A pause on ambitions

The UAE has invested in tourism and MICE developments but must wait out the effects of the pandemic for a good harvest

Domestic business travel is leading the UAE’s recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions across the region ease.

Raki Phillips, chief executive of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, shared that while the world waits for international travel to rebound, the focus is currently on the domestic and regional markets.

Dubai is readying itself for pent-up MICE demand once borders reopen and events can resume; Dubai Frame in Zabeel Park pictured

He noted: “We are starting to see the domestic market (rebound) and many of our hotels are running at up to 60 per cent occupancy. (Business events) is a huge part of the ethos and travel in general, and we are starting to see (some movement in the sector).”

Phillips added that many four-star hoteliers in the region have shared with him that up to 90 per cent of customers are corporate.

Although there is domestic corporate movement, Phillips does not expect a full recovery until 4Q2020.

Guy Hutchinson, chief executive of UAE-based Rotana Hotels & Resorts, expects business and leisure travel to rebound simultaneously across the UAE, but predicts the conventions and events sector will not see a complete comeback until 4Q2021.

“The last segment to come back will be (large) meetings and events. I think it’s going to be a while before we see that,” Hutchinson remarked.

A key factor in stimulating the UAE’s business travel segment is ensuring social distancing and stringent safety measures are in place to instil confidence, where numerous industry players have already rolled out protective protocol.

For example, UAE-headquartered hospitality company, Time Hotels, unveiled its sanitisation protocol, Sanitised & Ready, in partnership with Diversey, a global hygiene solutions provider.

In May, Dubai’s Jumeirah Al Naseem became the first hotel in the world to be awarded the Bureau Veritas’ Safeguard Label.

Qatar on the rise
Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, Qatar had her eyes fixed on the business travel market.
In the last few years, the destination has opened up exhibition halls to cater to the growing demand. This includes 47,000m2 Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre and 40,000m2 Qatar National Convention Centre.

Qatar Tourism Authority also launched its Business Event sub-brand to promote the country as a leading business events destination. The launch led to the roll out of a Business Events Guide for event planners that lists all venues and options.

New products that help elevate Qatar’s appeal include the opening of Doha Metro and the National Museum of Qatar in 2019.

Despite the bleak outlook now, the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a major sporting event Qatar is hosting, could lift the tourism and business events industry. A swathe of hotel development is currently underway to cater to the projected influx in visitors, with many business-orientated properties recently opened or in the pipeline.

These include the 120-key Four Points by Sheraton Doha which opened in October and features four event spaces and a dedicated events team. Next up in 4Q2020, the 292-key Plaza Doha Anantara Hotel and Suites is slated to open, bringing in a 1,200m2 ballroom and six meeting rooms.

Thailand-headquartered Centara Hotels & Resorts has also invested in Qatar, with Centara Grand Hotel Doha and Centara Al Bustan Hotel Doha slated to open in 2021.

Abu Dhabi’s mega development
Over in Abu Dhabi, Yas Bay is slated to become one of the UAE’s most vibrant waterfront developments, home to a collection of hotels, exhibition centres and entertainment hubs.

The mega project on the southern end of Yas Island – already home to Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi, Yas Waterworld, Yas Marina Circuit which hosts the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, golf courses and hotels – will add an 18,000-pax indoor arena, more than 50 cafes and restaurants, 20 retail outlets, a pier and promenade, and hotels to its portfolio.

Originally slated to open in April 2020, Etihad Arena’s opening was pushed to September due to the pandemic. The state-of-the-art multipurpose venue is an adaptable fully-covered indoor arena able to accommodate events ranging from 200 to 18,000 guests. It plans to welcome world-class concerts, sporting events and business events. Premium spaces include a VIP lounge that can be transformed into a grand ballroom for functions, hospitality boxes, and terrace bars for receptions and parties.

Opening soon is the 641-key Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island, where facilities onsite include a multipurpose conference centre, seven dining outlets, an urban beach concept, and infinity pool.

Dubai poised for a big show
Expo 2020 Dubai is expected to attract millions of visitors from across the globe when the six-month mega event opens next year.

Originally slated for October this year, the event has been postponed by a year to October 1, 2021. It continues to promise a wide range of activities, entertainment and events at the 438ha purpose-built site.

Expected to attract 25 million visitors, the event will create a long-term legacy, with the vast range of facilities creating a satellite district – District 2020 – once the event wraps up. In the future, District 2020 will be home to the 45,000m2 Dubai Exhibition Centre, several pavilions, gardens, parks, galleries, and more than 200 F&B outlets.

Several hotels are also being constructed to cater to the influx of visitors for Expo 2020.
For instance, Marriott Resort Palm Jumeirah will open towards the end of 2020 as the brand’s first property in Dubai. The 608-key hotel will boast more than 2,100m2 of event space across 11 function rooms.

Also nearing completion is the Sofitel Dubai Wafi. Touted as the largest Sofitel in the Middle East, it will feature 498 guestrooms and suites, as well as 97 serviced apartments, and 2,300m2 of function space.

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