Hotels target regional tourism in recovery bid


Hotels in the region say business is picking up again after the setbacks of the September 11 attacks in the US and the industry is now increasing its focus on high-spending GCC travellers.

A spate of new hotel openings have added to the confidence of the regional hospitality industry.

Dubai, the Gulf's major tourist destination, is leading the revival with its tourism chiefs forecasting a strong recovery for the sector.

The Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) has said a majority of the four star hotels in the emirate reported higher occupancy during September 2001 in comparison to last year.

The DTCM also said Dubai's hotel sector was pushing ahead with a major expansion programme to satisfy the anticipated long-term growth in demand.

DTCM director general Khalid bin Sulayem said the September 2001 occupancy rates for four-star hotels surveyed recorded a marginal percentage change of 1.5 per cent over September 2000 to reach 69.65 per cent.

"These findings confirm that Dubai is well placed to overcome the present predicament. I reiterate that Dubai will endure the short-term effects of the recent events because we are an established destination with strong contacts with the international tour operators, travel trade and the media," said Bin Sulayem.

Added Jean Samman, general manager of Capitol Hotel and Group Coordinator of the DTCM's Hotel and Hotel Apartment Group's 4-star hotels: "While the future remains uncertain, we are working on a month-by-month basis and with Ramadan just round the corner, we are focusing on increased inter-emirate business as well as targeting GCC travellers through our promotions."

The DTCM said Dubai had 277 hotels providing a total of 21,608 room plus 134 hotel apartment complexes with some 6,000 units as of mid-2001.

These numbers are to increase substantially with

the recent openings of a new Holiday Inn and Hilton in Dubai and a number of other properties of major international chains in the pipeline over the next few years.

New hotels are planned in Dubai and other parts of the UAE by locally based Jumeirah International, Kempinksi, Hilton, Six Continents, Hyatt, Fairmont and India's Taj and Oberoi groups.

Hoteliers in the Gulf's other major hub, Bahrain, are also looking to the future with more hope despite initial adverse impact from the US events, especially in the group tours and conference sectors.

Most hotels have reported that occupancy levels have held up since the attacks in the US, thanks to a large part to the regional nature of Bahrain's tourism market.

Government figures show occupancy at Bahrain's five-star hotels increased to 68 per cent between January and August this year from 62 per cent in the similar period last year.

In neighbouring Saudi Arabia, hoteliers and tourism officials forecast a sharp increase in domestic tourism as local travellers turn inwards.

The head of a leading tour operator in the Kingdom said that while many hotels catering to international business clientele had been hit hard, a projected 30 per increase in domestic tourism could help offset the sector's woes overall.

The official opening of the luxury The Ritz Carlton Hotel in Doha this week and major refurbishment of the Sheraton Doha Hotel and Resort for the forthcoming World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Qatar are expected to fuel the industry in the Gulf state.

The go-ahead for the WTO meeting this month is seen as a major confidence booster by the industry.

The visit of a 800-strong German tourist group last month and the reopening of the landmark Al Bustan Palace after a major renovation programme are the bright signs in an otherwise gloomy outlook for the Oman industry.

Al Bustan Palace Hotel general manager Issa Al Hajri said Oman had to convince its current mainly German-speaking clientele that it remained pro-West and liberal.