Following the world’s fastest tourism market

What a difference a day made may well be the lyrics from one of Jamie Cullum’s latest musical masterpieces, but in the Middle East, and Dubai especially. Sarah Campbell looks back at recent tourism developments in the region.

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By  Sarah Campbell Published  September 4, 2006

|~|Sarah-Campbell.jpg|~||~|What a difference a day made may well be the lyrics from one of Jamie Cullum’s latest musical masterpieces, but in the Middle East, and Dubai especially, this seems an apt beginning for looking back at recent tourism developments in the region. I have been taking stock in recent weeks, looking back at how the region’s tourism industry has changed since I first arrived in the Middle East back in 1998, and boy what an ‘edge of your seat’ ride it has been. I remember my first drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, when the capital city seemed so far away, and it seemed like there was nothing but sand from the Hard Rock Café to the Abu Dhabi causeway. Now we have the Jumeirah Beach Residence, Dubai Marina, Media and Internet cities, and Jebel Ali is no longer a village but a fully-grown industrial and business centre in its own right. And before you hit Abu Dhabi there is the new Al Raha development. At present, Dubai has 383 hotels and hotel apartments with a total room capacity of 35,396, and it has been predicted that a total of 140 luxury hotels and resorts, with over 34,000 rooms, are to be built in the next three years. The development is constant, and things here really do change in a day. However, it is not only Dubai that has taken off. Qatar has been closely following in its footsteps, and is about to cement its position as the region’s leading sports destination when it hosts the Asian Games in December. Qatar already hosts more than 80 international sports events every year, and currently has around 3000 rooms in the four- and five-star sectors, including industry leaders Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons. But, of course, that is all set to change. Several new builds are scheduled to be completed just in time for the Asian Games, such as the new Sharq Village & Spa, which will be managed by The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, not forgetting the 2007 opening of Bavaria City Suites Doha, with 2200 suites and studios. What’s more, other markets across the region have also opened up. The last few years have seen Saudi Arabia rethink its entry visa regulations, Oman adopt an international hotel classification system, Bahrain re-emerge as the financial hub of the region and the home of Formula One, Sharjah launch a no-frills airline, and some lesser-known destinations, such as Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah, take their first tentative steps onto the world tourism stage. And it is not just the international chains that are leading the charge. Regional hotel companies have really come into their own in recent years. Jumeirah aspires to top Four Seasons, Rotana is working towards 41 hotels in operation, and Coral International is proving just that — international, with hotels planned for South Africa and Libya. Today, the Middle East boasts some of the best hotels in the world, and employs some of the most talented and hospitable of hoteliers. Hotelier has been lucky to follow the success stories of many of these. It has been a pleasure working at the heart of this growth, and I hope that Hotelier has proved a vital business tool for many. For myself, it is now time to move on. The September issue will be my last as senior editor of Hotelier. It has been a fantastic experience and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I hope that I will still get to follow the success stories as they unfold, and wish you all the very best for the years to come. ||**||

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