Occupancy rates at luxury hotels are holding up over the Christmas and New Year period, hoteliers said yesterday. But some industry officials say fewer visitors are expected as the global economic crisis takes its toll over the next few months. "We still don't have the final figures for occupancy levels in December but so far there is no indication that they will be lower than last year as the outlook still remains positive," said Ivor McBurney, the vice president for development at Hilton Hotels in the Middle East. Olivier Louis, the general manager of the One&Only Royal Mirage in Dubai, said occupancy rates last month were about 88 per cent. "We are already sold out for the Christmas and New Year's Eve festive season on our three properties, The Palace, Arabian Court, The Residence and Spa," he said. The luxury hotel operator Jumeirah, based in Dubai, said it was satisfied with its occupancy rates. "At Jumeirah, we are pleased to say that over the festive season we will enjoy occupancy levels of over 90 per cent throughout our beach hotels," a spokesman said. "We are satisfied with the occupancy that we are enjoying at the moment." Travel agents believe the high occupancy rates are a result of bookings made earlier in the year before the economic slowdown started to affect the tourist industry. "I don't believe that there will be any drop in five-star occupancy levels because a lot of people have booked and paid for their holiday months in advance," said Aloke Dey, the manager of Sharaf Travel Holidays, one of the largest Dubai-based tour operators. However, Avtar Singh, the director of operations at Lama Tours, a travel agency also based in the city, believes occupancy levels will start declining early next year. "The effects of the economic slowdown will really start to show during the first quarter of 2009, as we are already starting to feel a drop in the volume of bookings for that period," he said. "It is common knowledge that the first quarter of 2009 is presently on a soft side, such being highlighted by lower reservation in Dubai compared to the same period year," Mr Louis said. In Abu Dhabi, luxury hotels including Rotana Hotels and Resorts, Intercontinental and Emirates Palace are all experiencing high occupancy levels this month. "And I don't think that the rates in Abu Dhabi will change that much in 2009 because the emirate mainly depends on business travellers who are less likely to cancel their trips," said Shady Nikola, the director of rooms at the Rotana. Dubai and Abu Dhabi have both set ambitious tourism targets that are now being challenged by the financial crisis. By 2015, Dubai hopes to nearly double its number of tourists from 7.7 million last year to 15m. Abu Dhabi, which attracted significantly more than 1.5m visitors last year, has set a target of 2.7m by 2012. email@example.com
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