While the US and Europe struggle through the economic gloom, the Middle East's tourism industry is expected to shine this year, according to a new study. Hospitality Vision - the Middle East Performance Review, which was published this week by Deloitte, the auditing and consulting firm, said the region's hotels were enjoying some of the world's highest occupancy figures, best average room rates and strongest levels of hotel room revenue.
"The Middle East now has the highest absolute occupancy and average room rates in the world at 74.3 per cent and US$181 (Dh665)," it said. The report predicted that international visitor numbers would grow by between six and 10 per cent, compared to a global rate of three to four per cent. "The sheer scale and pace of growth in the region will be a magnetic draw to visitors," said Rohit Talwar, the chief executive of Fast Future, a UK-based tourism consultancy. The region's hotel development pipeline hit an all-time high of 527 projects this year, bringing the region's total number of planned guest rooms to 155,989 by the end of the first quarter, according to a report by the US-based hotel researcher, Lodging Econometrics.
Despite plummeting consumer confidence in the UK, which is the UAE's largest non-regional source market, the travel industry there remains optimistic that this will have no significant impact on traffic to the Gulf. According to Shawn Tipton, a spokesman for ABTA - a travel association representing more than 5,500 British travel agencies - said anecdotal evidence suggested that the UK would continue to deliver the highest number of tourists coming to the UAE.
"Through meetings with our members, we haven't detected any changes to the number of UK travellers to the Middle East," he said. "It's quite the opposite, actually. We are noticing less travel taking place to Europe and more to the Middle East, because countries in that region tend to be cheaper." Referring to a recent study by Mintel, a consumer research firm, which found that one in five Britons said they would delay a family holiday because of money worries, Mr Tipton said that tourism was one of the last sectors to be hit by an economic slowdown, but added: "This doesn't mean that the sector is entirely immune to the economic changes, but this will only happen if the country hits recession."
This year, the world's GDP growth was expected to slow to 2.6 per cent, from 3.7 per cent last year, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). However the MENA region's GDP was forecast to grow by 6.1 per cent during the same time period. "This suggests that the Middle East will be largely unharmed by one of the most dramatic economic downturns since the dotcom bubble bust," said the Deloitte report. The report added that the growth of low-cost carriers and the introduction of new ones, such as FlyDubai, meant that more tourists were bound to visit the region. "To complement the growth in airlines, more than $43 billion is being spent on airport developments in the region," it said.