Cashing in on sun and sand

New resorts are changing the beachside skylines of Middle East countries, offering the growing number of visitors a perfect mixture of sun and sand.
The recent renovations at Sheraton Doha have added to the attractions at the Qatar resort.

Sun, sand and sea combined with local culture, excellent air connections and infrastructure and fantastic hotels at competitive prices are proving a potent mixture for the Middle East tourism industry.

The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) has forecast an average annual growth rate of 7.1 per cent in tourist arrivals in the Middle East to the year 2020, well above the world average forecast of 4.1 per cent.

The WTO's Tourism 2020 Vision also predicts that the Middle East's share of inbound tourism market will double to 4.4 per cent in the period, despite being the smallest region of the world.

It has said tourist arrivals to Middle East will rise to 35.9 million by the year 2010 and more than double to 68.5 million by 2020.

A concerted effort by the governments in the region in cooperation with the private sector is fuelling this spectacular growth - Egypt, for instance, posted growth rates of nearly 40 per cent over the past few years, according to the WTO.

Hotel development has been one of the most visible manifestation of this tourism growth.

According to industry sources, the GCC has more than 850 hotels with 81,789 rooms. Saudi Arabia and UAE accounted for more than 69,000 rooms, a hotelier said recently quoting Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and UAE planning ministry figures.

And every major international hotel group is currently expanding in the region with Dubai in the Gulf and the Egyptian resort areas of Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada setting the pace.

The focus of the recent hotel development in the region has been leisure properties as the number of tourists rather than just business arrivals increase.

More resort hotels are now filling the beachside skylines. New resort properties are coming up throughout the region while existing resorts are undergoing extensive renovation as hotel groups battle to tap not only the leisure travel market but also the growing conference and incentives market.

Spa tourism is another sector which is attracting a growing slice of the overall market. A growing number of resorts are incorporating spas and health and fitness clubs as part of their facilities to tap into this market.