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Two stay idea gains ground

The opening of the Le Meridien Al Aqah may move more international tourism traffic towards the East Coast, says Russel Sharpe.

The opening of the Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort has brought the discussion over two stay holidays in the UAE back into the limelight. The idea is that tourists coming to Dubai can spend a few days of their stay on the East coast or in the Northern Emirates.

For that to happen, however, the area needs more high profile properties and Le Meridien is claiming that the Al Aqah is the first international brand hotel to open on the East coast in two decades. Hotel manager, Patrick Antaki, is in no doubt that the opening could be a boost to efforts to promote the East Coast as an upmarket sun, sea and sand destination. “The German and British travel trade has already greeted the news of our opening with enthusiasm, and we are delighted to welcome tourists from these countries among our first guests,” he says.

The hotel is located on the two kilometre Al Aqah Beach near Dibba and has 218 rooms. Facilities include an on-site diving centre operated by Al Boom Marine, spa treatment options and a ‘Penguin Village’ for children. The fact that the hotel is a joint venture between Emirates Airline and the Hotel & Resort Investment Company certainly adds impetus to the ‘two stay’ idea.

Russel Sharpe, Le Meridien’s regional vice president for sales, says there was plenty of interest in the UAE’s East coast at the recent World Travel market in London. Interest in Dubai specifically was, of course, as high as ever, but according to Sharpe, “it was encouraging that operators were also very enthusiastic about the potential for Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort on the East Coast.”

The fact that Le Meridien’s Dubai brands are well known amongst European operators also helps in promoting the East Coast as an international destination. “The trade representatives we have taken to the site have fallen in love with both the location and the hotel, with many commenting they were reminded of Dubai in the infancy of its tourism development,” says Sharpe.

The company reports that the hotel is fully booked for ‘several periods’ of the first half of 2003, without elaborating on what that means.

Hilton International, which added a $3 million beach club to its Ras Al Khaimah property in March, is also keen on the two stay idea. The area, close to the Musandam peninsula, is spectacular, but hasn’t so far been on the radar of international tour operators.

But as with the East coast, that is likely to start changing, says Guy B Epsom, regional director of sales & marketing, Arabian Peninsula, Hilton International. “Since the beach club was opened in March, we’ve been wooing international tourists,” explains Epsom.

“We’re working on twin centre packages tying in Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah. This is its first season and we’re really pleased to have hit about 45% occupancy, having signed up some 23 operators,” he adds.

Hilton was forecasting in late November that the hotel would be full for the Christmas period.

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