Dubai and Abu Dhabi hotel bookings are rolling in more slowly than in previous holiday seasons, but rooms are filling up thanks to increased promotional packages, lower rates and hoteliers concentrating on markets other than Europe. Travellers reluctant to spend are spoiled for choice and deals in Dubai, which has added several hotels in the past year, said Arshad Hussain, the director of business development at the The Monarch Dubai.
"Last year, our tactics were different," he said. "We were waiting for business to come. Now, we are actually going to get the business." The December-January period is usually brisk for UAE hoteliers as tourists from cooler climes seek some Christmas sun. However, as travellers in the UK suffer from a tough economic environment and a weak pound, many hoteliers have shifted their market focus and added more incentives.
Mr Hussain said The Monarch launched a campaign called Project NYE, in which it sent sales teams to Russia, India and China. "We realised the business in Europe, mainland Europe, was not going to come through to Dubai," he said. As a result, The Monarch secured a 200-room booking during New Year's Eve for a group of Russian tourists, he said. "Had we not done project NYE we would still be sitting on 50 per cent occupancy," he said.
The hotel will be fully occupied to ring in the New Year and about 82 per cent occupied for the rest of the holiday season. The Monarch offered more promotional packages with tickets to leisure activities in the city instead of cutting room rates, Mr Hussain said. Steven Greenwood, the hotel manager of InterContinental Dubai Festival City, said occupancy was higher this month compared with last year although the guest profile had shifted. "Our leisure guests are mostly coming from Italy, GCC, Indonesia and CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries this year," he said. "Last year we had a greater number of guests from western Europe. This year we are experiencing a decline in the number of bookings coming from this part of the world."
The Tamani Hotel Marina, a Sharia-compliant facility in the Dubai Marina, said their rooms were about 85 to 90 per cent booked, in part on discounted rates and special deals for nearby activities such as the Dubai Aquarium, said Muin Serhan, the hotel's general manager. Still, would-be guests were pondering their options a lot longer, he said. "The booking trend last year, it was early, that by the first week of December you could say New Year's bookings were all done," Mr Serhan said. "But now, we started to become fully booked after that."
In the capital, the Beach Rotana experienced a similar trend of last-minute bookings, said Dominique Hebert, the assistant general manager for Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi. "We are offering more promotions than last year," he said. "With the economic situation, people are booking a lot less in advance than they used to. To make sure to fill up during these special days, we have to come out with these promotions way more in advance."
Rates at the Beach Rotana are about 30 per cent lower than they were last year and new promotions include a room for Dh420 (US$114.40) with the purchase of a ticket to one of its holiday events, he said. Rather than aiming for European tourists, the hotel concentrated its marketing efforts in the GCC, Mr Hebert said. "Expats or locals tended to go away on vacation to Europe and Europeans would come here," he said.
"In times of crisis, they tend to go on vacation closer to home." The hotel expects to have an occupancy percentage in the high 90s during Christmas and New Year's Eve, he said. Chiheb ben Mahmoud, the senior vice president of the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, said Dubai had fared relatively well given the economic climate. "This is the result of the effort that had been done a few months back in terms of marketing," he said.
"They have all been working with the DTCM [Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing] to market Dubai as a destination." He said that although rates were lower than in past years, as they have been all year, there was not widespread heavy discounting. "The prices, they are not at their sky high levels as before, but they are still internationally healthy, substantial and relatively strong compared to other winter destinations," Mr ben Mahmoud said.