New seaside hotel planned for Dammam


DAMMAM: The city will be getting a new SR260 million, 240-room hotel along its Corniche through an agreement between the Riyadh-based SHUAA Saudi Hospitality Fund and Abdulla Fouad Holding Co., the financial institution announced.

SHUAA Capital CEO Omar Al-Jaroudi, 3rd right, Abdulla Fouad Holding Co. Chairman Abdulla Fouad, 3rd left, and other executives pose for a group picture after the signing ceremony in Dammam. (AN photo)

SHUAA Capital CEO Omar Al-Jaroudi, 3rd right, Abdulla Fouad Holding Co. Chairman Abdulla Fouad, 3rd left, and other executives pose for a group picture after the signing ceremony in Dammam. (AN photo)

The Rayhaan by Rotana Hotel will be located on the Al-Ashra Roundabout and offer unobstructed views of the Arabian Gulf as well as easy access to highways linking Dammam to King Fahd International Airport, Jubail, Alkhobar and Dhahran.

This transaction marks the third hospitality project announced by the fund in Saudi Arabia. The fund already initiated development of two other hotels in Jeddah, also to be managed by Rotana, including a 5-star Rayhaan Hotel on the northern Corniche and a 4-star budget business hotel on Madinah Road.

“This agreement represents another important milestone for the fund and brings us closer to achieving our goal of developing eight hotel properties in the Kingdom,” said Omar Al-Jaroudi, SHUAA Capital Saudi Arabia CEO. “Over the coming months, we will unveil additional projects the fund has in the pipeline.”

“Rotana’s market expansion into the Kingdom is progressing as planned, and we would like to thank the SHUAA team for their professional approach to implementing the property development strategies,” said Rotana president and CEO Selim El Zyr. “This project will allow us to better serve business and leisure travelers as well as the community of the Kingdom’s Eastern Province.”

Dammam is a leading business hub in the Eastern Province, which has a growing population of more than 3.7 million inhabitants. It is the center of the Kingdom’s oil and petrochemical industries.

SHUAA Capital Saudi Arabia is a subsidiary of Dubai-based SHUAA Capital It is a closed joint-stock company with a paid-up capital of SR150 million. SCSA was established to promote investment opportunities within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the broader Middle East and North Africa regions.

Abdul Latif Jameel eyes hotel brand in Kingdom


JEDDAH: Abdul Latif Jameel Real Estate Investment Company has announced its intention to create a Saudi-cultured hotel brand which will open its first property in the second half of 2011.

Egyptian national Mahmoud Mokhtar has been appointed as chief operating officer for the hotel division, which is so new it does not even have a name yet, and he will drive the company’s growth aspirations within Saudi Arabia and the Middle East region.

Mokhtar foresees promising growth opportunities for the company in the Kingdom over the next two years and further expansion and growth in the Middle East region in a five-year span. His first job will be to build a Saudi-originating hotel brand and culture.

“The company’s strategy for the hotel division is aimed at introducing to the world a new concept of hotel management based on genuine Saudi professional hospitality,” he said. “We aim to build our presence in the kingdom first and my role will be to ensure that this is achieved based on a solid strategy, a relevant brand and strong presence. This will nurture the Saudi culture, promote the Saudi dream and create new job opportunities in the kingdom as well as contributing to the wellbeing of the community.

“We have a number of openings lined up for the next two years, phase one will open during the second half of 2011, with a 1,778-room four-star hotel in Makkah. The hotel will be our flagship, owned and managed by the company.

There are also three upcoming projects with a total of 9,000 hotel rooms in Makkah, based on a mid-market, full-service hotel concept, with food courts and residential apartments.”
Mokhtar has 23 highly distinguished years of Middle Eastern and International hotel experience with multinational hotel chains, including stints in the US and the UAE as well as a variety of locations within Egypt.

He was most recently vice president for Egypt, Lebanon and North Africa for an international hotel chain based in Cairo.

The Kingdom is investing heavily to the tune of SR1,496 billion to upgrade its infrastructure over 5 year period until 2013, recent reports said.

The region is placing top most priority on infrastructure development across industries such as power, transportation, education, retail, real estate and oil and gas among others.

Saudi Kingdom group’s Q3 profits boosted by hotels


RIYADH: Saudi tycoon Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s Kingdom group said Monday its hotel business helped to boost its third-quarter net profit by 52.6 percent on year to 160 million riyals ($42.7 million).

Kingdom said its net profit for the quarter ended 30 September was up 18.1 percent from the previous three months, when it earned 135.4 million riyals ($36.1 million).

Net profits in the nine months to September 30 reached 370.7 million riyals ($98.9 million), compared with 247.1 million riyals for the same period in 2009. A major investor in top global businesses like Apple Corp, News Corp. and Citigroup, as well as luxury hotels and hotel management, Kingdom said its gains came despite a decline in dividends from financial investments.

Saudi Arabia must safeguard reforms, says watchdog

By Ian Black, Middle East editor

Cautious changes in Saudi Arabia over the last five years need to be followed by permanent institutional reforms or risk being eroded in future, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned in a report.

Saudi youth celebrate the country's National Day on 23 September. King Abdullah's reforms have 'loosened the reins' on society. Photograph: Fahad Shadeed/Reuters

Saudi youth celebrate the country's National Day on 23 September. King Abdullah's reforms have 'loosened the reins' on society. Photograph: Fahad Shadeed/Reuters

King Abdullah has “loosened the reins” that stifle Saudi society but has brought in few lasting improvements for women or in freedom of expression, judicial fairness or religious tolerance, argues the New York-based organisation.

On the positive side, the 85-year-old king, a close ally of the US, has promoted the modernisation of the state, encouraged a re-evaluation of the subservient status of women and religious minorities, and allowed greater debate in the media and promoted judicial fairness. But while the attitude toward change is now more “welcoming”, this has not brought legislation, codification, enforcement or accountability.

Advances include allowing women to stay in hotels without male guardians, and to work in all fields “suitable to their nature”. Women can also study law at university but cannot practise as lawyers in courts. Sex segregation is now less strict in public spaces such as restaurants and shopping malls, but Saudi women are not allowed to drive.

Under the guardianship system, women are legally minors and are unable to make basic decisions without a male guardian’s consent, including decisions about marriage, education, employment, certain types of healthcare, or travel.

“Should [Abdullah's] enthusiasm for reform wane, or his successors tread more conservative paths, his legacy would be one of a brief respite of fresh air, but not one of institutional reform,” said HRW.

Saudi reformers are opposed by conservatives, usually clerics, who defend the status quo to maintain their influence on the judiciary, education, Islamic affairs and public morality. Opposition also comes from the security establishment, which enforces bans on political parties, public rallies and organised strikes.

Judicial reforms have been implemented, but the 2009 trials of 331 terrorism suspects – an important test for due process – failed to meet basic standards of fairness since they were conducted summarily and in secret. Saudi Arabia still lacks a penal code, allowing judges “near-total” discretion to decide what behaviour constitutes a criminal offence. For example, judges have continued to jail and sentence people for witchcraft.

HRW found greater tolerance of criticism of the government. The Saudi press has also exposed abusive behaviour by the religious police, in one case expressing outrage at the arrest of a businesswoman who had gone to a Starbucks cafe to meet a male business partner. Still, the report says, there are clear limits to criticising an institution that is “intrinsically tied to the history and Islamic identity of Saudi Arabia”.

The government also continues to control the appointment of editors and to punish those who criticise royals, government policies or senior clerics. “Any gains in free speech are subject to government whim,” the report says. “King Abdullah’s loosening of the restrictions on women and critical expression at times seem like tentative test flights by an elite as yet undecided about the type of government and society they want to steer toward.”

Little tangible progress has been made towards greater religious tolerance, especially towards the kingdom’s Shia Muslim minority. The same is true of the status and conditions of Saudi Arabia’s 8 million migrant workers, who still require sponsorship and their employer’s consent to change jobs or leave the country.

Informed views from other countries could help promote change, said HRW, but western media coverage is rarely helpful. “To be sure, scandals of eight-year-old brides and death sentences imposed on television fortune tellers for ’sorcery’ reflect glaring Saudi failures to uphold and protect human rights,” the report says. “But covering them alone fails to give a sense of what reforms are being debated, and indeed are possible, provided there is political will to do so.”

Dusit International to operate 15 hotels by 2015 in the Middle East


Dusit International has made the Middle East its priority market for overseas expansion, targeting to operate at least 15 hotels by 2015.
Dusit Thani Pattaya

Dusit Thani Pattaya

The fast-track expansion plan will make the group one of the leading Asian brands in the Middle East. Adding to its hotel collection in this region, Dusit aims to open hotels and resorts in Abu Dhabi, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar within three years.

Chanin Donavanik, Chief Executive Officer, Dusit International said, “The Middle East is a strategically important market for Dusit as the region remains one of the world’s leaders in travel and tourism.

The success of our expansion into the Middle East will help pave the way for Dusit’s future expansion in the rest of the world and provide the impetus to pursue new growth opportunities in other markets. Furthermore, our distinct, world-renowned brand of Thai hospitality has captivated thousands of tourists and travellers from the Middle East, particularly the UAE.
This successful growth is an exciting opportunity for us to bring Dusit’s legendary brand and unique Thai hospitality to the region.”He said, “There is great potential for our Dusit properties in the UAE and we are expecting average occupancy of our four hotels in the region to exceed last year’s figure of 70 per cent. We expect Dusit Thani LakeView Cairo, which opened earlier this year, to perform well also. Dubai and other destinations in the Middle East will provide activities for all target markets, while places such as Dubai and Cairo are popular as the leisure gateways for the neighbouring states.”

Currently, Dusit International operates five properties in the region, including Dusit Thani Dubai, Dusit Princess City Centre Dubai, Dusit Residence Dubai Marina, Pearl Coast Premier Hotel Apartments, as well as Dusit Thani LakeView Cairo in Egypt.

HMH bolsters KSA presence with five new hotels


Hospitality Management Holdings (HMH) has signed agreements to operate five new properties in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Announcing the news in a press conference at Arabian Travel Market, the group’s chief executive Michel Noblet commented: “We are a strong believer in Saudi and are pleased to reveal that we have formalised contracts for five outstanding properties – one in Dhahran, three in Riyadh and one in Jeddah.”

Two hotels – in Dhahran and Jeddah – will come under the Coral brand, with the remaining three under the Corp Executive Hotels umbrella.

“The beauty of the Saudi market is that it has a huge domestic market, with a population of approximately 30 million people, which ensures us guaranteed business. This is proving to be a boon for the hotel industry in the country,” Noblet noted.

Commenting on HMH’s strategy for further expansion, he continued: “It is an exciting time for us. In addition to the projects under development, we have another 10 under negotiation – which is truly incredibly given the fact that our industry has been under severe pressure owing to the economic crisis.

“Most of our projects are well advanced with several expected to reach completion by the end of 2010 or mid-2011.

“This will add nearly 2000 keys to our existing portfolio.”

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Costa Cruises opens Dubai office to tap Middle East markets


Costa Cruises, one of the largest Italian travel groups and Europe’s number one cruise line, is opening a representative office in Dubai to develop the highly-promising cruise tourism business in Middle Eastern countries. Costa’s ships operating out of Dubai will be offering dedicated facilities for Arab customers.

DTCM's Hamad bin Mejren and Costa Cruises official addressing the media.

DTCM's Hamad bin Mejren and Costa Cruises official addressing the media.

Announcing this at a Press conference held today on board the Costa Deliziosa, and addressed jointly by officials from Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) and Costa Cruises, the company announced its results for the 2009/2010 season in Dubai and presented its program for winter 2010/2011. It also outlined the first initiatives devised specifically to attract Arab consumers, thereby confirming the Italian Company’s determination to provide cruises that are “made-to-measure” so as to satisfy the demands of its increasingly broad and international customer base.

“Following the huge success of the inauguration, on February 23 this year in Dubai, of the Costa Deliziosa, the first cruise ship ever to be inaugurated in an Arab country, our objective is to invest in Dubai, the Arabian Gulf and the Middle East not only as a regular destination for our ships, which we were the first in the world to do back in 2006, but also as a sourcing area so as to increase the number of cruisers choosing us for their vacations,” commented Costa Cruises President Gianni Onorato. “Our target comprises both local customers and the numerous expatriates who live and work in these countries. This marks another step forward in our business development policy in the region, which we are implementing thanks to the support and assistance of the DTCM, and it also comes as further confirmation of our pioneering spirit and the international appeal of our product.”

Mr. Hamad bin Mejren, DTCM Executive Director Business Tourism, said, “We are delighted that Costa Cruises is opening Dubai office to tap the huge growth potential of cruise tourism in the Arab world. We assure our wholehearted help and support to make this venture a real success. It will certainly give a boost to our efforts to promote cruise tourism and provide enough encouragement to other cruise industry players to utilize the strengths and growth opportunities that Dubai offers.”

The first innovation concerns the Italian Company’s fleet, which with 14 ships in service and another 2 on order is currently Europe’s largest and offers the chance each year to visit some 250 separate destinations all over the world. It was announced that the Costa fleet members positioned in Dubai – the sister ships Costa Deliziosa and Costa Luminosa – will be offering Arab Guests a series of dedicated facilities: two prayer rooms for males and females; regional and Arabic food & drinks; menus and signs on board in Arabic; Arab-speaking shipboard front line staff; Arabic TV and radio channels.

The second innovation is the forthcoming opening of a new representative office in Dubai – Arabian Gulf’s business and tourism hub – is thus set to become the 17th country in the world to have a Costa branch office. The Italian company will be represented in the UAE by Al Ketby Consultancy and the office will have a brief to promote and market Costa’s cruises in the Arabian Gulf and the Middle East, together with all the partners that Costa has worked with until now.

The Italian Company will be targeting mainly families, couples and honeymooners from both the local and expatriate communities, as well as the many enterprises operating in the region that are potential incentive cruise customers.

To foster the growth of the Arab market Costa has been studying specific promotional and marketing tools. During the winter 2009/10 season, shipboard visits were organized on the sister ships Costa Luminosa and Costa Deliziosa, which departed from Dubai once a week; these visits were specially arranged for local travel agents and categories of potential customers such as government representatives or the expatriate community, the aim being to provide hands-on experience of the ships and the Costa product.

Gulf travel agencies will soon be receiving a dedicated brochure featuring the most popular itineraries in this part of the world.

Meanwhile, with regard to summer 2010 the focus is on 7-day cruises in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. More specifically, there are cruises on the Costa Pacifica departing from the Port of Rome (Civitavecchia) with stopovers in Savona (Italy), Barcelona (Spain), Palma de Mallorca (Balearic Islands, Spain), Tunis (Tunisia), Malta and Catania (Italy); cruises on the Costa Concordia out of Savona with port calls in Naples (Italy), Palermo (Italy), Tunis, Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona and Marseilles (France); cruises on the Costa Serena with departures from Venice (Italy), bound for Greece and Turkey, and calling at Bari (Italy), Olympia (Greece), Izmir (Turkey), Istanbul (Turkey) and Dubrovnik (Croatia); and cruises on the Costa Fortuna, again using Venice as the homeport, with calls at Bari, Olympia, the Greek islands of Santorini, Mykonos and Rhodes, and Dubrovnik. As regards Northern Europe, the Costa Deliziosa will be operating out of Copenhagen on 7-day cruises to the Norwegian fjords and Baltic cities (Tallinn in Estonia, St. Petersburg in Russia, Helsinki in Finland, and Stockholm in Sweden).

As far as concerns winter 2010/11, the Costa brochure proposes cruises in the Arabian Gulf, the Far East and the Indian Ocean. Gulf cruises will be provided once more by the Costa Deliziosa and Costa Luminosa, with departure from Dubai and stopovers at Muscat (Oman), Fujairah, Abu Dhabi (UAE) and Bahrain. As for the Far East, the highlight is the new 14-day itinerary out of Singapore on the Costa Classica, taking in some of the loveliest places in Malaysia and Thailand; this cruise can also be broken down into two 7-day segments. Last, but not least, the 14-day Indian Ocean cruises will be sailing from Mauritius on board the Costa Romantica and visiting the Seychelles, Madagascar and Reunion.

For these cruises Guests from Dubai and the Gulf Region will be able to take advantage both of direct flights to the ports of departure and of special low fares. In particular, for families there is the “Family Value” promotion (Guests under 18 traveling in the same cabin as two adults cruise for free; special rates for families traveling in separate cabins, one for the adults and the other for the children; the possibility to have multi-cabins booking).

Costa Cruises’ leadership in Dubai and the Gulf Region as a whole is confirmed by the company’s results for the 2009/10 winter season. Europe’s number one cruise company has deployed two ships departing from Dubai every week – the Costa Luminosa and Costa Deliziosa (both 92,600 gross tonnage and 2,826 total Guests), namely Costa’s “top of the range” offer, the most exclusive and innovative members of the fleet. They have been operating on 7-day cruises calling at Muscat (Oman), Fujairah, Abu Dhabi (UAE) and Bahrain: the Costa Luminosa from December 12, 2009 through April 10, 2010; the Costa Deliziosa, after her inauguration on February 23, from March 14 through May 9, 2010. In addition, the Costa Europa (54,800 gross tonnage and 1830 total Guests) offered 8 new 18-day cruises from Savona to Dubai and Dubai to Savona.

Costa’s ships recorded some 140,000 passenger movements in Dubai in winter 2009/10, up 40% compared to 2008/09, with a total of 32 port calls. This traffic generated revenue for the local economy estimated at around EUR14m in 2009/10, derived from direct spending by Costa’s Guests, shoreside excursions, transport, port fees and expenditure on food & beverage. In winter 2010/2011 a further increase is forecast with 31 port calls and 150,000 passenger movements, thanks to the deployment on 7-day Gulf cruises of the Costa Luminosa and Costa Deliziosa. The Costa Luminosa will be departing on Mondays from November 29, 2010 through March 21, 2011; the Costa Deliziosa every Sunday from December 19, 2010 through April 10, 2011.

Costa Cruises – together with AIDA Cruises, the German brand and affiliate of the Costa Crociere S.p.A. Group – was the first Company to market regular cruises in the Arabian Gulf, turning Dubai into a major cruise destination and contributing to its growth as a tourist resort. Costa Cruises’ operations in the region were launched in winter 2006/2007 with the deployment of one ship – the Costa Classica (53,000 gross tonnage and 1,680 total Guests) – and approximately 44,000 passenger movements in Dubai.

In addition to the Costa brand ships, an AIDA Cruises ship – the AIDAdiva (69,200 gross tonnage and 2500 total Guests) – called in Dubai 20 times during winter 2009/2010. In all (considering both the Costa Cruises and Aida Cruises brands), ships belonging to the Costa Crociere Group made 42 stopovers in Dubai this past winter, with a total of around 220,000 passenger movements.

Oman Air Nominated For World Travel Awards


Oman Air, the national carrier of the Sultanate of Oman, has been nominated in the ‘Middle East’s Leading Airline’ category of the prestigious World Travel Awards 2010.

More than a thousand of the Middle East’s greatest travel companies are battling it out to be winners of the coveted event that takes place at The Address, Dubai Marina on Monday, May 3, just  before The Arabian Travel Market.

The World Travel Awards are voted by travel industry professionals worldwide and Oman Air’s nomination follows a year during which the airline has introduced new airbus A330 aircraft to its fleet, each with spacious and luxurious interiors, as well as state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment.

Oman Air was also the first airline in the world to offer passengers both full mobile phone and Wi-Fi connectivity onboard its wide-body aircraft.

Oman Air’s Chief Commercial Officer – Barry Brown, commented: “The event is an international benchmark for excellence in the travel and hospitality sector. Win, lose or draw, Oman Air’s nomination in the ‘Middle East’s Leading Airline’ category of the World Travel Awards is solid recognition of how the airline’s transformation has been so positively received by both our customers and passengers alike. We have worked hard to ensure that Oman Air is synonymous with comfort, luxury and the very best that air travel has to offer. We will continue to unveil new routes, in-flight services and revolutionary technology which will add even greater value to the Oman Air travel experience.”

In the running for Middle East’s Leading Airline are Oman Air, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Middle East Airlines, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian Airlines, and Saudi Arabian Airlines.

Established in 1993, The World Travel Awards is regarded as the most comprehensive and prestigious awards programme in the global travel industry, with nominees selected by thousands of professionals from travel and tourism organizations world-wide. Hailed by the Wall Street Journal as the “travel industry’s equivalent of the Oscar’s”, it serves to acknowledge, reward and celebrate excellence across all sectors of the world’s travel and tourism industry.

Oman Air is the flag carrier of the Sultanate of Oman. Founded in 1993, the airline has since witnessed massive growth and has played a major role in making Muscat an important traffic hub in the Middle East, supporting the commercial, industrial and tourism sectors.

The airline currently operates direct international flights from Muscat to major Gulf destinations, such as Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Doha, Dubai, Jeddah, Riyadh and Kuwait. In addition, Oman Air flies to ten destinations in India – Mumbai, Chennai, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Hyderabad, Delhi, Lucknow, Bangalore, Kozhikode and Jaipur; to Chittagong in Bangladesh and Karachi in Pakistan, Cairo, Beirut and Amman, Jordan, besides London and Bangkok.

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