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The Middle East – New Tourism Opportunities

By Elinor Garely

If you are looking for good news in the hospitality, travel and tourism industry, look to the Middle East, according to HVS’s Younes and Forster (2004). Reviewing 120 branded four and five star hotels (33,000 rooms) the authors found that this region “continues to show tremendous resilience to economic and political turmoil.” With occupancy levels gaining two percentage points (to 67 percent) and average room rates rising by 6 percent (to $86), the Middle East is a market that all hotel investors should seriously consider when searching for new markets and new customers. Even with the Iraq war, this market has recovered with Kuwait and Doha the beneficiary of increased business from the coalition forces and business travelers.


The HVS International report indicated that Kuwait had the strongest operating performance and while the growth is not likely to be sustainable, it is “likely to encourage hotel investment.” The report also found that Dubai, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman were successfully diversifying their economies, with Kuwait, Dubai, Qatar and Egypt leading the region in tourist arrivals.

Economic growth has increased the number of five star hotels, as well as the development of mixed-use, serviced and time-shares resort properties. Funding for these projects is largely regional or local, although some Asian operators are moving into equity positions, enhancing their presence and brands, most notably the Intercontinental Hotels Group, Movenpick and Rotana.

Country Analysis


HVS International determined that Bahrain is the “most diversified and open economy” in the region, and social reforms are generating “greater political stability and prosperity.” Projects under consideration include a new international airport, ski center, spa and residential village for health tourists, and a bridge between Bahrain and Qatar. To encourage expatriate investment in new real estate projects, the Government of Bahrain is offering permanent residency status. The HVS report recommends that Bahrain “carefully define its tourism strategy” and “differentiate itself from other destinations…”


Lebanon hosted over 1 million visitors in 2003, with the growth attributed to intra-regional visitors. Enormously popular among Kuwaiti and Saudi visitors, Mount Lebanon hotels reported 95 percent occupancy. New developments in Lebanon include a $1.4 billion tourism complex which will include an international sports village, ski resort, two 18- hole golf courses and entertainment facilities. The Metropolitan Group is expanding to form a Metropolitan City, complete with a souk, restaurants, and a 1200 seat amphitheatre. HVS is optimistic about tourism development in Lebanon, supports its positioning as an up-market leisure destination for most Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) markets, and see opportunities for expansion in the European and cruise ship markets.

United Arab Emirate

The United Arab Emirate has diversified its economy, according to Younes and Forster, with oil driving its growth. Dubai’s infrastructure, commerce and tourism have been enhanced, and the goal of the government is to have the Emirate become the hub of the Middle East for business and leisure travel. Continuing growth in Dubai includes airport expansion, a new public railway system, a bridge over Dubai Creek, a new International Financial Center, and the development of two of the world’s largest man-made islands. With a $35 billion investment, there are plans to build Adventure World, Sports World, Eco Tourism World, Kid’s World, Shopping World (with the world’s largest shopping mall), and a Family City. The Dubai Health Care City will turn this city into a global hub for specialized healthcare, medical education and research.

Dubai continues to “amaze most analysts” according to HVS, with government driven efforts, investment and promotions. Referred to as the “Las Vegas of the Middle East” – these successful efforts have turned the desert into gold and demonstrated that supply led tourism can be accomplished. It is expected that Dubai will be the “first destination in the region to experience international investment in hotel real estate.”
Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has, according to Younes and Forster, focused it efforts on religious tourism, allowing pilgrim visas for over seven months of the year and the Supreme Commission for Tourism is working toward “removing obstacles” that foreign tourists encounter during this visit. Low income travelers will be welcome at a new tourist complex on the Red Sea, near Jeddah, and other projects are planned for Mecca, Madinah, Yanbu and Al Khobar, including a 5000 room hotel and timeshare complex.

The government of Syria is committed to tourism development, and experienced a 5 percent increase in 2003. Room rates have increased by 5 percent, currently averaging $98. The natural and cultural resources of Syria make it a desirable destination and a $280 million tourist resort is being developed in Tartous, with a 2008 scheduled completion date.


In Qatar, $5 billion is being spent to enhance the Doha airport and there is increasing demand for hotel accommodations. HVS finds Qatar plans for tourism and infrastructure enhancement encouraging and sees investment opportunities in branded limited service hotels, serviced apartments and timeshare (for the speculative investor).


Over 6 million tourists visited Egypt in 2002. The country has experienced one of the highest levels of European visitations in the region, accounting for over 50 percent of the total. Egypt has expanded its Red Sea ports to accommodate larger ships, and new airport terminals are planned, along with a new metro line in Cairo city center, and two new exhibition halls expected to be completed in 2005. The HVS report finds this destination to have “unmatched cultural and natural resources” and sees potential for branded limited service hotels in Cairo city center, and other major cities.


Jordan is committed to tourism development in the Aqaba Special Economic Zone which will include airport expansion, and port relocation. Jordan and Singapore have developed a strategic alliance in order to increase Asian visitors to the destination. In addition, there is a new sea link between Aqaba and Sharm El Sheikh and the $18 million cruise ship Princess, with 710 passenger capacity is likely to be using this route. In the Dead Sea region, a $150 million project is planned to include a 600 room hotel, conference center and leisure amenities. HVS sees “great potential” for tourism in Jordan.


Kuwait is stimulating investment by offering a ten year tax exemption to foreign investors, and allowing foreign banks to enter the market. Due to the Iraq war, there has been an increased demand for hotel accommodations from the military, press/journalists, conflict related conferences and business executives exploring opportunities in Iraq, using this country as a gateway. Hotel occupancy reached 60 percent, and ADR was $185, resulting in a REVPAR of $157. Kuwait has outperformed all other markets in the region. In the future, HVS sees the primary Kuwait markets to be intra regional family and shopping, creating opportunities for branded limited service hotels in the city.


Oman’s government is committed to tourism development, and will have spent $100 million by the end of 2005 to promote the industry. Oman international airport will have a new terminal, the Al Hota caves are being transformed into a major tourist attraction, while adventure trails and waterfront projects are under development.


For future growth HVS recommends a unified tourism strategy for the GCC countries, so that intra-regional competition is avoided. Strong growth of tourism in the Middle East is expected to continue, with hotels being re-flagged and re-branded, based on the competitiveness of the marketplace.

For the complete report, visit

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