete, delivering RevPAR outperformance and improved guest satisfaction. We are now working with our hotel owners to refresh Crowne Plaza, already the fourth largest upscale hotel brand in the world, and one with great future potential. Our focus on efficiency has increased fee-based margins 1.1 percentage

Currencies shown in red are fixed against the US Dollar COUNTRY UAE (AED) Egypt (EGP) Saudi Arabia (SAR) Lebanon (LBP) Bahrain (BHD) Jordan ( JOD) Syria (SYP) Kuwait (KWD) Qatar (QAR) Oman (OMR) Tunisia (TND) Morocco (MAD) Iran (IRR) Yemen (YER) Algeria (DZD) Libya (LYD)

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CURRENCY Dirham Pound Riyal Pound Dinar Dinar Pound Dinar Riyal Rial Dinar Dirham Riyal Rial Dinar Dinar

1USD= 3.67 5.89 3.75 1502.5 0.38 0.71 46.55 0.28 3.64 0.38 1.41 8.16 10,325 215.25 75.2 1.23

Andrew Cosslett

points. In line with our asset light strategy we have started the initial marketing for sale of the InterContinental New York Barclay. The 21 percent growth in the final dividend reflects our confidence in IHG`s prospects. Our priority is to increase market share and improve margins in an industry set for strong growth over the next few years.” EMEA revenue increased to USD414 million which represents 4.3 percent increase over 2009 and operating profit (before exceptional items) decreased to USD125 million. Holiday Inn brought the highest amount to the group’s total gross revenue by contributing USD5.8 billion, followed by InterContinental and Holiday Inn Express.

Oman Air: Outstanding Results Oman Air has recorded its best performance in its history, by increasing its results in numerous areas of operations in 2010. The cargo revenues rose 238 percent, while air cargo increased by 99 percent. Revenue showed an increase of 51 percent, and the number of passengers rose by 37 percent, so did the passenger load factor, which climbed 11 percent. Abdulrazaq bin Juma Al Raisi, chief commercial officer of Oman Air attributed the success to the airline`s effective schemes. “The excellent results achieved by Oman Air during the past year highlight the various strategies put in place to ensure that targets are met,” remarked Al Raisi. “Unlike other airlines, Oman Air’s business philosophy strives to continuously provide passengers with a niche and luxurious experience, combining innovation and precision to the finest detail, and promising the highest standards of quality to ultimately exceed passenger expectations," he added. Oman Air added nine new destinations to its routemap in 2010, enhancing its operation to 41 cities. MARCH 2011


- Visiting Friends & Relatives

VFR: The Invisible Market Rise Due to wide international conventions and enhancement in global mobility, the Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) market is growing at an astounding pace and represents an increasing proportion of the hospitality sector’s annual revenue. Rita Kasziba writes

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he VFR market has largely been an underestimated and underresearched segment of the tourism industry. It has been illustrated that during the global financial crisis, VFR travel remained a major driver, being less affected than the other segments. Those living away from their families, continue visiting their ‘base’ and due to the purpose of their visit, the VFR travellers do not normally seek the latest trends for their visit; they prefer competitive prices for their travel and accommodation. AIRLINES The significant importance of the VFR segment is well reflected in Jazeera Airways’ endeavors. Rafik Boghdady, vice president for sales, highlighted the Kuwait-based airline attempts to attract travellers, not only with its competitive fares, but also with its winsome service.

“Like all short-haul travellers, the VFR market seek and appreciate efficiency, reliability, and value offerings, and Jazeera Airways has built its reputation on consistently delivering that,” said Boghdady. “Some routes are a combination of VFR, leisure and business, like our Dubai or Bahrain route, while others are strictly leisure such as Sharm El Sheikh. We do expect VFR to increase, again in the routespecific sense. We do see more VFR increasing on our Damascus, Beirut, Bahrain, Alexandria routes and others, year on year.” Al Majid Mualla, senior vice president commercial operations West Asia and Indian Ocean of Emirates Airlines, pointed out that during the financial crisis the VFR sector was the least affected. “As an airline it is crucial to serve a mix of travellers, this being business, leisure, labour and VFR travellers. Depending only on one of them is a risk. It has been seen that both business and leisure travellers are affected by the economic

As an airline it is crucial to serve a mix of travellers, this being business, leisure, labour and VFR travellers

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crisis while the VFR is not, it is very stable. Therefore, this segment represents a great importance for us already, and we have an interest to grow it,” said Mualla. “Looking at VFR in the region we are talking about 20 percent, however with regards to India, we are looking at around 25 to 30 percent as VFR business. It is normally between India and the States, then Europe (particularly the UK) and Germany. Furthermore, we also get a lot of VFR business from Canada. Osama Satea, human resources and business development director of Cham Wings, explained that the VFR market is the airline’s biggest contributor. “This sector represents almost 95 percent of our overall figures and we definitely expect that the importance of these travellers will be increasing in the future,” said Satea. HOTELS The VFR travellers represent a prominent market not only for the aviation, but also for the hospitality industry. Easy Hotel, categorised as a budget hotel, plays an important role in the VFR segment. In September 2010, Easy Hotel entered the region’s market by opening in Jebel Ali, Dubai. According to Callum Russell, commercial director of Easy Hotel, the VFR market holds great potential. “This segment is very important to our business and although the percent varies from hotel to hotel, we really believe our product is ideally suited to this market,” said Russell. “People staying in hotels when visiting friends and family are usually just looking for somewhere to sleep, store their belonging and have a shower.” Accor ME has impressively grown in the Middle East and Christophe Landais, managing director, indicated that the hotel group’s ibis brand is especially appealing for the VFR sector. “Leisure travellers are a very important segment for Accor’s ibis hotels making up 46 percent of our overall ibis guest profile,” said Landais. “Essentially, travellers who are visiting the region to visit their friends and families book their stays at our hotels as they know they will get high quality services at affordable prices, so they can save more on accommodation. I think that guests from this segment value the fact that at ibis, our staff do everything to make sure that guests feel at home. n MARCH 2011


- Egypt

The Land of Pharaohs is Back in Business Egypt’s tourism industry is confident that a new, transparent, democratic Egypt will be more attractive to visitors than ever. A short term lull is expected, but so is a rapid recovery.

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s Egypt embarks on a journey back to normality, the message coming from the country’s embattled tourism industry is one of overriding positivity. While recent unrest has taken its toll on international arrivals, tourism stakeholders are united in viewing this as a temporary setback. According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the first signs of recovery are already apparent. Major tourism sites are open to the public, airlines have resumed flights and foreign governments have updated their travel advisories to accurately reflect the unfolding situation. According to Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the UNWTO, tourism will be key to the economic success of a post-Mubarak Egypt. “Tourism is one of Egypt’s largest employers, creating millions of jobs directly and indirectly. Revenue from tourism also filters into countless

Pyramids of Giza

businesses affiliated with the tourism sector, contributing to the overall growth of the wider economy. On the road to recovery, therefore, tourism will be among the first sectors to rebound and to support the overall economic recovery,” he said. International tourism receipts represent around six percent of Egypt’s GDP. In spite of the global economic downturn, Egypt welcomed 12

On the road to recovery... tourism will be among the first sectors to rebound and to support the overall economic recovery 6

Egypt in Brief Capital: Cairo Currency: Egyptian Pound (EGP) Language: Arabic million international arrivals in 2009 and preliminary reports suggest that number grew to 14 million in 2010. In terms of international tourism receipts, the figures stood at around USD11 billion in 2009 and USD12.5 billion in 2010. To put this into perspective, export earnings generated by international tourism are double those earned from the Suez Canal. Return of the Charter While there is no denying that the industry has taken a hit as a result of recent unrest, there is definite cause for optimism, according to Amr El Ezaby, chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Authority (ETA). This comes in the form of resumed charter activity into Egypt from Belgium, Holland, Germany and the UK. Of course, one of the country’s main reservation peaks – the first few weeks of February – has been lost, but the ETA predicts that last minute bookings will compensate for this. “I think by October/November, we will have more or less 90 to 100 percent of our normal tourism season, depending on the market. The reason for my optimism is that charter flights are already coming back,” El Ezaby said. The ETA is communicating closely with tour operators across the globe, with particular attention being paid to those in Europe. As El Ezaby pointed out, there are plenty of European operators who rely on Egypt for between 10 and 40 percent of their business. “You can imagine that they are as eager as us to re-establish their operations,” he said. MARCH 2011


- Egypt Cox & Kings has already resumed its holidays to Egypt, stressing that now is an ideal time to experience the great sites of the Nile valley without the usual swarms of visitors. The company remains positive about Egypt’s prospects, citing a recent survey by the Easyvoyage portal, in which over 50 percent of UK respondents said that they would visit Egypt within the year. “Britons, especially those travelling with children, are always on the look-out for new destinations but as always, the price tag is incredibly important. All-inclusives remain popular and holidaymakers are benefitting from great deals this summer. Our survey shows that Egypt will bounce back relatively quickly, helped by the fact that the popular Red Sea resorts remain largely unaffected,” said Jean-Pierre Nadir, founding president, Easyvoyage. In light of the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) no longer advising against all but essential travel to Luxor, Thomson and First Choice resumed holidays to Luxor on February 23. Previously, the operator had been pushing the Red Sea as a viable alternative to the big cities, in view of the fact that there had been no demonstrations in any of these resorts. “We have been offering our customer’s alternative

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Cairo Market

holidays to either the Red Sea coast, which has not been affected by the demonstrations, or other popular winter sun destinations. Normal booking conditions have applied for bookings to the Red Sea,” noted Claire Ioannou, press officer, Thomson, Thomson Cruises and First Choice. Attractive Offers While long-term prospects are positive, El Ezaby admitted that he expected a drop-off in European arrivals to the Red Sea resorts this summer. To counteract this decline, the ETA is launching a dedicated marketing campaign to attract greater numbers of visitors from the Middle East to Egypt, although this will probably be of more benefit to destinations such as Cairo and Alexandria.

Cairo

In the meantime, hotels are being flexible with bookings and cancellations, and are monitoring the situation closely, according to Rudi Jagersbacher, president, Middle East and Africa, Hilton Worldwide. “We are reviewing and updating our cancellation policy as the situation progresses.  We are also helping guests who choose to transfer their bookings to other locations.” Hotels are also responding to challenging operating conditions by launching attractive offers that will help entice visitors back. Lars Geweyer, resort general manager of the Steigenberger Al Dau Resort in Hurghada, is anticipating a 30 percent drop in both business and rates, and a three to six month recovery period. The hotel has responded with special offers and heightened marketing efforts.

MARCH 2011


- Egypt “We are promoting some very aggressive special offers, we are trying to solicit press visits and interviews with journalists to create awareness, we are reducing our employees’ vacation balances by sending them on extended vacation, and we are not signing any new contracts for the time being,” Geweyer said. Orascom Hotels & Development is also trying to negotiate competitive deals in order to get tour operators and business partners back to Egypt. The company received Dutch groups in El Gouna on February 19, and Belgian groups on February 21. “The German tour operators have also confirmed that they will come back in March so we believe we managed to bounce back quickly, with expected momentum to be gained throughout the coming months,” said Nevine Coutry, destinations marketing manager, Orascom Hotels & Development. “Due to the fact that the revolution was a peaceful activity that placed Egypt in the global limelight and achieved freedom for its people, tourists are even more interested to discover the country,” she noted. Orascom will also be focusing heavily on the domestic market, recognising that now more than ever, Egyptians will understand the need to

Alexandria

support and bolster the local economy. The company has launched special packages to try and kickstart movement within the country. “With such efforts, we believe that the tourism industry will be one of the first industries to bounce back and hopefully contribute to Egypt’s speedy recovery,” said Coutry. Affirmative Action This kind of positivity is typical of Egypt’s tourism stakeholders. In the main, companies have responded to recent events with positive, decisive action. Accor Group, for example, which

Due to the fact that the revolution was a peaceful activity that placed Egypt in the global limelight and achieved freedom for its people, tourists are even more interested to discover the country 10

operates 18 hotels in nine Egyptian cities, has expressed its total confidence in Egypt’s national economy and tourism industry. The Alexandria-based Nasco Tours has seen an 80 percent drop in business but has not changed any of its plans in terms of trade show attendance and sales trips. The company’s general manager, Machi Gavalas, is encouraged by the fact that “daily life went back to normal already and hotels are offering reduced rates leading to good valuefor-money packages.” Cairo’s National Travel Service has taken several steps to manage the crisis, including intensifying its public relations and advertising campaigns and carefully managing its relationships with new and existing partners, according to Hazem Poncho, director of planning, National Travel Service. “We also arranged an event on February 17 in Tahrir Square in Cairo to send a message to the whole world that Egypt is safe and everything is back to normal. There were about 2,000 workers from the tourism sector there.” For Azza Zaghloul, managing director of the Alexandria-headquartered Harty Tours, recent events were essential for the long-term growth and improvement of Egypt’s tourism sector. “It was necessary maintenance,” she suggested. “Like the pharaohs built the pyramids, it will be us, the Egyptian people who will build a better, safer, cleaner and truly democratic Egypt, which has been always your preferred tourism destination.” MARCH 2011


- Egypt Cairo

Across the industry, there is an understanding that now is the time to communicate openly with the rest of the world. A new era of transparency and dialogue is being heralded in and hotels such as Steigenberger Al Dau Resort and Radisson Blu Alexandria are investing in fam-trips to spread the word that the political uprising will make Egypt a better and safer tourism destination. “We created history, as we always do and will keep doing. And we’ve added a new sight for your sightseeing tours: Liberation Square,” said Dalia Amer, director of sales and marketing at Radisson Blu Hotel Alexandria. For Amr Badr, managing director, A&K Egypt and the Middle East, there’s never been a better time to visit Egypt. “The reason I believe this so strongly is that you can soak in the great energy of the Egyptian people, with their aspiration and dreams for a new Egypt. You’d feel their constant search for the rejuvenation of the great Egyptian identity.” Moving Forward Should peaceful, democratic elections take place in September, that will mark the official start of the tourism season, El Ezaby stressed. “I think that the upcoming elections will be a historic event for Egypt in terms of having new laws and real transparency and real democracy. As you know, democracy is the only guarantee for stability and safety, which is what all tourists expect from a country.” These sentiments were reiterated by Rifai. “Concerning the new political reality, a more democratic environment is unquestionably more conducive to tourism growth and development. This is true for overall stability and image, but also MARCH 2011

in terms of the opportunities and scope afforded to tourism innovation and entrepreneurship. Democratic and politically open societies tend to unlock energies, promote investments and create a wide spectrum of opportunities.” [In a new and improved Egypt,] “the creative energies of the people will contribute to the

progress of the country,” Rifai continued. “This would include a governance model which recognises the importance of tourism to economic growth, job creation and social empowerment and that, as such, develops policies which are supportive of tourism development.” n

Like the pharaohs built the pyramids, it will be us, the Egyptian people who will build a better, safer, cleaner and truly democratic Egypt, which has been always your preferred tourism destination 11


- Dubai

A Beacon of Stability Dubai’s high occupancy rates are being attributed to a redistribution of tourism flows across the region, as travellers avoid areas of unrest – but other, longer-term factors may be responsible for the pick-up in business. Dubai

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n the old days, unrest in any part of the Middle East would result in decimated occupancy rates across the region. At the first sign of trouble, international travellers would shy away from the area as a whole. Dubai’s overflowing hotels prove that times have changed. Properties across the emirate achieved record occupancies in February, not only in spite of political upheaval in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain - but perhaps because of it. For Tamani Hotel Marina, February was the strongest month in history, with an average occupancy of 98 percent. Walid Al-Awa, the hotel’s general manager, attributed this to a redistribution of tourism flows within the region. “The regional impact of recent events has served to remind the market of the safety and desirability of Dubai. Our hotel has been positively affected by a range of markets who have re-evaluated their travel priorities based on the dynamics of the region,” he said. “Dubai has become the top of mind destination for those who may have originally planned to travel to a country which is directly impacted by the recent events. The collective consequence has created a higher level of latent demand for the destination from a range of markets including CIS, Northern Europe and within the GCC,” Al-Awa added. Samir Hamadeh, general manager of Alpha Tours Dubai, agreed that the emirate’s standing as a safe and stable destination had held it in good stead as unrest unfolded across various other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. “However, we should not be overwhelmed by the numbers and forget that  other reasons  have also influenced tourism flow into Dubai,  such as the Dubai Shopping Festival and the new attractions we are offering. Business has been on the increase since November, even before the whole situation erupted,” Hamadeh pointed out. These sentiments were supported by Yigit Sezgin, global director of sales and marketing for

MARCH 2011

the Rezidor Hotel Group. For Sezgin, it is too soon to say whether Egypt and Tunisia’s loss has truly been Dubai’s gain. February is already high season in Dubai, and events such as the Dubai Shopping Festival and Dubai Desert Classic, coupled with holidays such as Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day, and high-profile exhibitions such as IDEX in Abu Dhabi and Gulfood in Dubai, would have had a positive impact on occupancy, regardless of geo-political events elsewhere in the region. “Dubai is extremely busy at the moment but we

Dubai in Brief Currency: UAE Dirhams (AED) Language: Arabic do not really understand if this current volume and business is an effect of the diversion of business from Egypt and Tunisia and so on. This is already a busy period for Dubai anyway. Also, the destinations that are affected are heavily tour operated, charter business, and the rates of Dubai do not reflect that,” Sezgin said.

The regional impact of recent events has served to remind the market of the safety and desirability of Dubai

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- Dubai The gap between leisure rates in Dubai and those in Egypt is still considerable, Sezgin pointed out, making it unlikely that travellers re-routing from destinations such as Tunisia and Egypt would opt for the emirate. Destinations such as Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah would be far more likely to benefit. The fact that both occupancy and room rates are on the rise may suggest that a more long-term realignment of the Dubai market is underway. “Since the beginning of the year, I have been observing that there is bold move from the rate. It is the first time that I am seeing several hotels going over AED1,000 (USD272). Of course, the exhibitions may have affected the rates – it is too early to say,” said Sezgin. Fairmont Hotels and Starwood Hotels & Resorts are also experiencing a strong first quarter. After an 18-month freeze, business travel is on the rebound, according to Marwan Fadel, area director of sales and marketing, Dubai and Abu Dhabi new developments, Starwood Hotels & Resorts. In addition, leisure travellers are loosening their grip on their cash, resulting in increased lengths of stays and positive growth into the F&B capture ratio.

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Hopes remain high for the fourth quarter of 2011. “I believe when the time comes in October, November and December, Dubai will continue to increase the rate because the demand is there. Now that we do not see a major influx of hotels coming in, we are starting to catch up in the race,” said Sezgin. Jawhara Group of Hotels & Apartments is expecting growth of 15 percent for the year, as compared to 2010, while ETA Star Hospitality is also anticipating a steady increase in business. “Come September 2011 and right until April 2012, Dubai will see a surge in occupancies and arrivals, which I would forecast at 2004 levels,” predicted Brian Nair, general manager, ETA Star Hospitality, which operates Star Metro Deira Deluxe Hotel Apartments, Star Metro Al Barsha Hotel Apartments and Star Mark Deira, a 170room property due for launch in June. These alcohol-free properties cater to a very specific segment of the market and are a good indicator of Dubai’s broadening appeal. “Presently in Dubai there is more scope for our type of hotels and hotel apartments. Most of our properties are medium-sized, boutique operations with a loyal client base,” said Nair.

Dubai

Both group and corporate business is becoming less brand - and more rate-orientated, Nair suggested. Travel managers at large multinational organisations are looking for more facilities at lower rates, meaning that in the future, an increasing number of non-branded hotels will be invited to participate in the RFP bids floated by these companies. ETA Star Hospitality is also seeing growing demand from China, which is in the process of overtaking Iran and the CIS as a primary source market for the hotel group. This is a trend also being witnessed by the Jawhara Group of Hotels & Apartments.

MARCH 2011


- Dubai “As the city has become more affordable, there has been an induction of new and more business from the Far East and China segment,” said Hani Lashin, group general manager, Jawhara Group. According to Kent Cooper,  vice president of regional hotel sales for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Middle East and Africa, the development of low-cost carriers in the region has been instrumental in broadening Dubai’s appeal and making it attractive to a more diverse range of markets. The region also stands to benefit from the fact that MICE markets are looking abroad again, he suggested.

hoteliers are keen to broaden their segmentation base and not rely too heavily on any one section of the market. Matters are not helped by the fact that last-minute bookings are becoming the norm rather than the exception. “There has been a paradigm shift in the booking windows whereby nowadays guests leave making the buying decision until the last minute in the expectation of a great deal, even if it is a few days from their holiday due date. This makes forward planning interesting, to say the least,” said Adam Turner, director of sales and marketing, The RitzCarlton, Dubai.

Last Minute Business “Markets are changing daily,” noted Anwar A. Z. Abu Monassar, board member, The Vision Destination Management. “New markets are opening up while some historical markets are entering into a phase of stable performance. Budgets are not lower but more detailed, and destination management companies require more professionalism in addressing the needs of the client,” he said. Shifting source markets, coupled with an everchanging business-leisure mix, mean that Dubai’s

Come September 2011 and right until April 2012, Dubai will see a surge in occupancies and arrivals

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“Last minute business has little impact on the service levels that guests correctly expect when staying at a Ritz-Carlton hotel, however it does make manpower planning more challenging due to occupancy levels changing upwards often right up until the day of arrival,” Turner continued.

This upsurge in last-minute bookings has gone hand in hand with a growth in online bookings. The easier it has become to book rooms, the later guests are leaving it before they commit. Over the last two years, Starwood has seen a dramatic increase in online bookings, which is a new trend for the region. “Since 2009, we started witnessing a tremendous increase in last-minute business with a more than 45 percent pick-up within the month. I believe there are several factors behind this behaviour. First, clients started to hold on to their bookings until the last minute to get better deals. Second, sufficient supply in the market has created a generally relaxed environment of getting rooms at the last minute,” said Starwood’s Fadel. “Lastly, an increase in internet and smart phone applications has made the process of bookings rooms much easier. You can make a booking while in a taxi on your way to the hotel. In order to complement that trend, Starwood Hotels and Resorts introduced a BlackBerry application in 2010 where Starwood Preferred Guests members can book, redeem and check their stays using their BlackBerry phones,” Fadel detailed.

MARCH 2011


- Dubai Savvy hotels are recognising the need to facilitate this move online. Dusit International started the year with a ramped up online marketing strategy and a new, more interactive website. This comes only three years after the last website rebuild and is a recognition that global travellers demand 24/7 connectivity, wherever they are in the world. The new website features a fresh look and design, and easy navigation, making it more convenient for guests to book, amend and confirm business and leisure trips online. Representing an investment of USD335,000, Dusit is hoping that its new web presence will boost online bookings from 12 percent in 2010 to 25 percent in 2011. Social media represents another key growth area for the hotel chain, which has appointed the company’s first social media representative, with Social Media Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Social Media champions at every Dusit property, responsible for all online communications activities. By all accounts, the online, last-minute booking trend is here to stay. However, if occupancies in Dubai continue to spiral upwards, many last minute bookers may find themselves out of luck, suggested Tamani’s Al-Awa. “Customers are

Dubai Marina

conditioned to being able to secure rooms at the last minute. However, perhaps strong demand for Dubai in February may reverse this, as many hotels will not be able to help last minute shoppers as their inventory will be full.”   Cruise Operators A strong start to the year has left Dubai’s tourism stakeholders feeling cautiously optimistic. While it has been difficult to determine whether the factors currently driving demand are permanent or temporary, market fundamentals suggest that the

Since 2009, we started witnessing a tremendous increase in last-minute business with a more than 45 percent pick-up within the month

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emirate is well on its way to recovery. This is supported by recent news that TUI Cruises plans to launch cruises from Dubai. Such announcements reiterate global confidence in Dubai’s long-term viability as a tourism destination. TUI will make Dubai its home port when it launches cruises to Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Bahrain in November 2012. “It will be the fourth cruise operator to use Dubai as a regional hub for cruise tourism in the Gulf, which is becoming a popular destination for international cruise tourists,” said Hamad Bin Mejren, executive director for business tourism, DTCM. Costa Cruises was the first operator to market regular cruises in the Arabian Gulf and this is the fifth consecutive season that the company will provide regular sailing in the region. In the 2010/11 winter season, Costa expects approximately 150,000 passenger movements in Dubai, up 7 percent compared to the previous year. Dario Rustico, vice president, sales and marketing, Pacific Asia operations, Costa Cruises, said the competition from TUI was welcome. “Healthy competition can drive more customers to the region. We welcome competition because it can help to develop Dubai and the region as a new important cruise hub. “Costa Cruises is the first and biggest cruise operator to offer regular sailings in the region. Apart from this, as a market leader in the region, in order to satisfy the needs of Arab guests, for the cruises in Arabian Gulf, we offer dedicated facilities, including religious services for males and females, regional food and drinks, menus and today programmmes on board in Arabic, Arabic TV and radio channels and Arab-speaking front line staff.” Dubai’s growing popularity as a cruising hub is further evidence of its breadth as a destination. It is this – rather than short-term political unrest in other regional markets – that will continue to drive demand, and push Dubai further along the road to recovery. n MARCH 2011


- Singapore

Tiny City-State, Large Ambitions After 12 consecutive months of record visitor arrivals, Singapore continues to pride itself with rich diversity, developed infrastructure and lively commercial activities. The city-state captivates not only leisure traffic but also a compelling number of business travellers that include foreign investors. Rita Kasziba writes

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ingapore’s soaring popularity among the business and leisure travellers is well demonstrated in Singapore Airlines’ latest figures. The airline made an operating profit of SGD509 million (USD399 million) in the third quarter of the 2010-11 financial year, an increase of SGD186 million (USD164 million) +58 percent over the same quarter last year. The airlines group revenue at SGD3,841 million (USD3 million) grew SGD423 million (USD331 million) +12 percent year-on-year supported by continued improvement in carriage and yields. According to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), one striking feature within the figures is the number of the arrivals from the Middle East. Jason Ong, area director for the Middle East and Africa, explains the rapidly growing interest in Singapore.

“Overall, almost 113,000 people travelled from the region to Singapore between January and September with most arriving from the UAE,” said Ong. “The UAE accounted for 42,549 of Middle East visitors during the first nine months of 2010. A breakdown of STB’s figures for January to September 2010 show visitor arrivals from the UAE rose by 13 percent compared with the same period in 2009, while Saudi Arabia saw numbers up by 12 percent, Qatar experienced a 20 percent rise and Kuwait an impressive 54 percent increase.” Based on STB’s experience, Singapore appeals to the Middle East, especially due to the country’s affiliation to the region’s culture and religion. “Central to 2010’s strong tourism growth was a wave of new projects that heralded a new phase in Singapore’s tourism development. One of Singapore’s top new attractions is South East Asia’s first Universal Studios theme park located

Central to 2010’s strong tourism growth was a wave of new projects that heralded a new phase in Singapore’s tourism development

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Singapore in Brief Capital: Singapore Currency: Singapore Dollar (SGD) Languages: English (main), Malay (national), Mandarin, Tamil on Resorts World Sentosa, which has proved a huge hit with families from the Middle East. The other new integrated resort is the luxurious Marina Bay Sands, which is arguably the jewel of the Marina Bay district,” said Ong. Singapore’s appeal to the Middle East is demonstrated in Qatar Airways’ recently announced plan to introduce the second daily flight to Singapore, an increasingly popular route. According to Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, a growing demand has recently appeared on the more frequent flights to the Far Eastern city-state. “Singapore has been one of our best performing routes in the entire region for a long time, with load factors consistently in the high 90’s,” said Al Baker. The Doha-based airline observes great opportunities in the Far East due to the region’s escalating commercial activities. “The addition of a second daily service will allow Qatar Airways to grow the passenger market for inbound and outbound travel to Singapore. The Far East continues to be a key market for Qatar Airways. We see even greater potential to expand further into this region and are evaluating several new route options which we intend to launch over the next 18 months.” Medical Tourism Besides the increased high profile events across Singapore, one of the city-state’s major attractions has recently been the medical tourism sector. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranked Singapore as the sixth best health system in the world. In the past decade, Singapore has emerged as the Asian medical hub in comparison to some other medical destinations in the area such as India and Thailand. Singapore poses as a spectacularly urbanised city-state, yet offering much lower prices than Western Europe or the US. To promote the Singapore’s therapeutic facilities, several organisations joined forces and have managed to attract an average of 200,000 medical tourists annually. MARCH 2011


- Singapore Several organisations and travel agencies have specialised themselves to offer comprehensive medical packages to foreign patients. This can include transfer from the airport, an appointment with particular doctors, a hospital stay during the recovery period, and a holiday resort reservation coupled with sightseeing and shopping programs. MICE With the city-states dynamic business atmosphere and burgeoning trade links, Singapore tempts to play host to more and more international exhibitions, congresses and high-profile MICE events. Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre officially opened in 1995 and aims to be recognised as the world’s best host. Suntec Singapore hosted a total of 1,536 events in 2010, which represents an increase of nine percent over 2009, and welcomed 6.8 million visitors and guests. The occupancy rate reached its peak in June, 2010 while hosting an average of five events per day. The MICE business alone recorded the highest occupancy of 84 percent. Anjna Nihalani, director of brands and communications for Suntec Singapore, attributes the success not only to the venue but also to Singapore’s bustling commercial activities and multicultural attitude. “Suntec Singapore is a purpose-built venue located in the downtown central business district that offers 100,000 m2 of flexible space,” said Nihalani. The World Competitiveness Yearbook identifies Singapore as the most politically stable country in Asia which reinforces the city-state’s appeal to several foreign and Middle Eastern companies and investors. Singapore is a very attractive destination to do business; it combines fantastic business and leisure offerings which are necessary components to conducting successful business deals. According to the World Bank’s latest report, Singapore is the easiest place in the world to do business. Resort World Sentosa Sentosa Island has been one of Singapore’s premier tourist destination with its wide range of leisure offerings. Resort World Sentosa (RWS) promotes itself as one of the world’s most extensive and expensive integrated resorts at SGD6,59 billion (USD5,18 billion). According to Lee Sin Yee, senior manager of communication for RWS, the city-states first integrated resort has welcomed 15 million visitors so far, from all over the world. “Within a year of our opening, the resort has drastically changed the face of tourism in Singapore, bringing in new-to-market concepts, brands, and entertainment on a scale never before seen in the region,” Sin Yee summarised. Despite the impressive figures of 2010, the resort continues to develop with several new openings. “The second phase of the resort will start to open progressively from this year onwards, with two more hotels, the maritime museum, the oceanarium and a destination spa.  Marina Bay Sands The city-state’s other integrated resort is Marina Bay Sands. The venue appeals as a holiday and also as a business and MICE destination which has been recently named Asia’s best MICE hotel. “Since we opened in April 2010, we have welcomed over eight million visitors. This includes both local and international visitors. We are also happy to contribute to Singapore’s record figures in 2010,” summarised a spokesperson from Marina Bay Sands. n MARCH 2011

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- Luxury Travel

Pursuit of Perfection With the rapid spread of luxury hotels and resorts across the region, exclusive facilities and services became an easier approach than ever. Alternative circumstances allow new ideas and developments in the ever changing luxury travel market. Rita Kasziba writes

W

hile earlier luxury was attainable only for a few privileged, the peerless properties and services are no longer out of the reach for today’s traveller. To retain the top position in the luxury market, hotels and resorts aspire to differentiate themselves from their competitors through location, exterior, interior, service and activities. Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi prides itself as the place where fairytales come to life. Janet Abrahams, executive director of sales and marketing of the property, believes that despite the uprising of new properties, the hotel remains a true attraction. “Emirates Palace is a unique experience since it offers guests not only luxury and authenticity, it is a full working palace that welcomes royalty,

heads of states, celebrities, corporate travellers, luxury leisure guests, cultural and educational visitors on a daily basis, each with their own private butler,” she said. The property’s client base has been going through significant changes, explained Abrahams. “The extreme diversity of guests and visitors remains, however the increased diversity of nationality and new markets opening is at a much faster pace. This coincides also with the growth in Etihad Airways and the expanded leisure and business offerings in Abu Dhabi, with still more projects underway. Within the luxury hospitality sector, items which were once available only in certain star rated hotels are now every day and commonplace expectations.” Raffles Dubai, with its pyramid inspired structure, clearly stands out in Dubai’s increasing luxury hotels. Sarah Omolewu, public relations manager

Luxury travellers are the Elite class looking for genuine offerings and authentic experiences with unmatched professionalism and quality

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Kempinski Hotel & Residences Palm Jumeirah

reinforced the growing challenges the luxury properties need to face. “There are numerous five-star hotels, so tourists are looking for a hotel that will provide them with a memorable experience,” said Omelewu. “We pride ourselves in offering heartfelt and gracious service. Ultimately, guests are looking for a memorable experience. With an increase in luxury hotels and more sophisticated travellers, it takes more to impress guests than before. At Raffles, we anticipate guests’ needs and strive to constantly exceed their expectations by providing service and an experience that will not soon be forgotten,” Omelewu continued. Kempinksi Hotel & Residences Palm Jumeirah is due to open in the summer. Ulrich Eckhardt, president Middle East, Africa and Indian Ocean, Kempinski Hotels, believes that the property will provide a different experience to the luxury travellers. “The opening of the Kempinski Hotel & Residences Palm Jumeirah is currently in the last phase of delivery to meet its expected launch date on July 1, 2011. Kempinski Hotel & Residences will be it’s first beach resort in Dubai and will be complemented by the Emerald Palace which is due to open in 2012,” said Eckhardt. The president stressed that the company aims to add only unique properties to its portfolio, especially in a destination such as Dubai. “Kempinski has built its reputation on the belief that exclusivity and individuality are key elements of true luxury. Thus, both Kempinski properties on Palm Jumeirah will naturally overflow with exclusive services,” he added. “With a growing supply of five-star hotels in Dubai, we all face challenges on how to retain guests’ loyalty and how to acquire new business. However, those hotels that can offer an exclusive experience that no one else can by thinking outside the box, being creative and innovative will win in the strongly competitive marketplace.” MARCH 2011


- Luxury Travel Armani Hotel Dubai

While growth may be more cautious, those with a solid reputation for quality, service and delivery will prosper. There will always be a demand for hotels, but travellers are now demanding additional services, which we are happy to offer.” The world’s first Armani Hotel is truly a novel property; as its name suggests, it was designed by the famous Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani. Marc Dardenne, CEO, Emaar Hospitality Group and Emaar Hotels & Resorts, claims that nowadays luxury travellers seek unparalleled facilities. “Luxury today refers to experiences that can’t be replicated,” he said. “The development of premier properties like Armani Hotel Dubai has revolutionised the face of luxury hospitality development in the Gulf region, which is now a preferred destination for the discerning clientele. The establishment of such iconic properties has led to increased interest from a larger cross-section of luxury travellers, from the entire spectrum of markets. We have guests from across all international markets. In addition to our key feeder markets in Europe, Armani Hotel Dubai also has a large clientele from the GCC and wider Middle East region, the US, Russia, the Indian Subcontinent, China and Asia.” The CEO believes that the Armani brand speaks for itself. “Armani Hotels target connoisseurs – who value excellence, style and elegance. It brings to life the stay with Armani promise, an exceptional experience defined by the highest standards of aesthetics and service excellence. The fashion world has only one Giorgio Armani, and Armani is one of the world’s most valuable and popular brands. Armani Hotels & Resorts has been a pioneer in blending the aesthetics of a global fashion brand and the development competencies of one of the world’s leading property developers to create distinctive hospitality projects.” Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa stands out of the UAE’s luxury properties with a location in the desert. Arne Silvis, general manager of MARCH 2011

Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi

the luxury collection desert resort and spa, believes that in the luxury market the key aspect is the quality, not the price. “Our guests don’t mind paying a premium for the level of experience they receive at the resort,” claims Silvis. “We offer a traditional Arabian experience within the desert conservation atmosphere and you can classify this as understated luxury. It is required to find a balance between being luxurious and traditional. With the unique activities conducted by our field guides, Al Maha guests are taken through a very memorable experience. I would say ‘Luxury’ is more related to the experience rather than a product, especially in our industry. Luxury travellers are the elite class looking for genuine offerings and authentic experiences with unmatched professionalism and quality.” While most of the luxury properties record the largest percentage of their client base from the Gulf, Al Maha with its unique location and facilities seems to appeal more to the long-haul travellers. “More than 70 percent of our clientele are from

Europe,” remarked Silvis. “At Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, our customers are looking for the original Arabian experience within the desert conservation reserve. They love the romantic setting of the resort resembling a bedouin encampment and the endless golden sand-scape with free roaming wildlife. They enjoy activities ranging from falconry, archery, camel trekking, horse riding, nature walks, wild life drives and desert safari. Our guests value the unique Al Maha experience and keep returning for more.” The general manager pointed out that within the changing luxury market, the glamorous property is not enough to win a competitive edge as tailormade services play a vital role. “Personally, I feel it is a growing segment and there is continuous education happening in the market from various service providers. Identifying the correct audience for your product is the key for a winning formula here and there is opportunity for different type of top class hospitality experiences whether by a beach resort, a desert resort or a downtown hotel in this country.” n

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UN: Tourism Investments Drive Green  Economy and Employment Investing in sustainable and environment-friendly tourism, boosts the sector’s contribution to economic growth and stimulates job creation, according to the United Nations’ recent study. Talab Rifai

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T

he tourism chapter of the United Nations Environment Programme, led (UNEP) together with UNWTO, have compiled a Green Economy Report which demonstrates that investment in environmentally friendly tourism stimulates economic growth and job creation, while at the same time nurturing natural aspects and declining environmental pollution. The study reinforces the outcome with accurate figures, proving that tourism is one of the major drivers for the increase of the global economy. Based on the predictions, an investment of 0.2 percent of the global GDP per year between now and 2050 will allow steady increase in tourism, and therefore, economic growth, development and employment along with

environmental innovations. Talab Rifai, secretary-general of UNWTO, highlighted the tourism vital role in the upcoming challenges. “The conclusions of this report corroborate what we at UNWTO have long been advocating for that the tourism sector can be a lead change agent in the transformation to the Green Economy,” Rifai added. “This is a landmark report. Advancing the sustainable agenda in tourism will allow the sector to strengthen its capacity to continue generating growth and creating jobs worldwide”. The report also urges the governments and international organisations to acknowledge the tourism’s major role by endorsing access to certain tools and financial options. n

MARCH 2011


Murray L. Aitken

Murray L. Aitken

Hotel General Manager, Fancourt, South Africa “There are travellers who choose where to stay based on price, others choose based on performance. Once you stay at a hotel brand and you enjoyed it, the chances that you would stay there again are high because you won’t risk spending on something unknown. Luxury travellers will always remain loyal to past experiences, as long as these experiences met with their expectations. It is our duty as hoteliers to always strive to exceed our guests’ expectations and win their loyalty.”

It is our duty as hoteliers to always strive to exceed our guests’ expectations and win their loyalty

Yigit Sezgin Global Director of Sales & Marketing, Rezidor “Dubai is extremely busy at the moment, however we do not really understand if this current volume of traffic and business is very much an effect of the diversion of the business from Egypt and Tunisia, etc. This is already a busy period for Dubai anyway, and being our high season it is early to say. Rates are getting higher, the RevPar is improving, the occupancies are higher, over 80-85 percent. Definitely there will be a drop in the summer time, but I would imagine there will be interesting movements and I do not only say this only for Dubai, I would like to look at this generally ... I believe that there will be some mass movements”. Yigit Sezgin

We do not really understand if this current volume of traffic and business is very much an effect of the diversion of the business from Egypt and Tunisia, etc

Taleb Rifai UNWTO Secretary-General “Egypt is immensely rich in history, culture and natural resources; assets that will ensure it remains a privileged destination in the future. Egypt’s many unique and varied tourism attractions will continue to be at the top of millions of people’s travel wish list. Past experience in Egypt and around the world has shown us that tourism is an extremely resilient sector. I am confident that once normality is restored, the Egyptian tourism sector will bounce back as has been the case Taleb Rifai in the past”.

Egypt is immensely rich in history, culture and natural resources; assets that will ensure it remains a privileged destination in the future Travel Talk is your space – this is a casual forum for travel industry professionals to discuss current issues and share stories. We want to hear from you, so send your comments, questions, frustrations and observations to editorial@traveltradeweekly.travel MARCH 2011

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- Commonwealth of Independent States

The Unexplored Region The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is probably one of the last remaining undiscovered parts of the world. However, the post-Soviet countries are slowly brushing off the legacy of their previous political and economic term. Rita Kasziba writes

T

he 12 countries of the CIS pride themselves as the corridors between West and East, representing a rich blend of various cultures and landscapes. The governments’ pledge to concentrate and uplift the tourism industry by a series of operations, such as improved destination management and promotion campaigns, has started to pay off in increased international tourist arrivals and significant developments in the hospitality sector. The largest country of the CIS, Russia witnessed a compelling growth in the number of visitors due to its accelerated development in infrastructure and commerce. Russia’s growing importance worldwide and in the Middle East is well reflected in the fact that Moscow is the only destination within the CIS, where the Middle East’s biggest airlines, Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways, operate scheduled flights. The other favoured stop within the CIS is Ukraine, attracting an estimated 20 million international visitors per year. Despite the increasing recognition of the country, Etihad is the only major airline from the Middle East operating scheduled flights to Kiev. In addition to the well-known historical and religious sites, the multiplying resorts and the vineyards, Ukraine prides itself as a rising medical hub. Belarus’ efforts to develop its tourism industry well exemplify to the region’s initiatives. Valery Boldyrev, head of marketing of the Belarus National Tourism Agency, highlighted the fact that the country’s tourism is quite immature.

“Belarus’ tourism is less than 10 years old and the budget is yet too little to allow us launching a fullscale media campaign abroad,” said Boldyrev. Etihad operates direct flights to the capital, Minsk, however Belarus welcomes most of its visitors from its neighbouring countries. “However, the agency promotes the country by participating in various tourism and travel exhibitions abroad. In addition to our website and several publications distributed in particular countries, we have recently launched numerous guides in cooperation with overseas editorial houses, one of them as a result of our partnering with Etihad Airways, focusing on the UAE in fall 2010.” According to the agency’s expert, Belarus appeals to the MENA region due to its business opportunities and characteristics. “Although we register less than one percent of our overall visitors from the MENA region, some countries, especially the UAE and Qatar are quite appealing due to the average traveller’s expenditures per stay, which is comparatively higher than by tourists from other regions. The majority of the visitors from the MENA region travelled to Belarus in 2009 for business reasons, then for private visits, while leisure reasons occupy the third place. This tendency remains true for 2010 as well. However, Belarus might still be interesting for MENA tourists due to its complete difference (in terms of climate, nature and culture) and tangible and intangible legacy, Boldyrev added. Uzbekistan, in the middle of the historical GreatSilk Road, prides itself with its rich blend of ancient

The Silk Road as a tourism concept, has significant potential for growth 26

history, oriental excitement and modern culture. The interest in the country has recently increased which stimulated the local hospitality sector and attracted foreign investors. Turkmenistan is considered as one of the oldest civilizations in the world, therefore, the country promotes cultural and historical tourism. Moldova promotes itself with its rural, wine, cultural and health tourism, although poor infrastructure, under-developed accommodation facilities and services, in addition to the lack of low cost flights, hold back international tourist and investors. Kyrgyzstan’s recent efforts to attract, not only leisure but business travellers, resulted in a growing amount of MICE events. The country’s biggest retentiveness to grow into a true tourist attraction is its banned airline status. Kyrgyzstan is listed on the European Union’s index as a prohibited country, where the carriers registered in Kyrgyzstan are not allowed to operate in any EU destination due to safety criteria. Tajikistan, as a remote destination attracts mountaineers, hikers and independent travellers seeking adventures and an unusual cultural experience. Due to its picturesque nature, long coasts and developing infrastructure, Georgia attracts not only travellers, and investors as well in all areas of the tourism industry, including transport accommodation, information technologies, and financial services. Kazakhstan is easily accessed from the Middle East as Etihad operates scheduled flights to the capital, Astana, and also to Almaty. Besides the multiplying events, the birthplace of the ancient Eurasian civilizations promotes culture, ethnic and also ecotourism. Azerbaijan, one of the fastest recovering countries of the CIS, is improving into an economic hub in the region. Its cultural and religious heritage coupled up with its spa and health care facilities play a major role in the country’s tourism. Turkmenistan with over 4,000 architectural monuments, is a true attraction to those seeking to discover unexplored historical sites. Challenges OrexCA, the Central Asian Online Travel Company was founded as a result of the MARCH 2011


- Commonwealth of Independent States increasing interest in the post-Soviet countries along the historical Great Silk Road. The organisation promotes Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. Michael Shamshidov, marketing director of the company, highlighted the challenges the agency faces. “These are still quite challenging destinations as most of the people are still not aware about these countries. We are not talking only about their attractions, but many can’t even name them or locate them on a map,” pointed the director. “The main concern regarding these countries is the security, especially in the “5 Stans” (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) which are often assigned with the same security status as for example Afghanistan. Central Asian countries are rather different in tourism positioning, in pricing as well as in infrastructure and landscapes. However, the main feature that appeals for foreign tourists is the diversity that these countries offer in terms of the Soviet heritage and the modern developments.” According to OrexCA, there is significant interest

MARCH 2011

in these countries from the MENA region. “Our clients from the UAE and Saudi Arabia represent mostly the luxury segment, and chose the destination due to its hunting facilities. For example, Uzbekistan is appealing, due to its Sunni Muslim heritage,” added Shamshidov. The Silk Road Action Plan The United Nation’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) devised a comprehensive action plan to strengthen the Silk Road and drive destination management. Alla Peressolova, programmes manager UNWTO, sees great potential in these countries. “The Silk Road has a rich and diverse mix of cultural assets and natural attractions to offer, and with such a wide network of routes there is great potential to offer various experiences and encourage repeat visits to the Silk Road,” said Peressolova. “The level of tourism infrastructure in these destinations vary greatly. Communication and information barriers are one of the key challenges we are addressing, as the complicated processes

associated with entering some of these destinations relating to visas and border crossings, serve to deter tourists.” UNWTO’s action plan aims to accelerate the development. “The Silk Road as a tourism concept has significant potential for growth and UNWTO has been its strong advocate for the last 20 years. It is obviously gaining a new momentum now in the context of increasingly competitive economies in Asia and the Middle East, new tourism market trends and growing demand for experience-based, seamless travel. Launched in October 2010, the UNWTO Silk Road Action Plan 2010/2011, is the first in a series of comprehensive plans developed to drive collaborative, sustainable tourism growth along the Silk Road. It is designed to utilise the Silk Road brand as a vehicle for sustainable tourism development across 25 countries. As part of this action plan, the Silk Road will be celebrated this year in a special programme of events taking place at ITB Berlin.” n

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- Argentina

More Than the Tango’s Home From rich blends of unique natural assets to a wide range of sport events, a luring culture coupled with the governments and the industry’s joined initiatives to attract both foreign visitors and investors, Argentina’s popularity has been spectacularly rising. Rita Kasziba writes

T

he government and tourism industry’s recent strategy has resulted in a change of perception that Argentina is considered only as the home of the tango. The initiatives to uplift tourism and the commercial networks by a series of operations is well reflected in the state’s 2010 passenger data. Aeropuertos Argentina 2000, the consortium which operates the country’s 33 busiest airports, announced record figures for 2010. Approximately 22.8 million passengers passed through the airport terminals which represent an all time record since the establishment of the consortium. This figure represents a compelling 12,4 percent increase over 2009. One striking feature within the data is the number of international visitors, which rose up a cogent 21 percent in comparison to 2009, by registering 10.3 million tourists from abroad. Despite the impressive figures, the government expects even better results at the end of 2011. According to Enrique Meyer, minister of tourism, Argentina, the country might break the record. “2011 will be the year of Argentina” stated Meyer in a release of the Argentina Tourism Board. “In 2010, one of every five tourists travelling to South America and one of every four dollars spent in the region will be in Argentina. Nevertheless, this is just the beginning as tourism in Argentina will grow at a rate of 10 percent annually until 2020, compared with the world average of 4.1 percent.”

Approaching the Middle East Despite the convincing figures, the distance between Argentina and the Middle East is very evident and more than ever, the recent approach between the two regions is momentous. The Argentinian president Christina Fernandez de Kirchner’s visit to Qatar, Egypt and Turkey at the end of January signalled a path that was previously stagnant. The great importance of the visit is significant as the last time the president of Argentina travelled to the Middle East was more than two decades ago. Luis Maria Kreckler, International Trade and Economic Relations Secretary, pointed out that the president’s Middle East ‘mission’ pledged not only political but also business initiations. “A numerous and varied trade mission, shall endeavor to obtain new markets and attract investments to Argentina,” Kreckler described the president’s visit to the MENA region. In order to reaffirm the two regions initiations, the representatives of Argentina and Qatar signed several comprehensive agreements in addition to a memorandum to conduce the cooperation in tourism as a key sector for both regions. Another significant gesture between the two areas was undertaken by Qatar Airways; being the first Middle Eastern airline which has introduced scheduled flights to Buenos Aires in June 2010. According to Akbar Al Baker, CEO of the airline, the operation has exceeded the expectations so far. “Qatar Airways’ growth in the Latin American

During 2010, Argentina has surpassed its record in terms of foreign tourist arrivals 28

Buenos Aires

Argentina in Brief Capital: Buenos Aires Currency: Argentine Peso (ARS) Language: Spanish market has been exceptional, and our route has been very well received by passengers,” Al Baker commented. The CEO attributes the route’s success to the large Arab community in the area. “The route provides a transport link for diaspora communities seeking convenient connections from Argentina to cities such as Beirut, Beijing, Damascus, Dubai, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo with a transit time from as little as 55 minutes. With a large Lebanese and Japanese community living in Brazil, Argentina and neighbouring South American countries, the route is a perfect match for our business model, which carries passengers from East to West and vice versa via our Doha hub.” The second largest country in South America is proving to be a highly potential destination for the Middle East. “The Doha - Buenos Aires route provides a key gateway for commercial, leisure and tourism traffic and opens the door for future expansion into South America,” added Al Baker. “Currently the 18-hour journey is the longest in our network, and is linked via a brief stop in the Brazilian city of São Paolo. In line with our existing strategy to introduce more frequencies to existing destinations and operate direct services, we aim to fly a dedicated non-stop flight to Argentina’s capital city in the future.” says Al Baker. The Argentinian Ministry of Tourism have just recently reaffirmed the implication of the country’s Middle East connection. MARCH 2011


- Argentina According to the representatives of the ministry, the key to boost the Latin American tourism industry is to attract more visitors from the so called ‘long distance markets’. In order to achieve that, Argentina and its neighbour Chile, joined forces and launched a bi-nation campaign targeting the Middle East, China, South Africa and Australia. As part of the progress, the two countries are planning to focus and promote outdoor facilities along with trekking and fishing opportunities during the summer and skiing options for the winter season. In addition, the National Institute of Tourism Promotion (INPROTUR) is Argentina’s other major organisation focusing on promoting the country as a global tourist destination. Mariano Vila, market coordinator of Asia, Africa and Oceania of the institute, has worked with several organisations in the MENA region through various campaigns. “During 2010, Argentina has surpassed its record in terms of foreign tourist arrivals. According to the Ministry of Tourism, more than five million foreign visitors arrived in the country, 25 percent more than in 2009,” said Vila.

MARCH 2011

“These numbers refer to tourist arrivals through Ezeiza International Airport as well as through Jorge Newbery Airport which also welcomes regional flights. The average stay of these tourists was 10.8 days, but especially European tourists are more likely to spend even 20.5 days in the country,” added Vila. While most of the visitors were registered from other South American countries, there is a suggestive interest from the Middle East and Asia as well. In addition to the government’s initiatives, the local tour operators and travel agencies also feel responsible for uplifting the industry and reaching out to long distance markets. Fuera de Ruta, the Buenos Aires based travel agency, which specialises in client-customised services, welcomes most of its clients from Europe and from both North and South America. However Dario Gonzalez, sales executive of the agency, predicts a strong increase in the number of visitors from the MENA region in the next years to come. “I think that Argentina has almost every landscape ever dreamed of by a middle eastern traveller,” said Gonzalez.

“I remember one small group of Syrians that travelled to Iguazú Falls, Perito Moreno glacier, Ushuaia’s Beagle Channel, Bariloche’s lakes and the Península Valdés. Then when I saw them at the end of their trip, they burst into tears remembering the nature and water they had seen. Many times we say to Europeans that they will find things in Argentina that just don’t exist in Europe. For middle eastern people I believe that holds a 200 percent truth” said Gonzalez.

2011 will be the year for Argentina Arab Argentine Argentina has a large Arab community of 3.5 million in comparison to its population of 40 million. The majority of the Arab Argentinians originate from Syrian or Lebanese descent, and according to the latest figures of the total number of Arab Argentinians, 700,000 of them are Muslims. The enormous Arab community notably contributes to the bulk of the tourism industry’s revenue due to travellers arriving to the country to visit their friends or relatives. n

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Jean-Baptist Pigeon

Jean-Baptist Pigeon

Jean-Baptist Pigeon has taken on the role of area general manager for InterContinental Hotels Group`s Crown Plaza and Holiday Inn Dead Sea Resorts in Jordan. He has more than 27 years of experience in the hospitality industry at IHG and held general manager positions at several properties across the globe, including Bahrain, Lebanon, Tunisia, Belgium, Greece, Portugal, Africa, France and Japan where he worked at InterContinental Yokohoma for two years. He holds a hotel management diploma and an executive leadership certificate.

Maya Sharara

Maya Sharara

Maya Sharara has been appointed as business development manager for the newly opened Raouche Arjaan by Rotana in Beirut. She joined Rotana in 2002 as sales executive at Sharjah Rotana and moved later to Beirut to be part of the pre-opening team of Hazmieh Rotana. Later she was promoted to the head of the sales department at Raouche Arjaan by Rotana. Sharara has a certification in business administration.

Joanne Zarifé

Joanne Zarifé Joanne Zarifé has been appointed as new marketing manager for Eddé Sands Hotel. Prior to joining the company she held the PR and communications manager position at InterContinental Mzaar, where she was awarded as “Best PR of the Year 2009”. Zarifé holds a degree in hotel management and tourism and has over seven years of experience in the hospitality industry. Paul Chevalier

Paul Chevalier Paul Chevalier has joined Sheraton Damascus Hotel as general manager. Most recently he worked as hotel manager at Westin Paris – Verdôme. Previously he held several key positions  at various hotels in his native country. Chevalier holds a Bachelor of Science in Hotel and Restaurant Management from the Lausanne Hotel School, and implemented successfully a bilingual program: Management, Finance and Marketing from MBA-HEC Paris. 30

MARCH 2011


Q & A with Shk. Al Majid Mualla As senior vice president commercial operations West Asia and Indian Ocean, Emirates Airlines, Shk. Al Majid Mualla explains the reason behind the strong focus on the India routes and how Emirates has made a difference. Travel Trade Monthly: Emirates has more flights to and within India than any region other than Dubai – why such a strong focus? Shk. Al Majid Mualla: Within three to four years we have jumped from about 40 flights to 184 flights per week. The growth that we have experienced in the last couple of years is tremendous and considering the load factor (being around 85 percent); it was required for us to add more flights to the routes. We currently have 10 destinations in India and the load that we are experiencing right now is tremendous. Emirates has grown by 21 percent against the year before, which is excellent considering we have been in a recession. So the growth is there, also the middle class sector in India has also grown and contributed to this.

We have achieved almost everything that we have planned to achieve

focusing on existing routes and we are concentrating more on next year. What is keeping us from increasing our routes is that we do not have the equipment. We have 150 aircraft presently in our fleet, and the additional aircraft that we are getting in this financial year we have already deployed. However, having said that, we are getting more aircraft in the second part of this year and maybe at that stage we can look into deploying some flights to the Indian region. In our business things change very quickly and we evaluate every route every month.

We also have a very good mix in our flights to India

Travel Trade Monthly: I understand the Indian aviation market is highly regulated compared to the rest of the world. Can you share some insight on this? Travel Trade Monthly: Have you achieved Shk. Al Majid Mualla: It wasn’t very easy and your desired level of penetration in India, or yes, we initially had difficulties with the restrictions, however the Government of India do you still plan to expand? Shk. Al Majid Mualla: We have achieved has realised that the Indian aviation market is almost everything that we have planned to achieve. Yes, there is an opportunity to grow more, but with the equipment that we presently have, we are limited to expand at this stage. In the future we are getting more aircraft, we will then have the opportunity to grow and penetrate the Indian market more. India is like a continent, there are allot of opportunities and there are cities we have not yet reached. We are a commercial airline; we will not just add flights without first seeing an opportunity and analysing the potential. In this case we do see a growth of 20 percent each year and see a healthy load factor of around 85 percent. We also have a very good mix in our flights to India.

growing. They need not only the local carriers but also the international airlines. At this stage we are the biggest international airline going to India. There is always continuous talk with the Indian government and our government.

It is proven that wherever we create more flights we bring business

cannot compare the world right now as many years ago and there are many other countries opening skies to allow international airlines. It is proven that wherever we create more flights we bring business. There are many objections from the governments as to why we are growing and how local carriers will be affected, however the passenger has the right to choose on how and with what airline they want to use.

Travel Trade Monthly: Any obstacles or challenges you might face in the coming years? Shk. Al Majid Mualla: Yes, the restrictions from the governments to allow Emirates to fly (to

Travel Trade Monthly: Where do you certain destinations) and also the issue with fuel. Fuel for us is taking 25 percent of our operating believe Emirates has made a difference? Shk. Al Majid Mualla: There are a cost and even an increase of USD1 per barrel of

Travel Trade Monthly: What plans do you have for developing your business in the combination of reasons for our success in this; Indian market in the future? Do you have we have a department who looks after this part any new routes in the works? of the business in keeping relations with different Shk. Al Majid Mualla: We are at this stage government entities. People realise that we MARCH 2011

Shk. Al Majid Mualla

fuel can affect us. Looking long term, fuel might go above USD150 per barrel and this is a concern for all airlines as this will cause fares to go up. n 31


ADNEC Presents Visitor-Assistance Robot Abu Dhabi National Exhibitors Company (ADNEC) has developed a humanoid robot to assist visitors at the exhibition centre. The innovator, which features the latest robot prototype of PAL Robotics (PAL Group), 2011Reem, was presented at the International Defence Exhibition & Conference (IDEX 2011). The robot, which is 1.65 meters in height, can reach up 5km/h in speed and is equipped with sensors, a multimedia touch screen and motorised head with vision. In addition, it has face tracking and recognition functions and it greets and guides visitors while providing them with useful information. Reem can be programmed to welcome a number of VIP attendees with personal greetings. The company plans to include its new innovation at all the events of the venue, Ali Saeed Bin Harmal Al Dhaheri, managing director of ADNAC explained. “ADNEC is committed to providing visitors with state of the art facilities and first class customer service. It’s important to think outside the box to remain at the top of a very competitive global

industry; should Reem prove a success at IDEX, we will expand the trial to cover other events staged at ADNEC venues,” said the managing director. Peter Abraam, executive director, strategic planning, Royal Group, believes that Reem will fascinate the visitors of the exhibition centre.

ITB Berlin, Germany, March 9-13, 2011 (www.messe-berlin.de) One of the world’s major travel and tourism exhibitions for all aspects of the travel industry. GIBTM Abu Dhabi, UAE, March 28-30, 2011 (www.gibtm.com) International event for the business travel and meetings industry in the Gulf and Middle East region. China Outbound Travel and Tourism Market Beijing, China, April 13-15, 2011 (www.cottm.com) Dedicated business to business event targeting the growing market for outbound travel from China.

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“Reem has been designed to assist people in places such as shopping malls, hotels, hospitals, museums and exhibition centres,” he said. “I believe Reem could be a great asset to ADNEC and will be enjoyed by the thousands of visitors who attend the many events held at the venue each year.” n

Arabian Travel Market Dubai, UAE, May 2-5, 2011 (www.arabiantravelmarket.com) The Middle East’s largest travel and tourism exhibition. Bahrain International Travel Expo Manama, Bahrain, May 12-14, 2011 (www.meembahrain.com) Travel expo for travel professionals in Bahrain and the Middle East. Indaba Durban, South Africa, May 7-10, 2011 (www.indaba-southafrica.co.za) Showcases the widest variety of Southern Africa's best tourism products. International Pow Wow 2011 San Francisco, USA, May 21-25, 2011 (www.ustravel.org/events/international-pow-wow) U.S. Travel Association’s International Pow Wow is an international marketplace and the largest generator of Visit USA travel.

MARCH 2011


Travel Trade Monthly March 2011