Middle East travel fraternity stands out on global stage

The region’s tourism boards, airlines, hotels and operators were out in force at World Travel Market (WTM), demonstrating their increasing appeal to a global audience and their commitment to growth and quality standards

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By  Gemma Greenwood Published  December 3, 2006

|~|WTM-LOGO-main.gif|~||~|More than 5000 exhibitors from 202 countries and regions participated in last month’s World Travel Market (WTM), representing 2% growth on the 2005 event, according to organiser, Reed Travel Exhibitions (RTE). And although overall attendance was down 2% compared to last year, RTE said this signalled a increase in “visitor quality”. Unaudited figures revealed that 47,544 professionals attended the event, which took place at London’s ExCel from November 6 to 11, with a 13% rise in trade visitors to 11,369, a 4% increase in exhibiting personnel and a 10% media uptake compared to 2005 statistics. Student attendees dropped 7% and Meridian Club membership by 14%. “After last year’s event we carried out independent research to understand and adapt to the needs of exhibitors and visitors,” said Fiona Jeffery, MD of WTM. “It was because of this research that we decided the criteria for international buyers needed to be stricter.” Early feedback indicated that several business deals worth in excess of US $191,275 had been conducted at the event, she added. During the week, a programme of 67 conferences, debates, seminars and presentations explored topics ranging from health and wellness tourism, branding, and how best to corner the Chinese inbound and outbound markets, to space travel, how to maximise web potential and niche markets such as luxury travel and MICE. Newcommers to the exhibition included Moldova in Eastern Europe and Sudan and Cape Verde in Africa, and for the first time in WTM’s history, Fujairah erected a stand, joining fellow Emirate States Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. Fujairah’s primary aim was to promote three new five-star properties that are set to open their doors in the emirate next year. The Hotel JAL Fujairah Resort & Spa will open in February, offering 257 rooms and suites, six F&B outlets and a diving centre. The Japanese company is also poised to open the 486-room Hotel JAL Tower Dubai on Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, in 2008. Joining JAL in Fujairah on the stretch of coastline that to date, has been dominated by the Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort, are the Fujairah Rotana Resort & Spa and the Iberotel Miramar Al Aqah Beach Resort. All three properties are expected to draw a large European crowd, as well as the GCC’s weekend break market. Additional first-time Middle East participants at WTM included Rotana Hotels; Egypt-based operators Viking Travel and MISR Travel; travel product wholesaler, Travco; and the Al Kaheel Project, an AED 1.6 billion ($435.6 million) equestrian theme park, residential area and working horse farm in Dubai. The region was widely represented, with every country bar Saudi Arabia making an appearance. Even emerging tourist destinations such as Libya were present, as well as those deemed more risqué due to political instability, including Palestine and Iran.||**|||~|WTM-MID-EAST-large.gif|~|The Middle East tourism boards, airlines and hotel groups were out in force at last month’s WTM.|~|Lebanon put on a brave face and took steps to assure the WTM crowd that the country was ready to receive tourists. At a press conference staged in conjunction with the UNWTO on day one, Lebanese Tourism Minister, Joseph Sarkis, told the media: “Lebanon is a phoenix. It has always risen from the ashes and the country is as vibrant as ever. We are gradually returning to normal after the negative impact of [the war in July].” Visitor arrivals to Lebanon were up 49% year-on-year for the January to April 2006 period and the country had been on track to receive a 6% increase in tourist arrivals to more than 1.6 million for the year. Hotel occupancies had reached 70% before July and were set to hit the 100% mark over the summer period, but plummeted to almost zero when hostilities with Israel escalated. The short war caused damage worth $15 billion, and cost Lebanon the lives of 1200 civilians, but Sarkis said the tourism infrastructure had remained intact and that it was “business as usual” in Lebanon. In a show of force, several Lebanese tour operators and hotels manned the Lebanon stand including Sogetour and Kurban Tours, Crowne Plaza Beirut, Hotel Le Bristol, InterContinental Le Vendome, Mountain Resort & Spa Mzaar, Phonecia Hotels and Movenpick Hotel & Resort Beirut. Another stand out Middle East participant at WTM was the Emirates Group, which erected a double-decker stand showcasing Emirates Airline’s latest in-flight amenities including the first class suite now available on board the airline’s A340-500 aircraft, and the new lie-flat seat, currently being installed in business class on board the Boeing 777-300ER. Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airline, was interviewed on the WTM World Stage by TV contributor and aviation industry analyst John Strickland, and explained why airlines should no longer accept their image as the world’s environmental “whipping boys”. “We don’t tell enough of what has been done,” he protested. “It is very important that the industry remains as a major contributor to today’s global economy. If you continue to make life difficult for us then you must reap the whirlwind. That will happen if we cannot manage the job as people like us to do.” He emphasised that new generation engines consumed up to 50% less fuel and that the ratio of passenger to fuel use had been “hugely reduced”. “The industry is doing a lot behind the scenes to make the aircraft more fuel efficient and environmentally compliant,” he added. Several Middle East countries attended WTM to announce forthcoming tourism projects. Oman’s award-winning stand showcased several new developments including the 106-chalet Al Nadha Resort & Spa, which opened in Muscat last month; the $822 million Yiti Resort in Muscat, which includes three hotels, golf course villas, and a health club, and is due to open in 2009; and the Salalah Resort, which will open in January featuring four/five hotels, a marina, aquarium and golf course. Morocco announced it had been awarded $375 million to improve Casablanca. The beautification programme will curb pollution, improve traffic, create more greenery, and make the city more tourism-friendly. Libya also revealed its ambitious plans for tourism. The oil-rich country has established the Libyan Tourism Development Authority and introduced new laws to encourage investment. Authorities have nominated 15 sites for potential joint ventures along the country’s Mediterranean coastline.||**||

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