CHECKING — IN —
Gulf Business|June 2021
The region’s biggest travel and tourism event, Arabian Travel Market, held a successful in-person and virtual edition last month in Dubai. And the big question predictably was – has the industry started to recover? Are travellers stepping back on airplanes and ready to explore new destinations as the industry adapts to the Covid crisis? Aarti Nagraj has more details
Aarti Nagraj 

It was a different experience attending the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) exhibition at Dubai World Centre this year.

The absence of snaking queues at the entrance, the lack of ceaseless chatter in the main hallways as masked-up attendees consciously avoided bumping against each other, the now-ubiquitous sanitiser dispenser at every booth, glass partitions separating tiny meeting tables – all reminders that we firmly remain in the midst of a global pandemic. And yet there were also plenty of recaps of past exhibitions – whether it was looking at a spectacular display of the mega projects emerging in Saudi Arabia, country pavilions with culturally adorned hosts showcasing local delicacies, or the new premium economy seats that Emirates displayed at its stall – all of which served as beacons of hope that we are slowly but surely recovering from the crisis.

The global travel and tourism sector suffered a loss of almost $4.5 trillion from 2019 to reach $4.7 trillion in 2020, with its contribution to GDP dropping by a staggering 49.1 per cent year-on-year, according to the latest data released by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). The sector contributed 5.5 per cent to global GDP in 2020 due to ongoing restrictions to mobility, down from 10.4 per cent in 2019.

Meanwhile, due to the impact of the Covid crisis, 62 million jobs were lost in the sector last year, with 272 million employed across the sector globally – down from 334 million in 2019. Domestic visitor spending decreased by 45 per cent, while international visitor spending declined by an unprecedented 69.4 per cent, the WTTC report said.

“In 2020, we faced a new period of extreme uncertainty with the Covid-19 pandemic impacting economies globally. There is no doubt that it brought considerable challenges for the hospitality sector. However, thanks to the UAE government, the industry has already taken proactive steps to halt the spread of the virus,” explains Guy Hutchinson, president and CEO of Rotana group.

“Hotels in the Middle East have shown resilience throughout the pandemic, with performance at higher levels compared to other parts of the world,” hospitality data provider STR said in a report earlier this year. “Dubai was virtually the only tourist destination open for international leisure travel.”

Dubai welcomed over five million international visitors in 2020 and 1.26 million visitors in the first quarter of 2021, according to Issam Kazim, CEO of Dubai Tourism. According to preliminary STR data for April, Dubai’s hotel industry reported its highest room rates in three months during the month, with average occupancy at 59.7 per cent, average daily rate (ADR) standing at Dhs576.33 and revenue per available room (RevPAR) reaching Dhs343.94.

“Hotels in the UAE were the world’s second busiest after China in 2020 due to government efforts to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus and encouraging domestic tourism, with several measures implemented to accelerate the sector’s recovery,” says Hutchinson.

“The UAE is preparing to further drive tourism efforts this year as a result of the safety protocols in place for the arrival of international tourists, alongside major events lined up for 2021. Aside from the initial set back, the tourism sector started opening up by the last quarter of 2020, with proactive measures and protocols in place to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and ensure business continuity.”

Rotana currently operates 68 hotels in 24 cities across 14 countries, including 10,012 keys across 36 hotels in the UAE. The group’s pipeline consists of 40 upcoming projects including 10 that are slated for delivery in the next three years adding over 3,000 keys to the market.

“We will continue to strengthen our footprint in the UAE to meet the predicted growing demand for hotel rooms in the upscale segment in 2021. Our upcoming properties will help meet the pent-up demand anticipated during and beyond Expo 2020 this year and will help ramp up overall room capacity, which is crucial in achieving the city’s ambitious tourism vision,” adds Hutchinson.

CLIMBING NEW PEAKS

One of the major announcements at ATM this year came from the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, with the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) revealing ambitious plans to develop over 20 sustainable tourism development initiatives across the emirate with an investment of Dhs500m, in partnership with RAK Hospitality Holding and RAK Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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