Middle East set for big showing at WTM

We continue our focus on the Middle Eastern countries preparing to attend the World Travel Market (WTM).

Oman is expecting to send a significant delegation to WTM this year to reassure the trade it is open for business after the devastation brought by Cyclone Gonu at the start of June.

Though power and telephone lines were cut, gas production stopped, and the Seeb International Airport closed, the Sultanate was quickly back on its feet.
And tourism bosses are anxious to highlight to WTM buyers how its infrastructure, especially its hotels, escaped relatively unscathed. Only The luxury Chedi Resort suffered any significant damage, hit by a mudslide from the nearby wadi but will reopen at the end of the summer.
Among the ambitious Omani targets is the hope to increase bed stock to 10,000 rooms by 2010 (the figure currently stands at 6,000). Much of the growth comes from two developments: The Wave – a 7km-long mixed-use beachfront project currently being constructed in Muscat, and the $15-billion Blue City, expected to open in 2012 with four luxury and one ultra-luxury hotels.
New hotels announced for Oman are a Fairmont hotel in The Wave, an Evason property in Musandam set for a November opening, and the Golden Tulip Royal Hotel in Mirbat in 2008.
Meanwhile, Oman will underlining its moves to make the Sultanate more welcoming to visitors. The ministry has already launched a new accommodation classification system aimed at differentiating the room-types available. Standards based around those set in European directives are being applied to hotels in an attempt to increase quality and keep tourists happy. The Oman government has, for the first time, this year taken the progressive step of lifting the drinking ban during Ramadan for tourists staying at selected hotels. In the past the Muslim nation had applied the drinking ban to all hotel bars.
Also attending will be existing resorts that have already played a major part in boosting visitor numbers. These include the exclusive Shangri-La Al Jissah Resort in Muscat, and the Al Nahda Resort in Al Barka which opened last November.

The worldwide campaign to find the New 7 Wonders of the World helped shape tourism marketing in Jordan this year and with Petra now having made the list, will play a role in the country’s WTM’s plans.
As in previous years, Jordan is promoting its accessibility for European visitors. Unlike some neighbours, it has eschewed multi-billion-dollar projects to concentrate on niche markets for independent and package travellers alike.
Though sites such as Petra and the ruins of Roman city Jerash are must-see for history fans, Jordan is working to attract families to the country by widening the country’s appeal at WTM, putting on show adventure tourism, health and well-being tourism, honeymoon destinations and the meetings market.
The Kempinski Ishtar on the Dead Sea opened in May 2006, and this is being joined by six hotels and resorts at the Saraya Aqaba mega-development to be operated by Jumeirah International and Starwood.

Qatar is expected to be in modest mood at WTM – despite a tourism masterplan promising $15 billion of investment. The state is keen to emphasise that it is not going the way of neighbour Dubai and wants to avoid becoming a mass-market tourism destination. However, it wants to emphasise work on several major infrastructure projects which are well under way following announcement of the country’s vision in 2004. The most impressive is the new $5 billion Doha International Airport, scheduled for completion in 2015.
Meanwhile, the emirate is constructing a whole new city at Lusail, 15km north of Doha, which will eventually provide homes, shopping and entertainment for 200,000 people. In the West Bay area, The Pearl artificial island will be the main location for the planned addition of eight four and five star hotel (adding more than 2,550 rooms) by 2010.

(Fiona Jeffery is the World Travel Market’s managing director. WTM runs from November 12 to 15)
This Travelling World by Fiona Jeffery