As the hot and humid weather reaches its stifling summer peak, you might think trekking out to the desert for a weekend break was the last thing on holidaymakers' minds.
But across the Emirates it is proving extremely popular, with desert hotels enjoying a bustling trade in the dunes.
"June this year was exceptional," says Arne Silvis, the general manager of Al Maha desert resort, which was at 78 per cent occupancy during the month.
"We are still able to conduct all our activities and even now, the humidity has not affected us."
Opened in 1999, Al Maha was the signature desert resort in the UAE for many years .
However, competition has changed that as a number of international operators have rolled out desert getaways, including the Qasr Al Sarab in the Liwa desert and Banyan Tree in Ras Al Khaimah.
There are now about half a dozen hotels marketed as desert getaways in the Emirates.
"For some time, Al Maha resort was the main international desert resort in the region in that category," says Chiheb Ben Mahmoud, the executive vice president for regional hotel advisory at Jones Lang LaSalle, a property analyst.
"Other more or less similar hotels opened and notably in the unique setting of the Al Gharbia desert area of Abu Dhabi."
Competition in Abu Dhabi in particular is likely to increase with the huge growth in the number of hotels in the capital.
About 6,700 additional rooms are expected by the end of 2014, on top of the 14,700 already available, according to Jones Lang LaSalle.
But desert hotels are confident they can attract visitors to their retreats, particularly local residents, who have been booking in larger numbers this summer than ever before.
During the summer, about 85 per cent of the guests at Al Maha are UAE residents.
In the winter, the reverse is true with the majority of visitors coming from overseas.
Wael Soueid, the general manager of Qasr Al Sarab, which is operated by Anantara from Thailand, says the hotel has benefited this year from the timing of Ramadan, which meant more UAE residents have booked rooms.
"The tourism summer trend in the UAE is considered a low season due to the weather conditions and the high temperatures.
"However, over the past two years, with the Holy Month of Ramadan falling during summer, the travel habits changed on the domestic and regional market," he says.
"More families, local or expats, go on shorter breaks versus the usual two-month holiday and instead they travel within the UAE," he adds.
"The same applies with the GCC countries, where travellers come on short breaks to the UAE."
Craig Senior, the director of sales and marketing for Meydan Hotels, says Bab Al Shams, a desert retreat on the outskirts of Dubai, is also experiencing a bumper summer. "Occupancies have been holding strong so far during the summer period and are in line with our expectations and ahead of the same period last year," he says.
"Based on the current trend we are experiencing, we expect this quarter to be also a positive one in terms of occupancy levels at the resort."
Despite the confidence of desert hoteliers that occupancy during the summer will be better than in previous years, June, July and this month are traditionally patchy. Even so, rates can reach Dh5,000 (US$1,361) per night for standard rooms.
Desert Islands Resort & Spa, also operated by Anantara, expects occupancy rates to be 34 per cent, 26 per cent and 36 per cent for last month, this month and next month, respectively.
Relatively new on the desert scene, Qasr Al Sarab also expects occupancy to be in that range.
But desert hotels are still hoping to attract UAE residents in the next few months by offering promotional deals and organising activities they would rarely find in the cities.
"The activities offered remain available for the guests," says Thomas Raaber Svalholm, the executive assistant manager for the Desert Islands Resort & Spa.
"The only changes are the timings to beat the heat.
"We start earlier for the early birds at sunrise and we reschedule the rest of the activity around sunset. As an alternative, we also offer many activities indoors for the guests, such as cooking classes, workout classes and workshops for the children," he says.
The hotel is also offering guests the option of booking two nights and getting a third free. Alternatively, they can opt for return flights with Rotana Jet to the island retreat from Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi.
"With desert resorts in the UAE representing some critical mass, competition and creativity will broaden the realm of market possibilities," says Mr Ben Mahmoud
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