VISIT: JORDAN As the cradle of civilisations and a treasury of natural wonders, Jordan takes great pride in the diversity of its tourism product.
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ONSITE: RED SEA An open wound in performance levels throughout the region’s travel and tourism industry has called for all professionals to work together to pick up the pieces.
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NEWS & EVENTS
region’s flourishing travel and tourism industry.
TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY MANAGING EDITOR Mary Kammitsi email@example.com COPY EDITOR Stefanie Saghbini SENIOR JOURNALIST Rita Kasziba JOURNALISTS Dominique Christou Maria Kazeli SALES & MARKETING Maria Demetriadou Pauline Shahabian Derek Lainsbury DESIGN & LAYOUT Elena Stylianou DIRECTORS Andreas Constantinides Mary Kammitsi HEADQUARTERS T.T.W. Travel Trade Weekly LTD P.O. Box 25255, Nicosia 1308 Cyprus Tel: +357 22 021607, Fax: +357 22 210466 WEBSITE www.traveltradeweekly.travel EMAILS firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org PRINTED IN CYPRUS Cyprint Plc P.O. Box 58300, CY-3732, Limassol, Cyprus Tel: +357 25 720035, Fax: +357 25 720123 Email: email@example.com
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Saudi Arabia (SAR)
Abu Dhabi: Healthy Q1 Performance Abu Dhabi’s 141 hotels and hotel apartments have recorded promising performance levels for the first quarter (Q1) of the year, as guest numbers reached 631,417, marking a six percent year-onyear increase. Based on data compiled by the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), guest nights rose 23 percent to over 2.1 million, average length of stay surged 16 percent to 3.36 nights, and although average room rate dropped slightly by two percent to AED489 (USD133), total revenues climbed 15 percent to AED1.432 billion (USD389.9 million). The UK remained the emirate’s main international source market, followed by India and Germany. “Though the year [began] well, we are acutely aware of the challenges of the summer months and will shortly be announcing a series of festival activities which we hope will drive business to our accommodation providers over the traditional low season,” explained H.E. Mubarak AL Muhairi, director general, TCA Abu Dhabi.
Gulf Air: Solid Fiscal and Operational Performance Three months after embarking on its restructuring strategy, Gulf Air has reduced its overall losses by approximately 50 percent in the first quarter (Q1) of the year, compared to Q1 2012.
his sold fiscal and operational performance is the result of the carrier’s decision to mitigate its expenditure by 21 percent, driven by reductions in aircraft leasing fees, flight-related charges, and staff expenses, in addition to the closure of loss-making routes. In spite of its restructuring plan, the Bahraini national airline performed 11 percent better than forecast, according to revenue figures which were realised due in large part to network refinement and the aggressive implementation of a series of commercial initiatives. Along parallel lines, Gulf Air further strengthened its MENA operations while maintaining strategic links to select points in Europe, the Far East, India, and Pakistan, which resulted in a 21 percent surge in passenger yield versus Q1 2012, and also remained a leader in punctuality, ranking in the top ten globally. Meanwhile, the airline also embarked on the process of reviewing and re-engineering its internal procedures throughout Q1, improving its business processes and aligning its workforce to meet its revised fleet and network requirements. Although the remaining months are expected to be challenging, the board of directors and management team are committed to the implementation of the restructuring strategy, and will continue to explore potential commercial opportunities across its existing route network.
Keeping Up With Times
Technology is an ever evolving industry, which needs to be constantly pursued by tourism-related sectors in order to stay up-to-date, enhance products and services, and improve travellers’ overall experience. Dominique Christou writes
ravel today is all about technology that allows people to stay connected and powered no matter where they are, uttered Paul Riches, group director of sales, lowcosttravelgroup. Similarly, Rabih Saab, president, Middle East and Africa, Travelport, noted that having the right technology is the cornerstone of any travel business, be it traditional travel agencies, airlines, or online travel providers. According to Riches, this implies that with businesses such as lowcosttravelgroup, a leading independent provider of accommodation for travel agents and selected partners across 30 international countries, the need to be dynamic for its partners/ retailers is required by providing the highest convenience, choice, and flexibility in terms of bookings and maintaining room inventory, as well as providing effective troubleshooting tools. Therefore, Riches confirmed that the travel company has heavily invested in securing and implementing state-of-the-art technology, allowing it to offer products and services on par with international standards. Moreover, the team at lowcosttravelgroup is eager to embrace the new developments in technology, according to Riches, who noted that this is an area which is absolutely non-negotiable and one that the company is continuously investing in, in order to be in step with times.
However, he believes that the human factor still leads the world of travel and tourism in terms of first-class services which travellers seek. “Technology can never completely replace the human touch. It is an enabler that has led to greater convenience and efficiency, drastically cutting costs and time. However, there is always a personal touch and human element that we continue to value,” he expressed. Saab concurred, “The purpose of travel technology is not to replace traditional processes but rather to improve them and drive efficiencies for our customers. Travelport firmly believes that in the Middle East, there is a long-term future for traditional travel agents, as the trust and face-to-face interaction that so many customers value in this region cannot be replaced by technology solutions. “Our job, therefore, is to act ‘behind the scenes’ and ensure that travel agents, airlines, and other industry professionals have the right tools and access to the right technology to dedicate their time to their customers whilst maintaining effective business practices.” EVOLVING TOGETHER Travelport, therefore, remains at the cutting edge of the industry, providing its customers with the right technology and expertise today and in the future, as Saab confirmed, who described travel as a dynamic industry, which means that the needs of customers are constantly changing and evolving. “The most recent major product launch for Travelport has been the Travelport Merchandising
Platform,” Saab commented, further claiming that this is already changing the future of airline distribution by transforming the way airlines deliver their products through the travel agency channel. Keeping in-line with the ever-changing technology industry, Saab added, “We have also recently made some significant upgrades to Travelport Rooms and More; our industry-leading, B2B [businessto-business] hotel booking engine. The new version, which was developed following customer feedback, sets an industry-leading standard of over 450,000 unique hotel properties and one million room offers, all fully bookable through one portal.” Saab also noted that the new version is more user-friendly and all enhancements have been made in response to travel agency feedback, thus are designed to make booking hotels even faster, easier, and more profitable for travel agents. In addition, Travelport is rolling out Travelport Rapid Reprice, the company’s travel itinerary management tool, across the Middle East and Africa this year, he continued. “Using Rapid Reprice, travel providers employ the same technology used by the world’s largest airlines, to research old and new fares and rules, and generate a new ticket in minutes. The automated process also eliminates costly errors that can occur when using a manual system and dramatically improves agent productivity through intuitive screens and a simplified process,” Saab further informed. CONNECTING PEOPLE Additionally, with technology becoming an essential part of everyday life, and a growing sector in the tourism industry, GenieConnect, formerly Genie Mobile, announced their top 10 predictions for the mobile event app industry this year, as part of their ongoing commitment to drive engagement technology into the events industry and deliver valuable insight for event suppliers and attendees. According to Michael Douglas, manager, product strategy, GenieConnect, mobile platforms will cease to operate in isolation, thus app providers will be expected to deliver a solution, which is compatible with both web and tablets. “This will become a standard requirement this year as attendees realise the benefits of streaming and accessing information on all devices from the desktop to any mobile device,” he affirmed. Additionally, events are going mobile and, as a result, apps will become the norm allowing instant access to all of the event’s information, Douglas observed. “Customers will continue to expect greater return on investment from their event apps, thus the app will play a much greater role in the marketing arm of every product it is attached to, and all event apps will be expected to deliver direct business leads, audience insights, and clear brand/message recognition,” Douglas continued. SIMPLIFYING THE PROCESS In the cruise industry, Royal Caribbean Cruises recently JUNE 2013
Technology signed a multi-year distribution agreement with Sabre Travel Network, making all of Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Azamara Club Cruises’ fares and schedules available in the Sabre global distribution system. Under the new agreement, Sabre Travel Network and Royal Caribbean have expanded their relationship to include travel agents in Mexico, which will now be able to make bookings for cruise itineraries through the Sabre Red Workspace. “Travel agents are invaluable to our industry and Sabre Travel Network’s powerful technology can help us deliver greater access and convenience to more of them,” said Vicki Freed, senior vice president, sales and trade support and service, Royal Caribbean International.
and exciting services to our customers,” commented Akbar Al Baker, CEO, Qatar Airways, who explained that mobility is high on the list of the air company’s customers so as to have access to important travel and flight information when and where they want it. “So we have now given them a new service that meets that demand. As our customers’ needs evolve, so will the services and products that we offer,” he assured. Customers can now search for and book flights, check their flight’s status, and follow travel alerts on the go. In addition, members of the airline’s Privilege Card frequent flyer programme can fast track their booking by logging in with their membership number. FACING CHALLENGES
STAYING IN TOUCH Airlines are also keeping up-to-date with the latest technology trends, and Qatar Airways is just one of many which has placed the ease and convenience of travelling with the airline right in the palm of the passenger’s hand, through the launch of a new mobile phone app for BlackBerry, Android, and iPhone handsets, as well as having introduced a new mobile website. “We are continually looking for ways to bring new
Global spending on aviation security was estimated to be about USD22.3 billion in 2012, according to the Aviation Security Market Report 2012-2022. In the longer term, Middle East spending on aviation security is expected to increase sharply to meet the demand for new technology systems, and this has been confirmed by a recent study released by International Air Transport Association, which illustrates that in line with the 400 million passengers expected to cross through the region’s airport terminals
by 2020, the GCC is investing millions of dollars in airport technology and system upgrades, to ensure seamless and safer passenger and freight movement. Moreover, a report by Frost & Sullivan shows that USD86 billion will be spent by Middle East airports in expansion plans until the year 2025. “The authorities face the challenges of adopting effective safety measures whilst limiting the inconvenience to the passengers. An airport is always judged by its security and service standards. It is crucial to adopt innovative technology, improve security, and streamline efficiencies to offer a seamless passenger travel experience,” commented Mohammed Ali, director general, Dubai Civil Aviation Authority. Meanwhile, Ahmad Mohammad Bin Thani, director general, airport security, Dubai Police, verified that the huge investments in security at airports run parallel with the massive expansions. “It is a 24/7 challenge to ensure extensive and effective security,” he informed, adding that as Dubai Airport grows, so do the gateway’s safety and security facilities, boasting some of the world’s latest technologies and best practices. “We are also developing the professional capabilities of our human resources through training,” he added, praising the region as one which is likely to become a global model for airports security, through a perfect mix of technology and strategies.
OF HOSPITALITY Dead Sea
JORDAN IN BRIEF Capital: Amman Currency: Jordanian Dinar (JOD) Language: Arabic
As the cradle of civilisations and a treasury of natural wonders, Jordan takes great pride in the diversity of its tourism product and the glorious hospitality of the nation, which continues to create ‘the’ experience that distinguishes the Kingdom as a unique destination. Rita Kasziba writes
s Jordan continues to plow ahead with its strategic plan for sector development, despite visitor numbers dropping 7.3 percent to 6.3 million in 2012, the Central Bank of Jordan reported a notable 15.3 percent surge in tourism receipts, contributing USD3.47 billion to the economy. Expressing delight at the past months’ performance levels, Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat, managing director, Jordan Tourism Board (JTB), highlighted that overnight visitor numbers improved 5.1 percent to over 4.16 million in 2012, and although the first two months of the current year brought a 1.3 percent drop in the same metric, year-end results are anticipated to exceed 2012 figures. This comes in line with JTB’s National Tourism Strategy (NTS) 2012-2015, which sets the goals of increasing tourism arrivals to 9.4 million and tourism receipts to JOD4.2 billion (USD5.92 billion) by 2015. JTB’s endeavours to develop Jordan into a distinctive destination offering diverse, year-round visitor experience, has been met with various challenges over the past few years. On the one hand, a number of visitors diverted to Jordan, as Ali Obeidat, director of sales and marketing, Radisson Blu Tala Bay Resort, Aqaba, noted; on the other hand, however, as Firas Khatib, director of revenue, Landmark Amman Hotel & Conference Center, also pinpointed, travel warnings against the country and the Middle East in general, have restrained tourists from visiting Jordan. A surging demand from Libya though resulted in a good share of business, as Khatib divulged, with almost 35 percent of the total supply in Amman being occupied by visitors from the North African country. JUNE 2013
Jordan Hakam Barakat, general manager, Toledo Hotel Amman, who described 2012 as a record year for the Jordanian hotel sector, also attributed this success to the influx of the Libyan market from which 50,000 visitors sought medical services in the Kingdom, many of them staying for long months, however tour packages, especially from Europe, declined significantly. As Ziad Fostuq, general manager, Bristol Hotel Amman, also noted, the country’s reliance on combined group packages, which enable travellers to discover Jordan and Egypt or Syria, has drawn down performance levels, particularly in the Dead Sea area, Aqaba, and Petra, while other locations, including Amman, continued to benefit from strong corporate and free independent travellers demand. Along parallel lines, Naji Alia, CEO, Amlak Hotels & Tourism Investment, the hotel management company whose portfolio also includes Belle Vue Hotel, Amman, elucidated that although Jordan has remained a safe destination, the surrounding political disturbance failed to transfer significant traffic to the Kingdom and has eventually led to a decline in overall results. “[It is] because the whole region is usually advertised as one package for the foreign tourist, and [if one is] effected, so are the others,” explained Alia, adding that the Kingdom’s diverse tourism product, and its positioning as a therapeutic and curative destination
has helped increase tourist flow to the country. Alia further asserted that the past 12 months brought a different type of business to Jordan, with therapeutic tourism driving business volumes, while non-governmental organisations as well as the religious tourism sector have maintained business levels. REACHING OUT Consequently, visitor volumes from the traditional key feeder leisure group and MICE markets, mainly from Europe and America, have dropped, as Peter Hoesli, general manager, Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea, and regional manager, Jordan, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, pinpointed, adding that although the local market remained steady, the stiff competition resulted in a rate driven environment, especially in the corporate group segment. As Soha Zahar, cluster director of sales and marketing, InterContinental Hotels Group, which currently operates five hotels in the Kingdom, noted, the local markets have also played a crucial role in maintaining healthy business levels, while the GCC, Egypt, and Lebanon also remain on the company’s radar . “We are also attracting and targeting many markets and segments, including Russia, Eastern Europe, as well as the Near East. These markets have a great
potential,” Zahar added. In fact, penetrating new markets is high on JTB’s agenda, Arabiyat assured, listing Taiwan, China, Korea, Japan, Australia, Scandinavia, and Turkey among the organisation’s main target markets, as he further revealed plans to roll out roadshows in India and Brazil, as well as across Eastern Europe, including Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, and the Far East, namely China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, in addition to attending all major travel trade shows around the globe. JTB continues to lay emphasis on highlighting the country’s unparalelled diversity to eliminate seasonality and advance Jordan’s global standing, as Arabiyat elaborated, “Medical and MICE tourism are extremely important source markets to Jordan, especially from the region. Research carried out by World Travel & Tourism Council, revealed that although the country’s industry currently relies solely on leisure travel, representing 89.1 percent of the total, business travel, currently making up 10.9 percent, is anticipated to grow at an accelerated annual rate of 5.7 percent over the coming years, in line with the country’s ambition to attract corporate travellers and event organisers. As Kamel Ajami, country manager, Jordan, Hilton Worldwide, highlighted, Jordan’s location in Southwest Asia is appealing for both Pan-Arabic regional and international conventions, and King Hussein Bin
Talal Convention Centre managed by Hilton, hailed as the largest stand-alone convention centre in the country, has already played host to some of the region’s most prestigious events. “As the destination Dead Sea, we are working on several conventional for the coming years. […] We are also working aggressively with JTB and Destination Dead Sea on acquisitions for the future through extensive campaigns and providing support to local, regional, and international conference organisers,” explained Ajami, adding that the centre has already established itself as leading venue and will continue to do so with the upcoming 285-room Hilton Dead Sea Resort & Spa, which will be situated adjacent to the convention centre. READY, SET, GO! Professionals working in the industry share the view that Jordan has a lot to offer, as Ajami also highlighted, adding that investing in effective marketing and promotion is crucial. Along parallel lines, Alia called on the public sector to step up their initiatives and developments, and observed that the launch of a year-round event calendar could help enhance Jordan’s standing as a serious contender for both leisure and business tourism, citing Dubai as a prime example.
Eric Seso, general manager, ibis Amman, concurred, “Jordan has a high potential for tourism and needs to focus more on investing in communication and infrastructure that can help put forward its fantastic cultural and natural heritage. Also, Jordan needs to popularise the destination and target the economy segment in order to gain volume. I believe that increasing low-cost airline traffic could prove a very good opportunity as well as develop online bookings.” Khatib further remarked on the importance of further fostering the industry’s growth in terms of both developments and activities. “We believe that [especially] the Dead Sea area requires a major development and new projects, such as malls, shopping arcades, night clubs, and so on,” he said. In Aqaba, a number of projects are already under construction, which, as Obeidat noted, are expected to help increase both visitor volume and length of stay and give a major boost to the industry in general. Due to the past years’ geopolitical and world economic situation, a number of developments in Amman, the Dead Sea area, as well as in Aqaba have been delayed, noted Hoesli, adding that when looking at any other than the traditional European and American key feeder markets, such as the Middle Eastern segment, entertainment and high quality shopping options could definitely advance tourism, especially in Aqaba and the Dead Sea areas. ENHANCING PRODUCT As Arabiyat explained, the new NTS retains the fourpillar framework with the four pillars being marketing and promotion, product development, labour market development and enabling environment. Exemplifying the main goals, Arabyiat said, “[The new strategy aims to] expand the distribution channels of the Jordan tourism product; to enhance and develop the promotion tools for the product; to strengthen JTB’s relationship with stakeholders locally and abroad; and to develop the institutional performance of JTB. “Based on these goals, strategic objectives were established, including plans to conduct marketing activities in new emerging markets; to increase focus on promoting medical, wellness, religious, and edu-
cational tourism, in addition to the main six experiences; to work on charter flights from promising potential markets,” explained Arabiyat, revealing that JTB also aims to strengthen its collaboration with Dubai’s tourism sector in a bid to target long-haul destinations. As Jordan continues to forge ahead, a number of large-scale developments are set to foster the Kingdom’s competitiveness on both regional and global scales. One such pioneering urban project is Abdali, which has been envisaged to become a prominent landmark of the capital, by bringing together a mix of the finest hotels, cafés, and restaurants, along with a host of local and international fashion boutiques, and offering a bustling hub for live entertainment and leisure, as George Amireh, CEO, Abdali Investment & Development, explained. “With several international luxury hotels such as the Rotana and W hotels, in addition to 400 luxurious serviced apartments operated and managed by Rotana Hotel Management Corporation, at the Abdali Boulevard, tourists will be offered a pinnacle of luxuriant world-class services and the ultimate convenience of having a multitude of facilities only steps away.” The development consists of two phases, the first of which comprises 34 separate projects owned and developed by a multitude of both local and international investors. According to Amireh, 26 of these are slated for completion by the end of 2014, with 17 of those set to become operational, already, within the span of the current year, while the second phase of the project is currently under review to accommodate the changing demand patterns within the real estate market. Meanwhile, approximately 85 percent of mid-rise developments within the project has already been declared ready for operation, while a total of five towers are currently being erected, one of which will be the Rotana hotel tower, which, at 188m, is set to become the highest tower in Jordan, noted Amireh. For the 32,000m2 Abdali Mall, five underground floors designated for services and parking, have already been constructed, Amireh continued, adding that works have also recently commenced on the W hotel tower. The Boulevard is envisaged to become another major component of the development; one which Taher Al Jaghbir, CEO, Abdali Boulevard Company (ABC), described as the new downtown of Amman. “Built on a land area of 26,540m2, this mixed-use project of 224,000m2 of built up area consists of a 370m long pedestrian spine, bordered by 12 buildings, six on each side,” he explained, adding that the project is set to play a central role in promoting Amman as a viable tourism destination and a choice location. “The Boulevard is now more than 90 percent complete from a construction point of view and we are currently leasing the remaining retail areas and office spaces to prospective tenants,” informed Al Jaghbir, who further revealed that The Boulevard is scheduled to welcome its first visitors and guests before the end of the year, in line with the proposed opening of Rotana’s Arjaan Serviced Hotel Apartments. Meanwhile, with a number of large-scale developments in the pipeline, Aqaba also continues to gain ground as an emerging destination, where the JUNE 2013
Aqaba Special Economic Zone offers an attractive corporate environment for businesses and continues to forge ahead with its strategy to transform Aqaba into a leading Red Sea business, logistics and leisure hub. In fact, Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) is keen to develop Aqaba into an economically, environmentally, and socially suitable destination; and a significant driver of economic growth, and creator of wealth, jobs, and prosperity. Demonstrating the destination’s growing appeal, in 2012, the number of arrivals to Aqaba soared to 481,365, a year-on-year increase of 3.6 percent, while average length of stay improved from 2.09 to 2.17 as a result of reinforced
marketing efforts; the launch of the new Istanbul-Aqaba route by Turkish Airlines, the opening of a first-class tourist information centre, the development of the cruise sector, and the activation of the charter flights incentive scheme, which is aimed at attracting more services from various markets, including Eastern and Western Europe. In a bid to further strengthen Aqaba’s position, ASEZA is now focusing on eco-tourism through green and ecofriendly activities and practices, while constant product development and the upgrade of existing facilities also remain high on the agenda, as well as the further development of the cruise tourism sector, which already witnessed a notable improvement with over 160 vessels call-
ing at the ports in 2012 compared to 130 in 2011. FLYING THE FLAG As the country progresses head on with new developments, the recent opening of the new USD750 million Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA), is anticipated to open up new markets for the country, and is set to take the airport’s capacity from 3.5 million annual passengers to nine million, with further expansions aimed at gradually increasing its total capacity to 12 million passengers per annum. In addition, during the summer peak season, over 40 airlines will operate via QAIA, including national carrier, Royal Jordanian Airlines (RJ). Commenting on the vital role which RJ has been playing over the past 50 years, Amer Hadidi, CEO, RJ, explained, “[RJ] has been a main conduit and an important promoter of tourism, business, and medical travel to and from Jordan [...],” he further highlighted, adding that as RJ continues its strides by renewing its fleet and expanding its route network and operations, passenger numbers are set to reach 3.5 million by year-end. Likewise, since its inauguration in 1996, Royal Wings, a subsidiary of RJ, has also progressed dramatically, as Randa Zawaideh, director of commercial and planning, Royal Wings, pinpointed, explaining that today, the aircraft charter operator’s services go well beyond the borders of the Kingdom and extends to the Middle East, Europe, and Africa as well. “In addition, during the last 12 months, we have served different markets, including the Iraqi Umrah, which is continuously expanding [and] we have also been able to grab a share of the Lebanese market, in which our aircraft was positioned during the summer of 2012,” said Zawaideh, adding that Royal Wings, which enjoys access to all of RJ’s aircraft, also continues to maintain a significant share of the Jordanian market. “Royal Wings is also in the process of studying different charter routes in Eastern Europe, where we hope to begin operation in October,” Zawaideh further revealed. As Jordan continues to forge ahead to realise its vision, the industry maintains a positive attitude towards the future, with hotels such as InterContinental Jordan having become a symbol of the sector’s resilience and continuous growth, through its landmark status over the past five decades. “Launched by the late King Hussein bin Talal, InterContinental Jordan opened its doors on March 15, 1963, so we started our festivities in the month of March,” explained Jan Ifcic, general manager, InterContinental Jordan, who announced that the special gala welcomed royalties, dignitaries, and loyal guests, to celebrate the success of the first five-star hotel in the country. JUNE 2013
Regaining its Former Glory The visible scar, a result of the turbulent political strife over the past few years, still remains an open wound in performance levels throughout the region’s travel and tourism industry, which has called for all professionals to work together to pick up the pieces, carefully and strategically, including those of the highly-popular Red Sea region. Stefanie Saghbini writes
olliers International’s Hospitality division, which boasts a global network of specialist consultants in the hotel, resort, marina, golf, leisure, and spa sectors, recently revealed its 2013 - Egypt with Cairo in Focus - Hotel Market Overview report, which states that an overall growth in visitor spending jumped 11 percent across the country in 2012, as a result of the 11 million tourists which travelled to its shores throughout the 12-month period. In turn, the survey illustrates a strong recovery made by the leisure markets in 2012, with solid performance indicators in Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada, which hurled leisure spending up 1.1 percent in 2012 versus 2011, while international spending grew by 5.7 percent year-on-year. Meanwhile, occupancy rates surged 27.1 percent in Sharm El Sheikh, pushing RevPAR up 20.8 pecent in 2012. RATES VERSUS QUALITY Mixed feelings, however, have been expressed by travel and tourism professionals across the Red Sea, with a large majority commenting on the country’s political instability whose effect, they stress, has proliferated to other highly touristic regions of Egypt, in particular the Red Sea, namely Sharm El Sheikh, Hurghada, Taba, Marsa Alam, Dahab, and Nuwieba. “There is no doubt that the Red Sea travel trend is going down this year compared to 2012,” commented Mohammed Eid, assistant director of sales and marketing, Gorgonia Beach Resort, Marsa Alam, pointing out that this decline will differ according to the provinces across the summer tourism hotspot. “The fact that the hotels of the strongest destinations, affected by the decline, will reduce rates to attract customers is, in my personal point of view, a negative action, as they will be forced to reduce quality in line with the new rates,” Eid added. Echoing identical views to Eid, Sherif Osman, area director of sales and marketing, InterContinental The Palace Port Ghalib Resort, Crowne Plaza Sahara Sands Port Ghalib Resort, Crowne Plaza Sahara Oasis Port Ghalib Resort, and Marina Lodge at Port Ghalib, asserted that value growth rates across the board declined to double digit territory, directly impacting the region’s travel, accommodation, air transportation, and tourist attractions. “Operators introduced heavy discounts in order to attract tourists back and prices remained low at the beginning of the year. This is due to demonstrations hapJUNE 2013
pening on a weekly basis,” Osman emphasised, which, he added, is forcing the potential buyer or traveller to select alternative destinations for their holidays. Similarly, Amr Adel, general manager, Coral Beach Rotana Resort Hurghada, highlighted the major challenges which are being faced by hoteliers across the region with regards to rates, as all of the Red Sea’s resorts are being restricted by tour operators to increase prices. “The risk remains on having to count on one segment [for business] thus there must be an organised national vision and plan to focus on different types of tourism that is bound to increase demand,” he said. Contrarily, Jean Patrick Thiry, managing director, Europe, Middle East, and Africa, Grand Heritage Hotels International, feels somewhat positive with regards to tourism to the region, which, he stressed, has been generally shaken due to the political instability. “Business is, of course, far from pre-revolution levels and despite occupancy reaching good levels, the rates are still below what the quality of the product delivered deserves. Thanks to its unparalleled qualities, however, the Red Sea has been able to amortise this trend, through the heavy reduction in rates, which has been reflected in the financial performance of each business,” he explained. “As a consequence, only solid organisations are able to keep their quality standards and acquire market share, thanks to their superior service. I believe that this trend will last as the market has a tendency of requiring higher quality level and better value,” Thiry continued. Alain Chatel, general manager, Mövenpick Resort Hurghada, also urged fellow professionals to focus on improving their product to
ensure guest satisfaction, as Red Sea travellers are becoming increasingly conscious of quality and service. KEEPING SPIRITS HIGH A sense of optimism certainly still exists across the region, amid all the loss in business and tourism figures, as professionals march head on with marketing schemes to lure in and cater to the influx of visitors expected to the Red Sea’s shores in the coming months, as well as the next few years. “Generally 2013 started slowly, however from April onwards we have seen very strong pick up from the international market, mainly from West and East European leisure markets,” said Ghada Salah, cluster director of sales and marketing, Mövenpick Resort & Spa El Gouna, Mövenpick Resort Hurghada, Mövenpick
Resort Soma Bay, and Mövenpick Resort El Quseir, who noted that occupancies across the Red Sea hotels are running at approximately 60-65 percent year-to-date, with predominantly European business and the local Egyptian market which, she declared, is claiming first position at El Gouna and Hurghada hotels. “We are optimistic for the rest of year as the international market is getting stronger perhaps helped by the very bad ’weather’ Europe has been experiencing,” she added, further expressing a healthy flow of business also expected for the latter part of the year, as Egypt remains one of the main destinations for the Western European market during the winter season. Salah also accentuated a strong demand from the local market, especially during the Easter and Eid times of the year. In addition, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts recently welcomed Mövenpick Resort Soma Bay while the launch of Mövenpick Resort Hurghada was executed in place of what used to be Continental Resort. According to Chatel, general sales and marketing efforts are being implemented by the team at Mövenpick
Switzerland, Belgium, the UK, and Scandinavia. Meanwhile, smaller segments, such as group business from the Far East, also remain a potential, Chatel further pinpointed, while great efforts are also being placed on the MICE segment. “We are confident that we will bring the property back to its past glory and become one of the leading hotels on the Red Sea,” he concluded. Another hotel group which boasts a large number of properties across the Red Sea is InterContinental Hotels Group, whose teams’ main focus this year will be on targeting the local domestic market for corporate, meeting, leisure, and well-being segments, while the international MICE guest will remain one of the group’s priorities for the region, as well as niche segments, including luxury, romance, honeymoon, wellness, diving, and family, this according to Osman. “Moreover, we had to consider our selling strategy, moving into volume room nights targeting the Western European, CIS and Russian, as well as Eastern European markets, which are considered as emerging
Savoy Sharm El Sheikh
InterContinental The Palace Port Ghalib Resort
Resort Hurghada, such as the strong presence at travel trade fairs in Europe and the Middle East, to ensure that the hotel is well-recognised with the new brand. “In this period, major renovation and improvements took place; [...] a general upgrade and maintenance of the place and the implementation of Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts’ service and quality standards based on our ‘Natural Enjoyment’ programme,” Chatel elaborated, describing the resort as a unique jewel, with excellent location and facilities. With a very strong base in Egypt while enjoying great popularity from the European as well as the local segment, as Chatel continued, Mövenpick Hotels & Resort benefits from the brand perception, as regular travellers to Hurghada are now choosing Mövenpick Resort Hurghada for their stay, he informed. “At the same time, we can benefit from a strong presence in the tour operator markets, where Mövenpick is a trusted brand,” Chatel asserted. He mentioned the Western European segment as the main focus this year due, again, to the hotel brand’s popularity across the region, particularly in Germany,
market to our resort destination. Also, we have implemented new packages for the domestic market with attractive value for money,” he explicated. Developments across the properties in Port Ghalib include the opening of the new Wunder Bar, which is located at the marina promenade, as well as the new jazz club which, Osman believes, will create a buzzing night life and entertainment hub in the destination, in addition to the new Ocean Divas catamaran sailing cruises. “The Ocean Divas are extremely comfortable boats; even during rough sea conditions, you can laze in the sun and enjoy fantastic Red Sea views as you sail. There are also plenty of seats under the shade, as well as nets for sunbathing directly over the Red Sea,” he disclosed. Also feeling the positive wave of business set to prevail across the region in the near future is Sherine Emara, marketing manager, La Résidence des Cascades, Golf, Spa & Thalasso Resort, Soma Bay, who believes that the property will continue to develop over the next few years. So far so good, as business is soaring some 20 percent higher that in 2012, Emara reported, as she anticipates a healthy future with a current target on
the Scandinavian segment. “We are actually working on different special offers and packages to all markets and attending most of the international worldwide fairs, trying to expand the geography of our clientele,” she revealed. Likewise, Adel also witnessed a 20 percent increase in occupancy levels over 2012 for Coral Beach Rotana Resort Hurghada, which, he gathered, has confirmed the trust in the destination which has ensued. “We are expecting a healthier year this year, and our main [priority] is segment diversification, with a focus on the local market to prevent us having to count on one segment which could dilute revenues,” he explained, praising the CIS market as the main key player in the whole of Egypt; one which he believes is the backbone of the country’s tourism, and one which all resorts are targeting. Expanding on the property’s targets for the remainder of the year, Adel said, “We are currently focusing on diversifying our market segment through the introduction of a new segment to the resort, which is the events and MICE business. I would say that this should be the trend across the destination that will create a new demand for our markets. This will have three major positive impacts which are reducing the risk of counting on one segment; creating a demand for low and shoulder periods; and creating an indirect marketing tool through a story of social activities.” George Ganchev, general manager, Kempinski Hotel Soma Bay, also anticipates a positive year, through the development of the hotel’s business mix, which, he believes, will secure Kempinski Hotel Soma Bay’s presence in all potential feeder markets along with what he described as a speedy response to market trends, retaining the hospitality level guests expect from the property. “A notable development of 25 percent in business in the first quarter of the year versus 2012, has reflected a positive recuperation of upscale tourism flow to the region,” he said. In addition, Ganchev named the European guest, who seeks an upscale holiday experience with a blend of Egyptian hospitality alongside European flair, as a key feeder market, as well the Russians, Scandinavians, and Middle Easterners. Some of the business approaches will include retaining and developing existing feeder markets; increasing awareness and visibility of Kempinski Hotel Soma Bay hotel in new markets; encouraging culture and leisure tours in cooperation with Kempinski Nile Hotel; consistent engagement with guests through all media channels; developing digital marketing initiatives; developing various packages targeted at certain niche segments such as sports, family, and wellness; and promoting the hotel as a wedding destination, as Ganchev announced. “Various marketing initiatives conducted to promote the hotel [will include] the utilisation of Kempinski’s network and public relations presence, a consistent presence in key trade fairs and road shows, and the participation in tour operators’ marketing initiatives to develop the hotel’s visibility and presence for all holidaymakers,” he further clarified. JUNE 2013
Red Sea ”We are working on finalising our conference centre by 2014, for the MICE segment,” Ganchev added. Ramy Rizkallah, vice president, marketing, Savoy Sharm El Sheikh, also views this year as one which will perform better in terms of occupancy levels over figures recorded in 2012, with numbers having escalated 50 percent so far this year. Despite posting healthy occupancy results for the first quarter (Q1) of the year, Rizkallah feels that this month’s levels will not reach Q1 figures, however, high occupancy is predicted as of July 1, particularly from the Gulf market, due to the school holidays. “Our target markets are the British, Russians, GCC, Swiss, and Italians, and we attend exhibitions such as World Travel Market, London, International Tourism Bourse, Berlin, Arabian Travel Market, Dubai, and Moscow International Travel & Tourism Exhibition, to lure these markets in,” he said, adding that in a bid to continue to offer superior service, plans are being finalised for the new building of Royal Savoy, which will include a new lounge, new reception, and new rooms and suites. EVERYBODY WINS The end of 2012 also saw a major change in the management of Amwaj International’s properties across several countries, namely Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq, which are now being operated by Grand Heritage Hotel International under the Governor Hotels and Resorts brand, this according to Thiry. “Grand Heritage, so far, operates two properties under the brand; The Governor Hotel, Portland, Oregon, US, and The Governor West Bay, Doha, Qatar, as well as more than 20 hotels, either in operation or under development, as part of the Grand Heritage collection,” Thiry further informed. “The partnership is aimed at leveraging, from one side, the strong presence of Amwaj in the specified countries and, from the other side, the success of Grand Heritage in positioning its properties at the top of the market in which each of them operates,” he added, assuring that the Governor Hotels and Resorts product is based on enhancing tailor-made services by recognising the uniqueness of each guest, while Grand Heritage Hotel International has realised that the current trend shows an increased demand for quality and service excellence. JUNE 2013
So far, Thiry views the upcoming winter season as very encouraging in line with the complete reorganisation of the sales structure, which is now centralised for both properties. “We have focused on our efforts in two directions; Eastern Europe, UK, and Italy for the Sharm property, and Germany, and to some extent, Russia, for the Abu Soma property,” he unveiled. In conclusion, Thiry strongly believes that the future will reward products that are able to exit the commodities area, and stand in its own league, outside the competition.
Also commenting on the need to be incomparable within the already-prosperous Red Sea hotel segment, is Manal Isaac, public relations manager, Sheraton Miramar El Gouna, who underlined the importance of passing on the right message in order to grow business. All-in-all, it is pretty much business as usual in the Red Sea region, Isaac continued, concluding that along the lines of projecting a sound situation, especially in El Gouna, the tourist in Egypt experiences the outstanding warmth and hospitality of the Egyptian people that comes from the heart.
A Most Obliging Welcome
The Blue Water
In a land blessed with picturesque, natural beauty, Sri Lanka’s hot and humid climate is complemented by the warmth and kindness of its people. Wishing to exorcise the memory of the civil war, the island shows signs of rapid recovery, and even if changes need to occur across various levels, Sri Lanka is on the right path towards progress. SRI LANKA IN BRIEF Capital: Colombo Currency: Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) Language: Sinhala and Tamil
ver one million tourists visited the Indian Ocean island in 2012 and, according to Rumy Jauffer, managing director, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), this is due to its great diversity. “Guests can choose from hundreds of beaches, 15 national parks, eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, and numerous Ayurveda treatments to create their very own dream vacation,” Jauffer commented. Figures by Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) show a constant increase in international tourist arrivals, with the country receiving 288,798 visitors in the first quarter (Q1) of the year, registering a 10.9 percent rise over the same period in 2012. Since 2009, figures have exceeded expectations, with the government setting a goal of 2.5 million tourists by 2016, while this year Sri Lanka is expected to see 1.3 million travellers arrive to its shores. SLTDA have listed India, UK, and Germany, as the top three markets while it classifies Middle East
among the top 10 segments for January, February and March. Cumulatively for Q1, the region ranks seventh, with 11,760 visitors, registering a 3.4 percent growth over Q1 2012. Sampath Alahakoon, assistant director of marketing, sports and diaspora, SLTPB, testified that beyond its participation at this year’s Arabian Travel Market (ATM), where the Middle East was viewed as a market with high potential and a series of promotional activities took place, the tourism authority plans trade familiarisation tours in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Lebanon and Jordan, and road shows in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. KINDEST OF HOSPITALITY Renusha Gomis, assistant general manager, public relations and promotions, Aitken Spence Hotel Managements, explained that the company actively geared operations to welcome Muslim travellers, as she expects that the global tourism industry is to face a boom in this kind of travel over the next decade, with spending by Muslim tourists growing faster than the global rate. For Q1 this year, Cinnamon Lakeside Colombo enjoyed a six percent market share from the MENA region, mainly for business purposes, and as Pemindee Gamage, revenue and marketing executive, Cinnamon Lakeside Colombo, suggested, the hotel caters adequately for the Arab guest by providing halal meat, prayer direction in the room, prayer mats, a
shisha hut, Iftar buffet, as well as Qurans on request. Expectedly, The Gateway Hotel Airport Garden Colombo benefits from its close proximity to Bandaranaike International Airport, with Ashok Fernando, director of sales, The Gateway Hotel Airport Garden Colombo, reporting that airline crews from Middle East such as Emirates, Qatar Airways, and flydubai, stay at the hotel on permanent basis. Tourist-wise the MENA clientele makes up five percent, he explained. A hotel catering to both leisure and business guests is Galadari Hotel whose Q1 welcomed 2,856 guests from the Middle East and 71 from Africa, as Trudy Corea, director of marketing and sales, Galadari Hotel, revealed, adding that Sheherezade Restaurant, the hotel’s Arabic dining venue, is one of its highlights for the market. Welcoming mostly leisure guests, MENA arrivals to Hilton Colombo represented 11 percent of its total clientele base since the beginning of the year, registeringa a two percent drop year-to-date, according to Shane Ingram, director of business development, Hilton Colombo, who added, “We strive to attract this market to the hotel by means of continuous promotions in food and beverage and also taking part in MENA brochure contributions from some of leading travel agents and attending road shows and trade fairs such as the ATM.” In contrast, Jerom Nesiah, sales and marketing executive, The Blue Water, reported that the hotel witnessed a 30 percent increase of MENA travellers in Q1 compared to the same period in 2012, boasting that the resort is a preferred destination for the region thanks to its close location to Colombo, as well as its JUNE 2013
Sri Lanka rooms which all have direct sea view, and the hotel’s overall kid-friendly policies. Ishanth Gunawardene, head of sales and marketing, Jetwing Hotels, explained that the chain’s main markets in the region are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Oman, and Lebanon, and added, “Arrivals from the MENA region to Sri Lanka have increased significantly over the last few years and we now have a steady and consistent segment of business from this region.” Agreeing with Gunawardene’s view is George Cooper, owner, Kahanda Kanda, an eight-room boutique hotel near the south coast of Sri Lanka, who said, “I feel that Sri Lanka is the ideal destination for visitors from the UAE; we have a high rainfall, a wonderful natural environment with lots of greenery, and many differing experiences, from historical sites to wildlife, stunning scenery, and we are only a shorthaul flight away.” INCREASING INVENTORY According to Jauffer, the country’s room capacity in 2012 stood at 23,000 and is to be increased to 45,000 by 2016, with resorts all around the country, making it a unique tourism zone. In line with this, Alexandre Glauser, area general manager, Sri Lanka, Centara Hotels & Resorts, announced that Centara Passikudah Resort & Spa softopened on April 8, featuring 125 rooms on the undiscovered east coast of Sri Lanka, while Chris Bailey, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Centara Hotels & Resorts, added that the property intends to target the Middle East and North African clientele as well as a varied international clientele to ensure a truly cosmopolitan resort feel and experience. Both OZO Colombo and OZO Kandy, slated to open late this year and in 2014, respectively, will target visitors from the MENA region who appreciate quality and value accommodation in central locations, where simplicity, comfort, and accessibility is combined with innovative technology, according to Peter Henley, president, ONYX Hospitality Group, who added, “At just over four hours flying time from any major city in the GCC, Sri Lanka has become accessible to all types of travellers, including families, and is now considered a mainstream and favourite destination among visitors from the Middle East.” According to Ilona Yim, director of public relations, Shangri-La International Hotel Management, Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa is slated to open in the fourth quarter of 2014, and it is located on 59ha on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, while with the new shipping port, the second international airport, and industrial zones close by, it will be perfectly positioned for business travellers. She added that the coastal property complements Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo, which is currently under construction in the capital, with both resorts marking the company’s entry into the island. Moreover, Hyatt Regency Colombo, expected to open in the second half of 2014, will be a 42-floor hoJUNE 2013
tel strategically located on Galle Road, which is one of the arterial roads in the central business district area, and will feature 458 contemporarily-styled and spacious guestrooms. Ratnesh Verma, senior vice president, real estate and development, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, explained that whilst Middle Eastern and African travellers are a relatively small portion of tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka, the segment is seeing one of the highest percentage growths in arrivals. IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS “Sri Lanka’s marketing strategy needs to be seriously relooked into and particularly its pricing strategy; as its pricing is far too high compared to its competitors such as Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore,” emphasised Sudharma De Silva, CEO, World Travel Centre Colombo, adding that in order to attract more MENA guests, hotels need to increase the availability of halal food, while more hotels with better facilities in the areas of Nuwara Eliya, Bandarawela, and Ella would provide an advantage. Chaminda Dias, director, Akquasun Lanka, corroborated, and said, “In terms of attracting more visitors, Sri Lanka should create awareness in [Arabic] markets about the diversity of product available in Sri Lanka.” Dias elaborated that hotels and restaurants are now more aware of the need for halal food, which is becoming widely available, while Arabic-speaking chauffeurs and guides are also increasing in numbers as the Middle East becomes a primary source market for the country. Red-Hot Travel Club, with a presence in Dubai, is well-suited to understand travellers’ needs when in Sri Lanka. S.P De Silva, managing director, Red-Hot Travel Club, elucidated, “Current accommodation/room types cater predominantly to the European market. The Middle Eastern people have larger families and also travel with domestic helpers, therefore Sri Lanka needs to offer more upmarket hotel apartments with three to four bedrooms or villas, both types with their own cooking facilities.” SKY-HIGH Air connectivity between Sri Lanka and MENA is
served amongst others by SriLankan Airlines, which operates to nine destinations in the region, and its partner Mihin Lanka, which covers three more routes, totalling 63 flights a week across MENA. Angelo Punchihewa, country manager, UAE, SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka, revealed that air traffic between Sri Lanka and the Middle East increased by 26 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, while between Sri Lanka and Dubai by 37 percent. Signifying the importance of the market, and after Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport’s opening, Sri Lanka’s second international gateway, in March, flydubai revealed its double-daily operations to the island, starting June 3. Meanwhile, even before the airport’s launch, Air Arabia had already announced two weekly services between Sharjah and Mattala, which increased to four weekly in May. In another development, at the start of the year, Gulf Air confirmed a restructuring strategy to strengthen its core services through optimising its network, which included the Colombo route closure. However, Ahmed Janahi, acting chief commercial officer, Gulf Air, confirmed that the airline is considering alternatives in order to serve the country, with discussions and with a potential codeshare partner underway.
Journey of Faith
from the annual pilgrimage rituals of Hajj and Umrah, marking a 10 percent surge over 2011, and today, religious tourism accounts for three percent of the Kingdom’s GDP, making tourism the country’s second largest industry. As Farooq further elucidated, religious tourism has also become a force in real estate, as well as in the development of tourist facilities and infrastructure, particularly in Mecca and Medina. To ensure the sector’s sustainable growth, the Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities (SCTA) lays great emphasis on maintaining high standards, training skilled professionals, and continuously investing into the preservation and rehabilitation of Islam sites. “The Kingdom is paying special attention to Islamic history sites, and this precedes with its attention to other heritage and archaeological sites,” stressed H.R.H. Prince Sultan bin Salman Abdul Aziz, president, SCTA, noting that the choice of Medina as the Capital of Islamic Culture for 2013 embodies its religious and cultural significance. THE BUSINESS IMPACT
Mövenpick Hotel & Residence Hajar Tower Makkah
The Middle East is well chronicled in history and literature as one of the world’s most fascinating and rewarding destinations where some of the most momentous civilisations arose and where the three monotheistic religions were born. Rita Kasziba writes
ccording to the World Tourism Organization, over the course of one decade, arrivals to the Middle East has more than doubled from just 24.1 million in 2000 to over 60.3 million in 2010, a level of growth unmatched by any region in the world with faithbased travel, one of the most resilient sectors of the industry, being a predominant catalyst of this unprecedented surge. “Religious tourism proves to be a more stable segment in the tourism sector as it is the least affected by the political and surrounding situation because it depends on people’s beliefs,” highlighted Saed Zawaideh, medical and religious tourism manager, Jordan Tourism Board. In fact, as a region densely packed with holy sites, the Middle East continues to attract millions of religious travellers annually, and besides the enormous Muslim community travelling to Mecca each year to perform Hajj, people from all over the world continue to flock to these countries to explore the cradles of religions and the endless list of sacred sites. Hence, religious tourism forms a bulk of travel to
and within the Middle East, and with the pilgrimage to Mecca being the fifth pillar of Islam, Saudi Arabia, home to the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina, continues to consolidate its standing as one of the largest and fastest-growing destinations in the region, with more than seven million pilgrims arriving to the Kingdom each year and spending around USD10,000 per visit, making religious travel a high-yield sector with strong potential for growth. Driven by this burgeoning tourism segment, the Saudi tourism industry continues to witness a sustained upswing as Bilal Farooq, marketing executive, Elaf Travel Tourism & Hotels Group, explicated, adding that the impact of religious tourism in the country has been significant and widespread. “The benefit it brings to the Kingdom’s economy, tourism, infrastructure, and real estate development, as well as increased employment opportunities for Saudi nationals, has played a vital role in recent years. Moreover, in the years ahead, tourism in general and the religious sector in particular, is expected to play an even broader role in the country’s economy as the government strives to develop a more diverse economy to supplement the traditional sources of revenue,” said Farooq. In light of this, in 2012, the world’s largest oil exporter earned some SAR62 billion (USD16.5 billion)
What is more, within the next decade, USD80 billion worth of investments into key infrastructure projects, including an airport expansion, railways, and roads, are expected to come to fruition, as the Kingdom gears up to welcome 15.8 million visitors by 2014, increase its room inventory to 343,000 rooms by 2015, and record a revenue of SAR67.8 billion (USD18.08 billion) by the end of this year, as the industry continues to build on the steady growth of inbound travel for religious tours, as Farooq recited. Along parallel lines, Tareq Daoud, regional vice president, global sales, Middle East, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, added, “Inbound tourism [in the Kingdom] is mostly for business and religious reasons. With a lot of projects happening in Saudi Arabia, such as construction of new centres, infrastructure, and expansion of holy sites in Mecca, the demand in the luxury market in the Kingdom continues to surge in tandem with this internal growth.” Voicing similar views, Fadi Mazkour, director, MENA Hotels & Resorts, depicted religious tourism as a key vehicle for harnessing the potential of inbound and domestic tourism in the Kingdom as evidenced in the surging visitor volumes to the Holy Cities, thus the company continuously evaluates growth opportunities, and has, as a matter of fact, recently signed a management contract for a high-rise hotel tower in Mecca, which is slated for completion by the first quarter of 2015. As Omar Boujlid, general manager, Mövenpick Hotel & Residence Hajar Tower Makkah, also noted, the market is booming in Mecca with a number of four- and five-star properties and various hotel chains entering the market, creating what Boujlid described as an oversupply. “The competition will be aggressive this year as there is an increasing demand for highquality hospitality projects across the Kingdom, especially in Mecca,” he indicated, further pointing out JUNE 2013
Religious Tourism that religious tourism represents the single largest share of business at Mövenpick Hotel & Residence Hajar Tower Makkah. “Mecca is a religious city and the capital of Islam, where people only come for pilgrimage and to perform Umrah. Every year, an estimated 15 million Muslims make their way to Mecca. […] While some attend business matters, most visitors arrive to perform the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, most notably during Ramadan and in the Islamic lunar month of Dhulhajj,” Boujlid elaborated, adding that these spiritual journeys and especially Hajj, incorporate a number of sites, but mainly revolve around the Masjid Al Haram Mosque in Kaaba, the most revered and holiest site in Islam. The Holy Cities continue to attract major interest from investors and hotel chains, with Best Western International (BWI), which currently operates two hotels in the Kingdom planning to expand its nationwide portfolio to 15 hotels by 2015, and offer 1,900 rooms in Mecca in the coming years, Glenn de Souza, vice president, international operation, Asia and Middle East, BWI, revealed, describing religious tourism as a major draw. Hilton Worldwide is yet another company looking to significantly expand its Saudi footprint as Rudi Jagersbacher, president, Middle East and Africa, Hilton Worldwide, attested. “We are going to open 20 new
hotels in Saudi Arabia to meet the growing demand for new capacity in the religious tourism market,” he said. Elaf Group’s latest addition to its portfolio of hotels, Elaf Bakkah, is set to launch before this year’s Ramadan, adding 810 keys to Mecca’s room inventory, which, as Farooq also reaffirmed, is experiencing a rising demand for hotel accommodation. Speaking about the value of the sector, Mazkour underlined religious visitors’ tendencies to travel with their families or in a group, whether for Hajj or Umrah, which they often repeat several times a year, while the average length of stay also extends beyond the business traveller’s or the weekender’s stay, translating into higher revenues for both rooms and food and beverage. CRADLE OF RELIGIONS One of the oldest forms of tourism, which has proven less prone to economic or political volatility, has remained a stellar contributor to the economies of more vulnerable states as well. In Lebanon, for instance, which as Mona Fares, director, tourism promotion department, Ministry of Tourism, Lebanon, noted, gathers all the religions in the world; faith-based tourism accounts for approximately 40 percent of the total in arrivals, thus the Ministry has developed a framework for religious tourism
in a bid to exploit the potential of the segment. “We signed an agreement with the Italian government which granted us a donation of EUR300,000 (USD390,350) to develop religious tourism in Lebanon,” explained Fares, adding that the village of Cana and its surroundings in the country, as well as the city of Tripoli and its suburb, will form the focal points of the initiative. Likewise Jordan, with its biblical and historical sites, has long been benefitting from its sacred places and fascinating open-air museums, as Zawaideh explained, “We started to focus more on this segment in 2006 and have since created specialised brochures, enhanced our biblical itineraries and sites, hosted specialised press trips, fam trips, as well as church leaders, shot new films, and used our website as well as print and offline [platforms], to promote religious travel.” Zawaideh listed Latin American, European, Eastern European countries alongside South Korea among the Kingdom’s top religious source markets, reflecting the widespread appeal of these sites. For its high value and future potential, tourism organisations, developers, and service providers are increasingly looking to serve this booming sector and leverage the value of some three billion people around the world, who trace their religious roots and faith to the Middle East.
Cruising the Streets Dominique Christou writes
ecent data released by Euromonitor International revealing the car rental sector’s market sizes between 2012 and 2017, in terms of retail selling price (RSP) by country in the region, has unveiled Algeria’s leading position at USD447.4 million, with this figure set to increase by USD7 million this year, to reach USD454.4 million. Following closely behind is Saudi Arabia, whose RSP for the car rental sector was worth USD231 million in 2012, with numbers set to rise by USD5 million this year, while the UAE’s car rental RSP is expected to reach USD221.8 million, up USD14.6 million yearon-year. Meanwhile, in-depth research published in a report released by UK-based Timetric, an independent provider of online data, analysis, and advisory services on key growth economies and sectors, has shown that the UAE’s car rental sector grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.38 percent between 2008 and 2012, reaching AED781 million (USD212.9 million). Thus, the UAE’s car rental segment seems to have successfully navigated challenging economic times, as Timetric’s research reveals, with continued growth in the horizon expected to witness a jump in CAGR of 4.88 percent over the next three years, reaching AED99.2 million (USD270.2 million) in 2016. Meanwhile, demand for car rental service in Dubai is projected to grow by 25 percent this year, according to recent industry reports which base these healthy predictions to the emirate’s thriving tourism industry, as Omar Al Kasem, VIP operations manager, Najd Rent-a-Car, explained, “Over the years, Dubai has not only positioned itself as an investments haven with immense and real estate opportunities, but also a global tourism destination. […] As tourism is expected to thrive continuously in Dubai, we are also seeing an accompanied increase for car rental services in the next few months.” Al Kasem announced that this optimistic outlook has already been addressed through the investment in the purchase of 50 new vehicles which, he added, will complement the car rental company’s existing fleet of 60. “This move reflects our commitment towards providing our customers with best-in-class vehicles,” he continued. Hertz International also witnessed a healthy first quarter for business with earned profits worth USD18 million, or USD0.04 per share, according to Elyes Mrad, vice president, sales and marketing, Hertz International, who partly attributed these results to the car rental company’s acquisition of Dollar Thrifty of November 2012. Mrad further noted that the team is working hard to keep on this growth path for the rest of the year, also stressing that Hertz International continuously
The MENA’s escalating car rental sector, which inevitably comes hand in hand with the region’s booming tourism industry, is climbing up the growth trajectory, continuously expanding, improving, and evolving, with bright prospects in view.
looks to boost business in the region; a market which he regards as very important. “The Middle East is the perfect example of the pace of change happening in the world, and has huge growth potential for Hertz outbound car rentals,” he commented, adding that this is due to the Middle Eastern customers’ high per transaction value, which, he attested, is second only to Japan in this metric. Further developing the company’s services for the Middle Eastern client, in May Hertz International introduced an Arabic language option across all its Middle Eastern websites, allowing some 86 million Arabic speakers to book their Hertz car rental in their preferred language for the first time. “Our Arabic website adds to the 24/7 Arabic call centre to further assist the region with their car rental needs,” Mrad further noted. This move came in line with the constantlychanging trends across the car rental’s sector which Mrad believes will see the increase of Middle East customers using mobile devices to make their car rental bookings. “Already about 15 percent of our online bookings are made through mobile devices, whether through smartphones or tablets. “With more than 90 million Internet users in the Middle East and an Internet penetration rate of 40 percent, we anticipate that this trend will continue to grow,” he said. Another evolving trend is the take-up of ‘pay as you go’ car rentals, whereby customers can pay for their car rentals by the hour, without having to make
a reservation, Mrad explained. According to Naresh Ghakar, senior manager, sales and marketing, Al Muftah Rent A Car, based in Qatar, business so far this year has witnessed satisfactory results with positive end-of-year results ahead. “Qatar is one of the fastest growing economies in this region, and so many events are taking place,” he affirmed, elaborating on the company’s feeder markets which derive mainly from the corporate sector, as well as the leisure sector, adding that clients are seeking economical vehicles. Moreover, this year, Budget Car and Van Rental, UAE, strengthened its countrywide network aggressively by increasing its branches, hotlines, and micro
links, this according to Salim Damji, senior general manager, Budget Car and Van Rental, UAE, who noted that this has boosted the company’s access to customers and has helped the team penetrate deeper into the UAE market. “We saw a growth of 20-25 percent in fleet/revenues over 2012,” he said, adding that the sector is growing at a stable pace as the UAE economy is on the upswing. Further major expansion plans are in the pipeline, which, Damji highlighted, will boost business, as he explicated, “Budget will soon be launching new loyalty programmes which will give substantial discounts to regular customers. Customers will be issued loyalty cards that will entitle them to free rentals.” Damji also observed clients’ desire to seek out discounted prices, upgrades, and value for money offers. “We at Budget are able to understand clients’ psychology and provide them with bundles offering a host of benefits at an economical price,” he commented. A summer boost is expected in Jordan, despite business, in general, having commenced at a slow pace this year, this according to Ala’a Haddad, managing director, PAYLESS Car Rental, who pinpointed that the company’s main European and GCC clients usually look for a combination of price and service when booking a car. “We do collaborate with several hotels and travel agents, and serve through our five branches along with the in terminal airport branch, we are also the service providers for several international booking portals,” Haddad concluded. JUNE 2013
ULRIKE ANDORFF Ulrike Andorff has joined Al Murooj Rotana Dubai as executive assistant manager. Andorff, who has over 25 years of hospitality experience, will play a significant role in further strengthening the position of the hotel. Prior to her appointment, Andorff held various positions with five-star hospitality brands in many different countries, including Germany, Switzerland, UK, China, Vietnem, Guam, Mauritius, and the UAE, providing her with extensive experi-
ence, and the venue to hone her expertise in reservations, front office, executive office management, as well as general hotel operations. Not a stranger to Rotana, Andorff previously worked as executive assistant manager of The Cove Rotana Resort in Ras Al Khaimah.
Andorff previously worked as executive assistant manager of The Cove Rotana Resort in Ras Al Khaimah
BEAT PETER Beat Peter has been named general manager at Mövenpick Resort & Spa Tala Bay, Aqaba. Peter brings with him over 20 years of experience in the hotel industry and moves to Aqaba from Kuwait, where he served as general manager at Mövenpick Hotel Kuwait. Prior to that, he held various positions in Dubai, Ajman, and Switzerland. A graduate of the Swiss Hotel Management School in Switzerland, Peter has worked his way up the
ladder in the hospitality industry having headed several departments including sales and marketing as well as the front office.
Peter brings with him over 20 years of experience in the hotel industry and moves to Aqaba from Kuwait
SIMON CASSON Simon Casson will take the helm as general manager of Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach, when the property opens late 2014. A thought-leader within the Middle East hospitality industry, Casson will move to the UAE in November this year from Four Seasons Hotel Doha where he has been serving as general manager. At the same time, he will continue to fulfill his role as regional vice president, overseeing the com-
pany’s properties in Damascus, Beirut, Riyadh, Baku and Tanzania, in addition to the Dubai property. A 24-year veteran of Four Seasons, Casson fulfilled a career-long goal to be a general manager with Four Seasons when he moved to Doha in 2004, following time spent with the company at properties in North America and Europe.
Casson will move to the UAE [...] from Four Seasons Hotel Doha
SAMEH SOBHY Sameh Sobhy has been appointed general manager of Semiramis InterContinental Cairo. Sobhy joined the hotel in 1987 as a member of the sales and marketing team and throughout the past 26 years he assumed various roles at the company’s properties both in Egypt and the UK. His vast experience, wealth of knowledge, and leadership skills has helped him become the first Egyptian general manager to lead
Semiramis InterContinental Cairo, which he described as an iconic and historic hotel with great spirit and great people.
His vast experience, wealth of knowledge, and leadership skills has helped him become the first Egyptian general manager to lead Semiramis InterContinental Cairo
Gazing into the Unknown With travel witnessing a steady rise, globally and regionally alike, it is a wonder what the future holds for the sector. Maria Kazeli
ITA, a world leading specialist in air transport communications and information technology (IT) solutions, in a report published in February entitled Flying into the Future, predicts that by 2015, the way people travel will change significantly stimulated by innovations in IT used by airlines, airports, and passengers. Fuelling these assumptions, in 2009 Ryanair announced that over 80,000 passengers, which represented 66 percent of those who voted in an online poll, said they would stand on short one-hour flights. Over 120,000 respondents, 60 percent, agreed that airline passengers should have a choice of standing on short flights as they already do on buses, trains and underground transport while a minority of 42 percent said they would stand if they could pay 50 percent less than seated passengers. Following such considerations, Aviointeriors, an aircraft seat and interiors manufacturer, in 2010, presented the SkyRider, an ultra-high density seat designed and engineered to offer the possibility to even further reduce ticket prices while still maintaining profitability, which will allow maximum certified passenger capacity of the aircraft. This May, Abu Dhabi International Airport announced the introduction of ‘GoSleep’ sleeping pods, chairs that convert into private flat beds, 10 of which have now been installed, with a further 35 on order for installation later this year. Moreover, Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline, recently completed the first rocketpowered flight of its space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo. “[This] supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year’s end,” said Richard Branson, founder, Virgin Galactic. Furthermore, the company is also planning the construction of a spaceport in Abu Dhabi. Commenting on the emirate’s role, Mohamed Al-Husseiny, CEO, Aabar, the Abu Dhabi-based co-owning company of Virgin Galactic, said, “We are at the dawn of a new era in commercial space and are perfectly positioned with the world’s first spaceline, Virgin Galactic, to ensure that we are a prime beneficiary of the opportunities that will follow. This will become a regional hub for space tourism, as well as space-based science research and education.” The region’s potential in space travel was commended by Tom Shelley, president, Space Adventures, a private space exploration company promoting space tourism, who anticipates that within the
next five to 10 years, multiple vehicles will offer programmes to various destinations outside Earth. Voicing his opinion on factors that will affect future tourism in the Middle East, Shelley pinpointed at technology and the speed of development, adding, “The market exists. We just need to be able to start to service the demand. The Middle East is a good region for a launch site, but requires a regulatory framework to allow an operator to move there. Once there, it would be easier to tap into the market.”
‘GoSleep’ sleeping pods
SEEKING AUTHENTICITY Predicting tourism trends for this year and beyond, ITB World Travel Trends Report suggested that consumers will demand more individual and authentic travel experiences in future, turning their backs on artificial ‘travel worlds’ and instead seek genuine holiday destinations with more interaction with local communities. Addressing such needs, Offbeatours, a new UAEbased tour company, offers all-inclusive tour packages for travellers wanting to explore and experience unknown locales in security and safety, such as Afghanistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Yemen, and Pakistan. David Butler, owner, Offbeatours, claimed, “You will have no doubts whatsoever about the authenticity of
your experience. It will be all around you. [...] Here, we are in for the real, genuine, and authentic experience.” Further commenting on the safety of tours offered, Butler explained that certain countries are wronged by incorrect perceptions and education. GENERAL OUTLOOK Forecasting the factors that will affect future tourism trends emerging in the region, Rami Mashini, vice president, sales and marketing, Middle East and Africa, Gullivers Travel Associates, declared that experience is showing that intra-regional travel is becoming more and more important, while business and leisure are strong motivators in the region, growing hand in hand, with religious travel also showing good potential. Sharing his view on technological advancements, Mashini said, “Regarding robotic hotel staff, from a reservation perspective, it is fair to say that this exists already too, and with the advent of self check-in facilities at airports, it is surely a matter of time before that facility is applied at hotel check in.” Expressing the belief that travel agents’ role will remain the same while driving personalised business, Kulwant Singh, managing director, Lama Tours, said, “Technology plays a prominent role; it is a future motivation for the sustainability of all tourism projects; it is moving at a rapid speed, and today a customer that comes to our door knows everything in advance. He knows what he wants to buy and where he wants to stay and what he wants to shop.” Another emerging issue was underlined by Saleem Sharif, general manager, ATS Travel, who said, “The world population is rapidly getting aware of the challenges posed by global warming and people are getting choosy about destinations that are sensitive to sustainability. We have had cases where clients have requested us to enlighten them about the destination and give them a brief on how green the property that they are staying in is, or how polluted the place is.” With Dubai’s tourism and aviation industry on the growth trajectory, robust performance in the hospitality industry is to be expected, according to Spencer Wadama, general manager, The Address Dubai Marina. “Hotels are becoming more innovative in their creation of smartphone and tablet applications that make access to their websites and landing pages far more efficient and time-saving than traditional methods, reflective of the increased reliability on information technology.” According to Svetozar Kujic, marketing and communications manager, TIME Hotels, the future in the hospitality industry will be signified with the increased demand for quality, convenience, and security, as he further elaborated, “There are going to be more so called ‘one-person’ products or products which are basically customised per each guest, according to his/her wants and needs. There is going to be a great emphasis on comfort, easy transportation, and more relaxation and entertainment facilities.” JUNE 2013
Q & A with Christian Muhr Having long established a majestically influential presence among the world’s leaders in hospitality, Hilton Worldwide parades head on with expansions across some of the Red Sea’s most favoured tourist hubs, as Christian Muhr, vice president, operations, Egypt and Levant, Hilton Worldwide, exposes the approaches being taken by the hotel giant to recover the region’s lovers.
Travel Trade Monthly: Please list Hilton Worldwide Egypt - Red Sea’s properties, in its entirety, alongside the cities in which they are situated, and tell us a little regarding business performance overall across the region so far this year. Christian Muhr: Hilton Worldwide operates 11 properties in six different locations around the Red Sea so are well placed to monitor tourism patterns in the region. Hilton Worldwide Egypt - Red Sea, properties are Hilton Hurghada Resort; Hilton Hurghada Plaza; Hilton Hurghada Long Beach Resort; Hilton Sharm Fayrouz Village; Hilton Sharm Dreams Resort; Hilton Sharm Waterfalls Resort; Hilton Sharm Sharks Bay Resort; Hilton Marsa Alam Nubian Resort; Hilton Dahab Resort; Hilton Nuweiba Coral Resort; and Hilton Taba Resort & Nelson Village. We could definitely say that tourism business in the Red Sea area is picking up healthily versus 2012 and remain confident numbers will continue rising in the future. Travel Trade Monthly: What are your expectations for the upcoming summer and winter seasons, in terms of performance levels, and how are the teams across Hilton Worldwide Egypt - Red Sea’s properties working towards achieving these results? Christian Muhr: We are cautiously optimistic that the summer season will continue to see tourists returning to the Red Sea resorts, despite the stronger summer season competition we see this year from destinations such as Turkey, Greece, and Spain. Winter season is, of course, equally important to Egypt and we are looking to make a major difference to our guest numbers as we embark on an ambitious programme of sales trips, international tourism and hospitality conferences, more engagement with tour operators and, crucially, a more penetrating online and social media presence.
Christian Muhr Vice president, operations, Egypt and Levant, Hilton Worldwide
sian, Belgian, Dutch, and Italian tourists enjoy Marsa Alam, Taba, and Nuweiba. Travel Trade Monthly: What are the latest developments across Hilton Worldwide Egypt - Red Sea’s resorts and what is in store for the near future to improve your products and services? Christian Muhr: Guest consideration and activity review is an ongoing process at Hilton Worldwide hotels and we have a range of options for guests to choose. For example, in some of our hotels we offer various meal choices to satisfy different tastes and preferences. Hilton Sharm Dreams Resort, Hilton Hurghada Resort, Hilton Hurghada Plaza, and Hilton Dahab Resort offer three distinct options; bed and breakfast, half board, and all-inclusive. As all-inclusive is proving a popular choice right now, we plan to add more hotels to this option.
the world. The company’s guest loyalty programme, Hilton HHonors, for example, now boasts 34 million members and each member receives details about the company’s hotels and destinations, including Egypt. In terms of our individual Red Sea markets, Europe dominates of course, though there are a few distinct differences in the breakdown. Sharm El Sheikh, for instance, attracts high numbers of travellers from the UK and Italy, while Hurghada appeals to German and Dutch visitors. Meanwhile, an equal mix of Rus-
Travel Trade Monthly: In your opinion, how have travel trends changed year-on-year across the entire Red Sea region? Christian Muhr: The industry in 2012 was still feeling some effects from 2011 but as things continue to settle, we see confidence returning with our partners and travel agents. There is more advanced planning which, in turn, gives us more opportunities to forecast occupancy levels. Importantly, we are starting to see families returning to the Red Sea.
Travel Trade Monthly: Which are the existing and potential markets being targeted this year and what are the initiatives being implemented to lure them in? Christian Muhr: As a global hospitality provider, Hilton Worldwide’s size and scale can reach markets around
Hilton Sharks Bay Resort, Sharm El Sheikh
NEWS & EVENTS
APE Showcases the Airport of the Future
EIBTM Announces Fresh New Look
The Airport Passenger Experience (APE), an airport terminal-format zone offering a ‘touch and feel’ of the airport of the future, was the centre of attraction at the 13th Airport Show, Dubai. The wide range of services displayed at the show by 23 participating companies, engaged in bringing innovative technologies, solutions, and products designed to ease the journey of millions of people travelling through the world’s airports in the coming years, included communication systems, Internet and mobile connectivity, passenger and baggage handling and scanning, as well as terminal signage and ticketing, just to name a few. One of the most revolutionary technologies showcased at the event was AOptix InSight, the iris recognition eGate system developed by AOptix Technologies; a futuristic solution that has been transforming passenger experience at Dubai International’s Terminal 3, Abu Dhabi International Airport, Doha International Airport, and is being planned for the upcoming Hamad International Airport, Qatar. “Iris biometrics is not new for the region as it has been in the use for almost a decade. But this particular device is gaining fast recognition due to its unique features which provide enhanced security solution besides saving time and energy,” explained Sarfraz Ahmed, technical support engineer, identity solutions, AOptix Technologies.
The team at Exhibition for the Incentive Business Travel and Meetings (EIBTM) is currently working on a new look to the show floor for this year’s event, which is slated for November 19 - 21 in Barcelona, Spain. The exhibition hall in Fira Barcelona Gran Via Conference Centre, will feature a new design and layout, whereby two additional horizontal straight aisles and two central piazzas for networking are set to ensure a steady flow of traffic, dedicated towards giving the visitor and exhibitor experience a fresh appeal and bringing more balance to the exhibition floor. “As global event organisers, showcasing the best of the industry is key to everything we have set out to achieve this year. With the exhibition evolving at such a rapid rate and with our 10th anniversary in Barcelona ahead, we felt that it was an appropriate time to make some big changes which will enhance the experience of all of our attendees,” commented Jennifer Booth, operations manager, EIBTM, Reed Travel Exhibitions, who added that this move will provide each stand the highest levels of return on investment possible, as a result of participation.
Korea World Travel Fair Seoul, Korea, May 30 – June 2, 2013 (utilty.danah.kr) Korea’s largest world travel fair with national tourism organisations, local governments, regional tourism associations, and many more taking part.
The Americas Incentive, Business Travel & Meetings Exhibition (AIBTM) Chicago, US, June 11 – 13, 2013 (www.aibtm.com) A three-day event focusing on the Americas’ meetings and events sector, where no time is wasted and where deals get done.
International Luxury Travel Market Asia (ILTM Asia) Shanghai, China, June 3 – 6, 2013 (www.iltm.net/asia) A leading ‘by invitation only’ event for the luxury travel community of the Asia Pacific, presenting the world’s most sought after collection of luxury experiences.
International Travel Expo (ITE) Hong Kong, June 13 – 16, 2013 (www.itehk.com) The event is set to welcome some 50 countries and regions from different continents and over 600 exhibitors presenting the latest trends and ideas.
Euroal 2013 Torremolinos, Spain, June 6 – 8, 2013 (www.euroal.net) A meeting point for business contacts and professional deals, presenting new markets and new opportunities.
Beijing International Tourism Expo (BITE) Beijing, China, June 21 – 23, 2013 (www.bitechina.com) One of Asia’s leading travel and tourism events, which will showcase a range of destinations, tourism attractions, travel packages, and services.