Asian hotel, tourism operators optimistic about Middle East market

Region remains 'resilient' despite coronavirus lockdowns

  
Image used for illustrative purpose. Man talking on the phone in hotel room.

Image used for illustrative purpose. Man talking on the phone in hotel room.

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Hotel and tourism operators in Asia have confidence in the Middle East market and are optimistic about reviving visitor traffic from the region once travel restrictions are lifted.

Countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other parts of the region are some of the most lucrative source markets for the Asian hospitality industry, with destinations like Thailand among the most popular. In 2018, the Asian state recorded more than 582,000 visitors from the Middle East, up from 283,000 in 2008.

According to Paul Wilson, executive vice president of commercial at Cross Hotels and Resorts, which operates in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, the Middle East remains their important market, given the high spending power and propensity for travel of residents in the region.

“They spend when they come to the hotels. They are the second-highest spenders after the French. [In terms of length of stay], we see people come for two or three days and those who come for two to three weeks. The Middle Eastern market travels year round. They travel in families, so that’s perfect for us,” Wilson said during a live session hosted by the Arabian Travel Market (ATM).

Despite the mobility restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Wilson said, the Middle East market continues to show a rather strong appetite for hotel stays.

“The Middle East has been quite resilient. They only closed 36 percent of their hotels when the rest of the world closed up to 70 or 80 percent of their hotels. So, that’s a positive sign,” Wilson said.

“When you look at the average occupancy for the region, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, they’re at 30 percent, rising up to 49 percent. So, again, we’re seeing a lot of positive moves coming out of that region. For us, it’s fairly straightforward why this market is really important,” Wilson added.

Nia Niscaya of the Tourism and Creative Economy Agency in Indonesia, said the government is allocating funds to beef up their online marketing strategies in the region. 

“We want to have more engagement with the local market and keep the market inspired to come and visit us. We want to target both the local and expatriate communities,” said Niscaya.

However, once residents are ready to travel and explore destinations abroad, there may not be a lot of drastic changes in the way the hospitality industry operates. Guests can’t expect bigger dining venues or hotel spaces in the age of social distancing, for example.

“I generally think hotels are just going to be a lot safer and cleaner environments, not that they weren’t before. I don’t think there’s going  to be drastic changes. We just have to trust the system,” said Wilson.

“We have to learn to live with coronavirus. The world must go on,” he said.

Wilson noted that they’re beginning to see some “green shoots” as restrictions around the world are easing. “We’re starting to see our occupancies grow. In the last two weeks, we’ve opened three hotels and we’ve seen occupancies go up 90 percent to 100 percent during mid-week,” he added.

(Reporting by Cleofe Maceda; editing by Seban Scaria)

cleofe.maceda@refinitiv.com

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