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Signs of revival for eastern emirate's tourism trade

Work is expected to resume on a stalled Dh1.2 billion (US$326.8 million) resort in Fujairah as tourism to the emirate picks up.

Work is expected to resume on a stalled Dh1.2 billion (US$326.8 million) resort in Fujairah as tourism to the emirate picks up.

Designs have been finalised and a construction company will be selected to start building the Madinat Miramar project in the Al Aqah area, set to include restaurants, cafes, shops and a small lake, according to the management. Construction is expected to start in a couple of months, while work on the luxury hotel will begin by the end of the year.

"It was stopped during the financial crunch and now we're reviving it again," says Ashraf Helmy, who is managing the development of the project on behalf of the owners and is the general manager and area business development manager for Iberotel Hotels and Resorts. The project is being developed by UK Hotel Holdings, which is owned by Hamed Al Chiaty, the chairman of Egypt's Travco Group, and TUI, Mr Helmy said. Iberotel is part of TUI.

No major new resorts have opened in Al Aqah beach area in the past five years. Tourism to the east coast emirate slowed amid the downturn, while new resorts in the UAE increased competition, Fujairah hoteliers say.

"We think the future now is looking much better," says Mr Helmy. "We believe that the area now has started to get really popular and we believe what happened in Egypt [last year's Arab Spring revolution] helped the area very much and will make the place much more known."

The project is likely to take about two and a half years to complete, and is expected to be funded by the developer and major banks.

Room rates at Iberotel's existing property, the Iberotel Miramar Al Aqah Beach Resort, have risen about 10 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared with the same time last year, while occupancy levels have increased by 15 per cent.

The hotel has been full every day for the past month, says Mr Helmy, with a lot of guests coming from Germany, Russia and Scandinavia. UAE residents make up about 35 to 40 per cent of its business.

Fujairah's tourism industry has been helped by recent infrastructure developments.

"The opening of the Fujairah City Centre Mall and the inauguration of the new Dubai Fujairah highway are just example of the growing interest in the region," says Chiheb ben Mahmoud, the head of hotel advisory at Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, Middle East and Africa. "Similar development could be expected to support further business activity as well as foster increased cross-border tourism."

Still, work needs to be done on marketing the destination.

"As a destination, Fujairah faces competition from Dubai, Abu Dhabi as well as Ras Al Khaimah, with bold initiatives aiming at positioning the destination," says Mr Mahmoud.

Even so, the new road and mall in Fujairah has boosted tourism to the emirate.

"The infrastructure in Fujairah city itself is improving day after day," says Mohamed Fekry, the general manager of the Concorde Fujairah Hotel.

"The Fujairah tourism department is working very aggressively towards events and activities and improving the heritage sites in Fujairah. "

The hotel has also been completely full for the past two to three weeks, as GCC travellers flocked to the emirate for the spring holidays. It is now sitting at an occupancy level of between 80 to 85 per cent.

"That's a big improvement on last year and the year before as well. We're almost double on last year in terms of occupancy and revenue," says Mr Fekry.

In Fujairah city centre, a lot of hotel development is taking place. Accor has three hotels, an Ibis, a Novotel, and an Adagio property that are all scheduled to open in the city next year.

Fairmont, meanwhile, is developing a resort along the coast that is expected to open next year. Construction on the project is underway, but some elements of the project are still in the design phases Fairmont says.

"As for the target clientele, leisure will certainly play a key role with the property's meeting spaces and the destination's natural landscape lending itself to incentive travel, as well as for the leisure guest," the luxury operator said.

Mr Helmy, however, says Fujairah is still a long way from reaching its potential in terms of tourism.

"We need much more investment in the area, not just hotels," he says.

rbundhun@thenational.ae

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