The sun is setting and the time has come to break the daily fast. Overlooking the great stretch of pristine beach, the iftar venue beckons with delicacies and shisha to be enjoyed in a friendly, warm, but far from sweltering evening air. Ramadan has come to the Gold Coast, Australia. The resort region in the state of Queensland has this year, for the first time, set up a venue for iftar to cater for the increasing number of Middle East travellers who choose to spend summer there.
This year it has proved especially important for spots popular with residents of the GCC, as the holy month has begun in the middle of the northern summer holidays. "With the holy month of Ramadan falling within this period this year, it has unfortunately had a somewhat negative impact on visitor numbers and duration of stay," says Gordon Price, the international director for Gold Coast Tourism. "On top of the various services and facilities Gold Coast operators already provide to Muslim visitors, Gold Coast Tourism and Tourism Queensland are from 2010 operating an evening lounge during the holy month of Ramadan to provide visitors with a venue to be able to share iftar with fellow Muslims."
Mr Price says the Gold Coast attracts more than 25,000 visitors from the Middle East each year, mostly between July and September, compared with 12,000 in 2004. The average stay for these visitors is more than 25 days. But some regional travellers prefer their holidays to be even cooler. UAE travel agents tell of a recent surge of interest in Zurich. As a result, the Swiss city last year launched a list of "Ramadan friendly" hotels. The luxury Dolder Grand is one of those properties.
"The number of guests from the Gulf region is increasing," says Vanessa Flack, a spokeswoman for the Dolder Grand. "In July this year, 26 per cent of our guests were from the Gulf region." But at the moment there are just a handful of guests from the region staying at the hotel. "Our guests from the Middle East, who stayed for around four weeks with us, have now left to go home for Ramadan," says Ms Flack.
Singapore has also been receiving more tourists from the UAE and wider Middle East, and is hoping to keep up this momentum during the holy month. Singapore's tourism board says there was a 23.2 per cent growth in visitors from the Middle East in the first half of the year compared with the same time last year. The city-state received more than 66,000 tourists from the region in the first six months of the year and the UAE was the largest contributor with 23,248.
"Our figures indicate that UAE tourists are among the highest-spending travellers in Singapore," says Jason Ong, the Middle East and Africa director for the Singapore Tourism Board. The multibillion-dollar Resorts World Sentosa, launched this year, was helping to drive growth, while the Marina Bay Sands resort that opened in June was also expected to boost tourism, Mr Ong says. Singapore's tourism board points to the state's large Muslim population to show tourists from the region will be well catered for.
"Singapore will welcome Middle East travellers during Ramadan as hotels provide shuttle services to mosques, as iftars, night markets and street light-ups send a festive buzz through this multi-cultural city," the board says. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org