Recovery in sight

Dubai is leading the regional recovery.

The travel and hospitality industry in the region is looking at the coming summer holiday season with optimism with most markets in the region reporting the beginnings of a recovery after the shocks of September 11 attacks in the US.

Most hotels in the region are optimistic that the downturn which hit the industry after September 11 seems to be finally over.

The World Tourism Organisation predicts that the industry will pick up its habitual rhythm of growth by the second half of 2002, as business travel resumes and consumer confidence returns.

"The outlook for Easter holiday travel and for the 2002 summer season is positive and will depend mainly on the evolution of the world economy, rather than on the events of September 11," WTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli said in a preliminary report on the industry last year.

According to the WTO, growth in the tourism sector ground to a halt in 2001 and international arrivals slipped by 1.3 per cent due to the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the weakening economies of major tourism generating markets.

International tourist arrivals totalled 689 million in 2001, compared to 697 million in 2000.

The last four months of 2001 suffered a drop of 11 per cent in arrivals worldwide and substantial decreases in every region: Africa (-3.5 per cent); Americas (-24 per cent); East Asia/ Pacific (-10 per cent); Europe (-6 per cent); Middle East (-30 per cent); and South Asia (-24 per cent).

In the Middle East, the region showed a small 0.3 per cent growth rate before September 11 mainly due to strong performances by Dubai and Jordan.

But it took a huge 30 per cent hit in the last four months of the year to end with a drop in international arrivals for 2001 of 9 per cent - the worst result of all the regions.

Egypt, which accounts for a quarter of all arrivals to the Middle East decreased by 15.6 per cent, while Jordan managed to recuperate positive growth by December to end the year with an increase of nearly 4 per cent in international arrivals.

But the early part of the year has shown a steady upward trend with regional travel - business and to a lesser extent leisure - picking up again.

One of the largest, multi-brand chains operating in the region, the Six Continents Hotels, which operates 60 properties throughout Middle East, says it is confident of a full recovery later this year.

"We believe in the region's future as a major travel destination, we're confident of a full recovery, and are continuing with a significant development programme which is introducing new Inter-Continental, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn properties across the Middle East," says Dennis Johnson, vice president, sales and marketing, Middle East and Africa, at Six Continents which nine more hotels in the pipeline with seven to open this year.

US-based Marriott International also plans to open five new hotels in the region this year after inaugurating three properties in Oman, Tunisia and Jordan last year.

By the end of 2004, the group says it will have 33 hotels, offering 9,380 rooms across five lodging brands in 12 countries in the region.

The Hilton group which opens its first hotel in Kuwait this month is also on expansion trail and has created a new position of vice president of Arabian Gulf operations to oversee operations in the region. It opened three properties last year.

Independent hotel group Le Meridien has also said it is on the lookout for new properties in the Middle East and has had discussions for potential properties in Oman and the UAE's smaller emirates.

French group Accor which recently raised its upscale Sofitel brand flag on the City Centre in Dubai and is to open two new hotels - a Novotel and an Ibis - in Dubai is also looking for more properties in the region to expand its presence.

New hotels and resorts are coming up in most Gulf states as well as elsewhere in the Middle East.

Dubai, the regional hub, has reported 29 new hotels under construction and with the emirate's government targeting 15 million visitors by 2010, even more hotels and hotel apartments are likely to come up to meet the demand.

Other emirates too are pushing ahead with plans to develop their tourism infrastructure adding to the demand for more hotels in the UAE.

Bahrain, which last year clocked up 4 million arrivals, will also see new hotels and resorts coming up this year including the Movenpick at the airport and Al Dana resort.

Qatar, the newcomer on the Gulf tourism scene, is making a determined bid to get a slice of the cake with the launch of a tourism authority. It saw the opening of two new luxury properties - the Inter-Continental and Ritz-Carlton - over the past year and more new hotels are on the way including a Holiday Inn and a Movenpick.