The number of visitors from Saudi Arabia staying in Abu Dhabi's hotels more than doubled in July, as GCC visitors flooded into the capital. The influx helped to counter what is usually one of the slowest months for the hotel sector in the Emirates.
Total nights spent by GCC travellers in hotels in Abu Dhabi in July surged by 124 per cent compared with the same month last year, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) reported.
Saudi Arabia represented the biggest growth, with a 130 per cent increase to 10,766 guests. Political upheaval has had a dramatic impact on travel patterns in the region, to the benefit of more stable destinations such as the UAE.
"We have seen a substantial increase in guests from Saudi, especially during the Eid period," said Arshad Hussain, the director of sales and marketing at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel in Abu Dhabi. "The Saudi market is one of the fastest growing areas … which is welcoming especially as Europe has been hit hard by recession."
Saudis and other GCC tourists have been avoiding what for them have been typically popular short-haul holiday spots such as Egypt and Bahrain because of unrest in those countries, hoteliers say.
"The regional upsurge could likely be attributed to GCC travellers opting to spend time in a destination they associate with safety for their families and with more of them choosing to holiday in July ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, when they wish to be at home with their families," said Lawrence Franklin, the strategy and policy director at the ADTA.
The number of UAE residents staying in hotels in the capital grew 34 per cent to 84,444 in July over the same period last year, the data from the ADTA showed. Numbers for Kuwait rose 129 per cent, with 2,070 visitors from that country staying in Abu Dhabi.
Visitors from the GCC accounted for 39,087 guest nights in July, helping Abu Dhabi achieve record levels for the month with 38 per cent growth in total guest numbers. The number of guests from GCC countries, excluding the UAE, grew by 98 per cent on the same month last year to 19,828 tourists, according to the authority.
The tourism authority is planning a roadshow in Saudi Arabia and Qatar next month to promote the destination in the hope of attracting even more tourists from the region, it said. In July, 189,486 guests stayed in the emirate's hotels. Occupancy increased by 9 per cent to 65 per cent and total revenue was up 6 per cent to Dh271 million (US$74.2m). Average room rates declined 15 per cent compared with July last year to Dh372.55. Hoteliers expect rates to come under further pressure with more hotels scheduled to open before the end of the year.
"The one disappointment was a fall-off of 2 per cent in the average length of stay to 2.68 nights, which we anticipate being rectified in the coming months with our heightened infrastructure and events offering," said Mr Franklin.
The number of guests from the wider Arab market increased by 44 per cent to 22,383 in July, while the numbers for Europe and Asia grew by 28 per cent.
Abu Dhabi is expanding its accessibility by air, with the launch of Prague-Abu Dhabi flights four times a week from September 21 when the Czech carrier CSA is to enter the market. Etihad is planning to launch non-stop service to Chengdu, China, four times a week in December.
Abu Dhabi received more than 1.23 million hotel guests between January and July, a 15 per cent increase on the same period last year, the ADTA said. It is targeting a total of 2 million guests this year.
There was 26 per cent growth in the number of hotel guests from the US in the first seven months of the year and 52 per cent growth from India.