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Live: Arabian Travel Market begins in Dubai

Live: Arabian Travel Market begins in Dubai

All the updates from this year’s Arabian Travel Market event

DAY 2

6:10pm: That’s all for today, check out the website tomorrow for updates from the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference.

5:15pm: La Perle by Dragone, claimed to be the region’s first permanent show, is gearing up to open at the “end of the summer”, officials said in a press conference.

The 1,300 seat purpose built aqua-theatre in Dubai Al Habtoor City has now been completed and a website to buy tickets will launch on May 17 with prices ranging from Dhs400 ($109) to Dhs800 ($218).

Once fully operational La Perle is aiming for more than 450 performances a year with up to two shows five days a week during peak season.

Deals with major hotel chains have already been signed and the show has sold full house corporate bookings for dates as far ahead as 2019, executives said.

5:00pm: TIME Hotels has revealed plans for what is claimed to be the region’s first hotel run by women.

The 232-room property in Dubai’s Al Barsha will feature two floors exclusively for female travellers and have 80 per cent female staff.

Amenities incude a gym, swimming pool, jacuzzi, four meeting rooms a business centre and two restaurants “for both male and female guests”.

It is due to open in Q4 of 2017.

4:50pm Abu Dhabi-based Rotana still has its eyes set on international expansion, according to chief operating officer guy Hutchinson.

He told Gulf Business that the hotel operator, which signed an agreement with Golden Group Holding in Oman to manage a 250-room hotel in the landmark Al Mouj development today, has its sights set on Europe but was taking a “careful” approach.

It is particularly looking at markets in Western Europe that are popular with its Middle Eastern customer base like London.

Elsewhere, the company plans to open 16 new properties this year including its first hotel in Iran under the Rayhaan brand, with Hutchinson suggesting it would aim for 10 to 12 openings annually going forward.

4:47pm India’s Taj Group has delivered an update on its GCC properties.

The firm said its 207-key hotel located in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lake Towers and a 325-key hotel on Palm Jumeirah are expected to open by the end of next year.

Chinmai Sharma, global chief revenue officer, also said the firm was eyeing opportunities in other regional locations including Abu Dhabi, Doha, Muscat, Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah, Khobar and Bahrain.

4:20pm: One more new hotel coming into Dubai – although it will feature just 12 villas.

Located at the Qasr Al Sultan development, the boutique hotel is being developed by Dubai Gourmet – a unit of Meraas.

Speaking to Gulf Business, Abdin Nasralla, CEO of Dubai Gourmet confirmed that the hotel could be expanded in the future depending on the performance of the first 12 villas.

Read more: Pictures: Dubai’s Meraas unit launches villas-only boutique hotel

3:30pm: Issues like visa facilitation, development of domestic tourism and intra-regional connectivity will help the MENA’s tourism market, according to the UNWTO ministerial forum at ATM.

Attendees at the event affirmed that tourism can be a key driver of the growth and economic diversification for the region.

Mohammed Khamis Al Muhairi, under-secretary of the Ministry of Economy, UAE, confirmed that “tourism is already a top priority under the development policies of the UAE”.

He revealed that the sector contributes 12.1 per cent to the national GDP and accounts for around 10.4 per cent of the domestic labour market.

“Investments to the sector exceeded Dhs26bn in 2016, a year which saw the number of visitors to the UAE reaching 24.8 million with total spend of about Dhs110bn,” he added.

The Middle East received 53.6 million international tourist arrivals in 2016. Arrivals decreased an estimated 4 per cent with very mixed results among the region’s destinations. Meanwhile international tourist arrivals to North Africa grew by 3 per cent to 18.6 million.

“Despite all external shocks, the Middle East and North Africa tell one of tourism’s biggest success stories,” said UNWTO secretary-general, Taleb Rifai.

“A story that brings an immense opportunity to make tourism a pillar of economic diversification, job creation and sustainable development in this region.”

He added that it was important to “identify the priorities of tourism policy for the MENA destinations, strengthen regional cooperation and public-private partnerships that prepare the region to welcome the 195 million international tourist arrivals – almost triple the present volume of 72 million – forecasted by UNWTO for 2030”.

2:30pm: Pascal Gauvin, COO of hotel group IHG for India, the Middle East and Africa, has said he believes recent 10 per cent annual declines in hotel rates in Dubai are only “logical” as the market was too expensive previously. He told Gulf Business that the higher rates were not sustainable and meant the group had been forced to reject leads for large conferences in the past due to cost concerns.

IHG, which announced four new Middle East and Africa hotel signings yesterday in Jeddah, Doha and Zimbabwe, will open six properties in the GCC this year and still believes the region has attractive fundamentals.

Gauvin said his long-term forecast for Dubai in particular was “still very healthy” despite the economic downturn last year.

1:45pm:

ATM as usual is featuring models in colourful and fancy dress this year including these characters from the Land of Legends theme park.

1:35pm”Oman’s new low cost carrier Salamair is not concerned by the country’s recent visa fee increase because it will likely mean more travellers opt for budget carriers, according to CEO François Bouteiller. This week it was confirmed that the cost of a tourist visa to enter the country would increase from around $13 to $52.

Read: Oman quadruples cost of tourist visas

Bouteiller said the carrier had seen promising domestic demand since launching in January and was also seeing increasing interest from Saudi Arabia after launching flights to Jeddah in recent weeks. He suggested Salamair had chosen the “best time” to launch as economic difficulties made passengers in the region more price conscious.

1:15pm: In true extravagant Dubai style, luxury Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer revealed the launch of a “unique timepiece” it has designed in collaboration with the Dubai Department of Tourism & Marketing (Dubai Tourism) at Arabian Travel Market (ATM).

The Dubai Connected Watch Modular 45 is mounted on a brown calfskin strap with rubber lining with an exclusive “DUBAI” embossing. The piece also has a spare blue strap. A special case back has been created with an engraving of the Dubai logo.

The watch company has confirmed that 200 timepieces of the special edition watch, priced at Dhs8,000, will be made available to the public from the third week of June.

12:05pm: The list of new hotel launches in Dubai continues to grow. The latest to be announced is a villas-only boutique hotel by Dubai Gourmet – a unit of developer Meraas. The hotel, set to be located at Qasr Al Sultan, will feature 12 luxury villas and a conference room that can seat up to 50 people.

You can read all the details and see pictures here: Dubai’s Meraas unit launches villas-only boutique hotel

11:40am: On top of plans announced yesterday to extend its Jebel Jais Via Ferrata challenge and include the world’s longest zipline, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority is planning to open a new luxury camping concept. CEO Haitham Mattar told Gulf Business this would include raised tents, bonfires and barbecues and was designed to allow visitors to experience RAK’s adventure tourism and nature experiences without having to drive back to their hotel.

He also detailed the Jais Via Ferrata expansion, saying it would allow the challenge to accommodate 200 people a day from around 60 currently and meant the site could host team building exercises from larger companies like GE and IBM.

11:00am: Hotel group Movenpick has confirmed plans to open its first resort in the Maldives.

The 105-unit Kuredhivaru Maldives will be situated in Noonu Atoll and is scheduled to open in Q2 2018.

The resort will include 33 beach villas, 72 over water villas, a guest only superyacht and private marina. There will also be five restaurants, a luxury spa, gym, yoga pavilion and tennis courts.

9:45am: Day two is set to begin at Dubai’s biggest hospitality and travel exhibition and other major announcements can be expected.

The overall outlook – especially for the Dubai tourism market – is extremely positive, with the UAE also recently implementing more visa-free schemes.

Yesterday, the CEO of flydubai confirmed that the airline was also launching more routes to Russia after the UAE said in January that it would grant Russians visas on arrival.

Read more: Flydubai to increase flights to Russia after UAE visa changes

DAY 1 ends

6:00pm: That’s all for what has been a hectic day one at ATM. Check in tomorrow for more updates.

5:10pm: As expected, it has been a busy first day at ATM. Lots of new announcements, big stands and huge crowds.

Speaking to industry experts, a clear focus for the region’s hospitality market is Asia, with China and India in particular.

In both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, India was the top performing source market in 2016. While Chinese tourist numbers are also growing.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker also confirmed that the country was looking to make visa processes easier for Chinese and Indian visitors.

Meanwhile, Emaar Hospitality group is also looking to expand in India and China because those countries are their top source markets, the company’s CEO said.

A report by consultancy Colliers International also advises GCC-wide multi-entry visas with similar principles to the Schengen Area for visitors from the two countries.

Filippo Sona, director, Head of Hotels MENA region at Colliers International, said: “The growing middle class and cheaper flight options are transforming the outbound travel landscape for these two countries, with a combined 146 million passport holders.

“On the one hand, GCC cities are becoming increasingly interested in forging long-lasting relationships with Chinese companies, particularly in the fields of construction, infrastructure planning, oil and gas, and manufacturing.

“On the other hand, countries such as the UAE and Oman are increasing their efforts to attract Indian leisure tourists, through targeted entertainment offerings and promotional activities, while Saudi Arabia is expected to ramp up the visa quotas for the large Muslim Indian population to visit the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.”

4:15pm: Another strong statement from Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, who has said that if New Zealand does impose an electronic ban from Doha airport, and if it does impact passenger demand, then Qatar Airways will pull the route.

“It is a very expensive route and we will be forced to reconsider it if it becomes restrictive for passengers and leads to a drop in demand,” Al Baker told reporters.

He also said that if oil prices continued to rise, passengers may face an additional fuel surcharge.

3:40pm: Hilton was among the hotel groups to announce a substantial hotel pipeline in the Gulf in the coming years. The company said it had 21,000 rooms planned in the region with more than 16,000 under construction and scheduled to open before 2020.

Carlos Khneisser, vice president, development, Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, said this meant it had more than double the number of rooms under construction than its nearest competitor.

The total includes 7,900 in Saudi, 5,000 in the UAE, 1,800 in Qatar, 750 in Kuwait, 420 in Oman and 350 in Bahrain.

Earlier today, rival Marriott said it would have 150,000 rooms operational and in the pipeline across the Middle East and Africa by 2022 following its acquisition of Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

The company currently had 54,000 rooms across 247 hotels in 30 countries within the region and recently created a luxury brands group for its JW Marriott, The Ritz-Carlton, The Ritz-Carlton Reserve, St. Regis, W Hotels, and The Luxury Collection properties.

2:30pm: Dubai Tourism has announced an 11 per cent increase in international overnight visitors in the first three months of the year.

Total visitors stood at 4.57 million in Q1 thanks partly to 64 per cent and 106 per cent increases in tourists from China and Russia following the granting of passport holders from both countries visas on arrival in the UAE.

2:20pm: Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority has announced plans to extend its zipline adventure challenge in the Hajar Mountains.

The Jebel Jais Via Ferrata challenge, which includes climbing, trekking and a zipline, has attracted 1,500 enthusiasts since opening in December leading to the extension of its inaugural season to May.

Following this the challenge will be expanded and reopen in October with plans to launch the world’s longest zipline in addition to an observation deck and new mountain and hiking routes.

2:05pm: Dubai’s Emaar Hospitality Group has announced that it will manage properties for other developers having originally stuck to the property group’s own developments.

In a press conference the company has also revealed six new projects. These include a new Address hotel and serviced apartments complex and Vida hotel at Dubai Creek Harbour, a Vida hotel and residences in Dubai Marina and the company’s first hotel in Abu Dhabi in partnership with local developer Aldar on Reem Island under the Vida brand.

Elsewhere, two openings are planned in Egypt with an Address resort hotel and residences and Vida hotel and residences at Marasi Beach and the company said it would also expand into India, China and parts of Europe.

1.40pm: The three US airlines – United, American Airways and Delta that are currently lobbying against the Gulf airlines are “swindling their passengers”, according to the CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker.

Speaking to journalists, he said the US airlines “are self centred” and “are not loyal to their country”.

He was also confident that US President Trump, whom he called “wise” would revise his stance on the entry- ban of visitors.

Qatar also showed off its new business class seat on its stand at ATM, which includes the ability to convert the central row into an eating space for families and colleagues.

1.20pm: Qatar Airways CEO has launched 12 new destinations for next year in addition to the 14 destinations previously announced.

The airline is also planning to launch high speed internet connectivity in its flights.

12:15pm: The last year was “challenging” for hotels in the region, and forced operators to rethink their strategies, according to Christian Pertl, regional vice president, Sales – MEA at Hyatt.

Speaking to Gulf Business, he said while occupancy in cities like Dubai remained high, room rates dropped.

“So we were forced to adjust our strategy,” he said.

He also denied any fears of oversupply in markets like Dubai. Although the emirate has seen an increase in new hotel launches (Damac launched a 2,000 room golf course hotel yesterday), Pertl asserted that demand would keep up.

11:00am: The doors have opened and the Arabian Travel Market madness is well underway. This year’s event will host more than 40,000 industry professionals from more than 152 countries and has over 2,600 confirmed exhibitors across 65 national pavilions.

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