The future of tourism in the UAE and the Gulf is in diversification, says a leading hotelier.
Tourism industry players need to start thinking outside the box to meet the challenge posed to the sector following the attacks in the US and the war in Afghanistan, said Jorg Heyer, general manager of Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort & Towers.
He said September 11 had changed consumer behaviour world over. It had also sharply affected the world economy. The European economy is expected to remain depressed for another two or three years, he added.
The tourism industry especially is badly effected. Airlines are laying off workers in the thousands, if not closing down completely, hotel companies and travel agents are struggling and major European tour operators have seen as much as 60 per cent reduction in bookings to overseas destinations.
"For the hotel industry in the Gulf region, and Dubai in particular, the European market has been the number one feeder market for leisure groups and package tourists," said Heyer, who recently moved back to Dubai after three years in Egypt as general manager of Sheraton Miramar.
"After the attacks in the US and certainly after the start of the war in Afghanistan, this market had shied away from the region. And Europeans are not going to the US either, they stay in Europe, drive to Euro Disney, to Andorra for Skiing and to the Costa Del Sol for sun.
"What do we have to do? New markets need to be developed and the regional travellers is the obvious target. Arab cultural and historical sites need to be promoted to Arab travellers, the Asian countries are a good source for tourists looking for a shopping destination (as long as Dubai stays cheaper than Singapore), the South African market has great opportunity to be developed further.
"With the reduction in air fares and the reduced hotel rates in many leisure destinations in the Middle East, winter sun has become very affordable."
Heyer said the tourism industry needs to produce positive news out of the region.
Heyer said the depression however can bring opportunity and companies which are now streamlining their operations will come out of the crisis stronger and more profitable.
Referring to the Dubai Shopping Festival next month, Heyer expressed confidence that it would be a success and the emirate would see an increase in the number of GCC visitors this year.
He said the hotel will offer special room rates and food promotions throughout the 31 days of the festival.
Located on the white sands of Dubai's Jumeirah Beach, the resort is surrounded by landscaped gardens that boast more than 100 palm trees.
The resort`s facilities include 255 luxurious guest rooms, a business centre, an Italian restaurant "Grotto Italiano", a Chinese restaurant "Peacock", "The Grill Room" serving steak specialties, the "Sirocco Bar and Lounge" and the "Jumierah Health and Beach Club".
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