In on the action

Dubai may grab most of the headlines, but that does not mean the other emirates are standing still. Rather, each is working to carve out its own niche market in a bid for tourism success

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By  Sarah Gain Published  November 20, 2006

|~|Le-Meridien-Al-Aqah-B.jpg|~||~|When you think of hotel development in the UAE it is easy to get swept away by the phenomenal projects taking place in Dubai. The emirate aims to have 80,000 hotel rooms by 2010, compared with the current 39,000, with many headline-grabbing mega projects vying for centre stage. However, the other emirates of the UAE are also working hard to grow their tourism products. Ras Al Khaimah has recently launched its own tourism board, Fujairah has a number of five-star hotels in the pipeline for its Al Aqah beach front, and Abu Dhabi is creating a number of eco-friendly coastal projects with international developers.||**||ABU DHABI|~|Manoj-Kanwal-B.jpg|~|Manoj Kanwal: Key markets are Germany, Austria and Switzerland.|~|Abu Dhabi National Hotels (ADNH) is to invest around US $190 million in a five-star destination resort on Saadiyat Island — a natural island lying 500m offshore from the UAE’s capital. The resort will be built on the island’s Saadiyat Beach with ADNH purchasing a 250,000m² plot for the project from Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), the tourism asset development arm of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA). “This will be a flagship addition to the growing ADNH portfolio,” says Khalifa Nasser Huwaileel Al Mansoori, chairman, ADNH. “We are pleased to be one of the first partners in this ambitious Saadiyat Island development.” The ADNH resort will include a 120,000m² hotel with around 400 rooms to be managed by an international hotel operator. Construction is expected to being in Q1 2007, and to be completed by Q2 2009. Saadiyat Island will focus on eco-tourism and the ADNH resort will be located on its own 300m beach, with natural sand dunes and plants directly behind the hotel. “The unique environment of Saadiyat Island and its beaches present special opportunities to hotel and resort developers,” said Mubarak Al Muhairi, managing director, TDIC. TDIC says it has chosen only a few select developers for projects on Saadiyat Beach and has established strict development criteria for the area. “Our aim for Saadiyat Beach is to have highly landscaped resorts that are secluded and private. Development concepts for the beach must take into consideration the natural environment as well as offering hotel guests recreational amenities and entertainment on a par with the world’s best resort settings. ADNH was selected for development because we were extremely impressed with its approach and concept,” explains Al Muhairi. Saadiyat Beach, which lies to the north west of Saadiyat Island, is master planned to produce a range of five-star resorts flanking 9km of beach, a golf course with freehold villas, sailing club and private beach clubs. Abu Dhabi is also to become the home of the Middle East’s first resort, spa and residences operated by Angsana Resorts & Spa, a sub-brand of Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts. The properties will be part of a $110 million eco-spa resort that will transform 140,000 m² of land in the capital’s eastern mangroves area and will be operational within three years. “We have been looking for the right opportunity to enter into the Middle East, and Abu Dhabi in particular, for a long time. The emirate’s [tourism] development strategy is carefully thought out and socially responsible,” explains Bernold Schroeder, senior vice president and managing director of hotel operations for Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts. “We have tried to select an area that would not be negatively affected by the development. Being an eco-friendly destination is key to Abu Dhabi’s tourism development strategy,” he adds. “We realised that the setting is in keeping with Angsana’s commitment to delivering destinations of privacy.” The Angsana properties will include a five-star resort and spa with around 100 rooms, a 50-berth marina and 18 stilted water villas. There will be 100 apartments, which will make up the Angsana Residences and be serviced by the main resort. Additional coastal developments include the Emirates Pearl, a five-star resort development on the Abu Dhabi corniche. The project is also being developed by TDIC. Construction of the Emirates Pearl began this summer and is expected to take two years to complete. The hotel and serviced apartment resort, including an iconic 240m-high tower, will be built at a cost of $136 million on the capital’s Khalidiya coast, opposite the Emirates Palace Hotel. Although expected to receive a sizeable slice of Abu Dhabi’s executive travel business, the Emirates Pearl is also looking to attract the leisure visitor, and will offer a wide range of services and facilities for both markets. The resort will centre on a 47-storey tower, designed by Austrian architect Dennis Lems. The tower, which is to house 352 rooms and suites, and 104 furnished apartments, all with balconies and Gulf views, sits on a 22m high five-storey podium featuring a 20m high atrium with five restaurants, service centres, offices, a gym, hair salon, spa, meeting rooms, business centre and shops. The resort will also have a private penthouse, complete with a helipad, and two presidential suites, each with a private entrance, swimming pool, meeting rooms and lounges. Abu Dhabi is also set to see development in the mid-tier market. Asian operator, Millennium Hotels and Resorts has revealed that it is introducing its three-star Kingsgate brand to the region in late 2007, with the first property set to open in the UAE capital. The 100-room, three-star Kingsgate Abu Dhabi will be located in the Tourist Club Area, situated between Al Salam Street and the Abu Dhabi Mall, in Abu Dhabi. “In the UAE, around 70% of three-star accommodation is unbranded, so the guest never knows what to expect. Kingsgate offers a service promise and delivery, so the guest knows what to expect from us,” says Manfred Simons, the regional vice president of operations and development for the Millennium Hotels group, adding that Kingsgate will focus on the visiting friends and relatives (VFR) market, as well as independent business travellers not on an expense account. Millennium is also making inroads into the serviced apartments market, with the announcement that it will open a Millennium Executive Apartments in Abu Dhabi in late 2007. The 200-unit property will be located at Electra and Sheikh Zayed 1st Street. InterContinental Hotels Group has also announced that it is expanding its mid-tier offering in Abu Dhabi. The hotel giant is to open a 200-room Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi in 2007. The eight-floor Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi will have more than 200 standard and executive rooms and private suites, including a roof top level with state of the art leisure facilities. Retail outlets, a coffee shop and specialty restaurant are also planned for the ground floor, with an all-day restaurant and business centre to be located on the mezzanine floor. Meanwhile, existing hotels in Abu Dhabi are also working hard to up the ante on their product offering. The Danat Resort Jebel Dhanna has added to its portfolio of facilities and services less than twelve months after its official opening. The five-star resort, which is located 240km south of Abu Dhabi on the west coast of the UAE, has extended its health and fitness centre to include a spa, including six treatment rooms, two of which are designated to ayurvedic treatments. “We are also looking into developing activities such as four-wheel drive safaris and have identified a site 100km inland where we would like to set up a small camp to take guests for evening BBQs,” explains general manager, Manoj Kanwal. Danat Resort, which boasts 109 sea-facing rooms including six private waterfront villas, celebrated its soft opening in January 2005, but officially opened its doors in November 2005. This summer the property ran at 50% occupancy, compared to 35% last year, while Kanwal expects occupancies to increase to 80% or 85% for winter 2006 - 2007. “Our key markets are leisure tourists from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Some of them combine a stay here with a trip to Abu Dhabi or Dubai, but others fly in and head straight here and stay for between eight to 10 nights on average,” he said. “The GCC is a smaller market, less than 10%, but because we are only 100km from the Saudi border (Sila), we get many locals stopping here on their way to Abu Dhabi or Dubai, particularly during Dubai Summer Surprises or the Dubai Shopping Festival.”||**||AL AIN|~|Patrick-Antaki-B.jpg|~|Antaki: Le Meridien Al Aqah has been instrumental in establishing Fujairah on the tourism map.|~|The oasis town of Al Ain may not have a bevy of hotel openings on the horizon, but those properties that are in operation are busy improving facilities and consolidating business. Health and fitness facilities at the InterContinental Resort Al Ain are currently undergoing a complete revamp. The city resort, which already offers the largest leisure facilities in Al Ain, has undergone a two-month renovation of its leisure facilities and was scheduled to unveil a new spa-orientated image after Ramadan. The resort added three treatment rooms for Thai massage, a new relaxation area, renovating and extending the changing rooms and locker areas, and refreshing the wet areas, such as the sauna. The InterContinental Resort Al Ain offers a wide range of leisure facilities, including three swimming pools, two rugby pitches, a football pitch, basketball court, tennis and squash courts, mini golf, and extensive children’s play areas. Simon Assaf, health club manager, is confident that the refinement of these facilities will prove a popular modification with the resort’s 1200 local members. “Whenever we introduce a new class, within three days it will be full,” he claims. “We promote our facilities through sales calls, flyers, e-mail campaigns and by word of mouth. Al Ain is very small - word soon gets around.” ||**||RAS AL KHAIMAH|~||~||~|Ras Al Khaimah is now also undergoing a flurry of hotel and tourism development, as the emirate focuses on attracting key niche markets, such as sports and adventure tourism and the MICE market. Ras Al Khaimah launched the RAK Tourism Promotion Board in July. The new tourism authority will endeavour to promote the emirate internationally. The RAK Tourism Promotion Board will also oversee a number of tourism developments currently on the drawing board, with plans for a media city, a convention and exhibition centre, a reclaimed island, several real estate developments, a mountain resort and additional golf courses. “We will go wherever it is possible to present Ras Al Khaimah - including WTM, ITB, ATM and many other fairs worldwide,” says Dr. Khater Massaad, CEO, RAK Investment Authority, the government department overseeing the tourism board. Major tourism developments in the emirate include the Mina Arab beachfront development by RAK Properties, which will include nine five-star hotels; the Al Hamra Palace hotel, which Dr. Massaad claims will be ‘an Arabian Palace’ to rival Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi; the Jebel Jais mountain resort, which will feature a ski slope and winter sports; and a 50,000m² convention centre. Already tourism developments are taking shape in the emirate, which saw the opening of the five-star Khatt Springs Hotel & Spa on June 1. Al Hamra Hotels Management runs the Khatt Springs resort, located at the foot of the emirate’s mountain range. The company hopes the hotel will help to make Ras Al Khaimah a favourite retreat for health conscious visitors from around the world. In addition to its 130 rooms and suites, Khatt Springs also has a number of villas, constructed in the rock formations around the main building of the hotel. However, Elia Timani, director of sales and marketing for Al Hamra Hotel management, believes it is the hotel’s spa that will prove the real USP. The 2000m² spa is staffed by professionals from around the world specialising in preventive and alternative medicine. “The spa is also the only one in the region to have natural hot springs located within the premises,” claims Timani. “It is a haven of peace, with all the latest facilities. Guests can relax and enjoy the therapeutic powers of Khatt’s natural springs in this oasis of beauty and charm.” The Al Hamra Palace Hotel, also under the remit of Al Hamra Hotels and Resorts, is also currently under construction, and is due to open its doors to the public in 2007. “The beachfront property will have 400 rooms and 37 luxury suites, each measuring at least 72m², and will offer a range of wellness facilities, an 18-hole golf course, shopping arcade and several tennis courts, as well as five speciality restaurants and three bars,” says Timani. Hilton International is also expanding in the emirate. The first phase of the Hilton International resort in Ras Al Khaimah will be completed by the end of the year, with 151 deluxe villas due to open in December. The second and final phase will be completed by the last quarter of 2007. This is Hilton’s second property in Ras Al Khaimah. On-site facilities for the resort include an 800m private beach, four free-form, temperature controlled swimming pools and comprehensive water sports facilities. The development will also house a gym and health club, as well as a 2000m² spa. For Al Hamra’s Timani, it all spells out a good bill of health for the future of Ras Al Khaimah’s tourism industry. “Billions of Dirhams are being invested in initiatives to sure-up [the emirate’s] infrastructure and a large number of tourism projects are now underway. The air of excitement is palpable the moment one enters Ras Al Khaimah,” he says.||**||FUJAIRAH|~||~||~|The Al Aqah coast of Fujairah is also preparing for a host of hotel openings, as regional chain Rotana prepares to open its first hotel in the emirate when the Fujairah Rotana Resort & Spa opens its doors in mid-December, while Japanese chain JAL Hotels opens the 262 room Nikko Fujairah Resort and Spa, also scheduled to open in December. Nikko Fujairah Resort & Spa occupies a 540-metre private beach. All of its nine buildings, including those housing the guest rooms, restaurants and diving centre, will be lined up facing the beach. The hotel will have 262 guest rooms; multi-functional rooms which can be used for banquets and conferences; restaurants; fitness centre and spa; diving centre; indoor diving pool; outdoor pool; and children’s recreation room. The five-star Fujairah Rotana Resort & Spa will predominantly target the European leisure market, and has already signed contracts with 32 tour operators who will begin supplying the hotel with guests from January 1. Ten more tour operator contracts are currently under negotiation, according to general manager, Jean-Francois Laurent. “Fujairah has a great potential for tourism development,” says Laurent. “There is a demand for more variety of luxury hotels in Fujairah, as currently there is only Le Meridien Al Aqah and Hilton Fujairah available.” The Fujairah Rotana Resort includes 144 chalets, eight executive suites, 14 junior suites and 84 deluxe rooms. The resort’s recreational activities include a private beach, outdoor temperature controlled swimming pool including a children’s pool, and a dive centre. The beachfront Rotana property is located next to Le Meridien on the Al Aqah coastline, and already the two general managers are working together to market Fujairah as a destination. The beachfront strip is set to see up to nine hotels opening in the next five years. Patrick Antaki, general manager, Le Meridien Al Aqah, is also optimistic that more hotels can only be a good thing. “The future looks fantastic; with so many projects in the pipeline and each one of them wanting to create a name in the market place,” he says. “Le Meridien Al Aqah has been instrumental in establishing Fujairah and the East Coast as a force to be reckoned with on the tourism map. Having forged long-lasting ties with the Fujairah Tourism Board (FTB) and its chairman, Sheikh Saeed Al Sharqi, the hotel plays a pivotal role in supplementing the efforts of the FTB to create additional demand for Destination Fujairah,” Antaki adds. Le Meridien Al Aqah continues to enhance its offering with new additions and refurbishments. Indian restaurant, Swaad, has been redecorated to reflect the cuisine while Spa Al Aqah is being continually enhanced to satisfy guests and cater to their demands. A specialised Elemis product line was also recently introduced to the spa, while the swimming pool underwent a major overhaul during Ramadan. The hotel enjoyed a successful 2005, with average occupancy at 82%, and there has been a steady increase in occupancy in 2006 to 86.3%.||**||SHARJAH|~||~||~|InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) continued to expand its Middle East presence with the opening of the Holiday Inn Sharjah this summer. The new Holiday Inn Sharjah is located in the emirate’s Central Business District, 15kms away from Dubai International Airport and 20kms away from the Dubai World Trade Centre, a location that Pascal Gauvin, to director of operations, UAE and Qatar, InterContinental Hotels Group, claims will be instrumental in the hotel’s success. “The location is great; it is next to the airport and will attract weekend business from Abu Dhabi, because of its facilities,” Gauvin says. “That is a superb product and a great opportunity for us. I am very confident and I see big demand here,” he adds, pointing out that there is a “need for more hotels and diversity in Sharjah”. Offering 139 studios and 41 one- and two-bedroom apartments, the property includes conference facilities providing video, audio and telecommunications equipment for corporate visitors, and is bound to tap into the lucrative MICE market in the UAE. Meanwhile, Coral International is preparing to introduce its Murjan signature spa concept to its Sharjah property, with a full renovation and expansion of the recreation facilities at the Coral Beach Resort Sharjah planned for the near future. With existing properties working hard to upgrade and a number of big name chains all lined up to open across the emirates in the next couple of years, it seems that Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and Sharjah will all taste tourism success in the years to come.||**||

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