Marching ahead

Kuwait’s master vision to become a tourism destination of choice within the Gulf gains ground

Kuwait is pressing ahead to become a major tourist destination in the Gulf, and has recently invited 42 investors to bid for a multi-billion-dollar project that will transform one of its islands into a mega resort.

The $5 billion project to turn Failaka Island into a tourist attraction, is a major component of its 20-year Tourism Masterplan, launched last May.
The masterplan, which was drawn up in co-ordination with the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), outlines major developments in the country’s hotels and resorts, leisure and recreation and scientific, ecological and technological exhibits.
Kuwait’s assistant under-secretary for tourism Nabila Al Anjari, when announcing the plan, hailed it as groundbreaking and the dawn of ‘‘a new era of tourism and development’’.
The Failaka project, to be launched by Dizart, aims to transform the historic island located 20 km northeast of Kuwait City, into one of the country’s main tourist attraction.
To be developed on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis, the project calls for the construction of tourism infrastructure on the 43 sq km island. The construction and project manager is the US’ Hill International with the local SPDM.
The government-owned Touristic Enterprises Company (TEC), meanwhile, is spearheading development of a section of the Island. A BOT contract was signed last September between TEC and a consortium led by Al-Mal Real Estate Company for the development of a tourist resort on the southern portion of the island.
The resort will include a 100-room five-star hotel, 502 chalets, a sports and entertainment centre with a pier, a health spa, a water park and golf and mini-golf courses. 
Project costs are estimated at KD40 million ($138 million) and the area to be developed covers about 1.7 million sq m. Detailed designs are due to take about a year, construction a further two years.
Meanwhile, plans for the development of Bubiyan Island are moving forward with the go-ahead given for the $1.2 billion Bubiyan port. Dizart – which is again the owner – intends to develop the island into a tourism resort, in five phases.
Hill International is the project manager on the scheme which will include the construction of hotels, chalets and recreational facilities on the island and a causeway to the main island.
Kuwait regards mega projects such as Failaka and Bubiyan vital to the success of its economic diversification strategy and the government sees in tourism a major money spinner that will help diversify the national income and create new jobs for Kuwaitis.
Kuwaiti tourists currently spend an estimated $3 billion outside of the country and the government is keen cash in on these tourist dollars. ‘‘The number one priority is to develop and improve domestic tourism,’’ Al Anjari says.
Nearly 80 per cent of Kuwaiti tourists travel abroad and a majority of them would easily spend prime vacation within the country if quality facilities were available, she points out.
Also, the government expects a five per cent growth in jobs within the hotel, travel and tourism market, she says, with opportunities for Kuwaitis in these sectors expected to increase twelvefold by 2020, compared to 2001.
As a second priority, Kuwait is also positioning itself as an inbound GCC destination with a strong emphasis on business traveller meetings and exhibits, and as an excellent family holiday destination for GCC residents.
Kuwait has taken ground-breaking steps to promote visitor travel and business investment in the country.  Visa rules have been relaxed and visitors from North America, most of Western Europe, South-East Asia, Australia and New Zealand are now allowed to obtain entry visas upon arrival to Kuwait. 

Tourist attraction .. the Kempinski
Julai’a Hotel & Resort

Also, steps have been taken to woo investors into the country with a Foreign Investment Law offering incentives such as 100 per cent ownership in tourism projects, among others.
“We have a world-class infrastructure,” says Al Anjari. “But more work is needed to refine the current conditions and encourage tremendous growth throughout the hospitality and tourism industry.”
But within these ambitious plans, Al Anjari is keen to point out the the focus will remain on clean and safe tourism for the family: ‘‘Tourism must be in line with our culture and values,’’ she points out. ‘‘In the last 15 years we have seen a rise in family tourism, with many countries, including Spain, Greece and Indonesia, becoming excellent destinations for the entire family. These countries value their heritage, with many family-run establishments catering for foreign visitors and with locals managing tourist homes that increase the traditional household role of women.”
Meanwhile, a number of hotel projects have been initiated while existing ones are being upgraded, expanded or refurbished. Among the major hotel upgrade projects under way is the Messilah Beach hotel and the Regency Palace.
Last year, Le Meridien opened its new Le Meridien Tower (Art + Tech) Hotel and announced plans to open more properties in the country while Safir International launched the Safir Marina Hotel, owned by the local real estate and construction firm United Realty Company.
The year 2004 saw the launch of the local inspiration behind Refad Hotels & Resorts. The introduction of a totally unique living concept does well to reflect and answer the growing global trend towards the specialisation of hospitality products – one that makes guests feel secure, relaxed and at home in any of Refad Hotels and Resorts’ properties. To achieve this, a very original chain of hotels and resorts has been established with the aim to elevate the concept of hospitality to new levels and to establish new precedents within the hospitality field.
Refad Hotels and Resorts provide and manage a range of hospitality solutions both internationally and regionally encompassing four innovative hotel concepts: The Monarch, The Square, Refad Resorts and Four Stars.
Numerous commercial complexes are being built in Kuwait in the wake of a real estate boom. Among the larger projects is the Heritage Village and the Avenue.
Kuwait’s Municipality has plans to build a KD45 million ($155 million) Heritage Village – a major residential and entertainment complex in Kuwait City – which will be handled by private investors on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis.
The 20-year concession calls for the construction of theatres, cinemas, auditoriums and a cultural centre on two plots of land on Abdullah Ahmadi street over a total area of 54,700 sq m. The project is being implemented in three phases. The first phase is a residential area. The client is Kuwait City Municipality.
Mabani Company is the developing The Avenues, a mixed-use development on the fifth ring-road in Al-Rai area and has signed a KD55 million contract with local Alghanim International General Trading and Contracting Company to build and maintain the project.
The centrepiece of the development, which will have about 200,000 sq m of built-up area, is a shopping mall.
Real estate developer Ajial Real Estate Entertainment is planning to build one of  the tallest commercial towers in Kuwait at a site currently occupied by Al Hamra and Firdous cinemas. Estimated to cost KD80 million, the tower will comprise a large commercial centre, trade offices and a cinema theatre. The tower will be completed in three years.

Salem Al Marzouk & Sabah Abi-Hanna (SSH) with Germany’s Dorsch Consult is working on contract to update a masterplan for the expansion of the Kuwait International Airport. The plan includes the construction of a second terminal on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis. The size of the second terminal has still to be determined: the existing runway’s capacity allows for a new terminal of up to 15 million passengers a year.
KIA has the capacity to handle up to 5 million passengers a year.
NACO drew up the original masterplan.