x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sharjah entices Saudi tourists with new Air Arabia route

Air Arabia flies to its eighth Saudi destination, underscoring business and tourism potential.

More than 195,400 Saudi tourists visited the emirate last year, boosted by Air Arabia's flights to seven destinations in the kingdom. Jeff Topping / The National
More than 195,400 Saudi tourists visited the emirate last year, boosted by Air Arabia's flights to seven destinations in the kingdom. Jeff Topping / The National

Sharjah is bidding to attract more Saudi tourists as Air Arabia opens another route to the kingdom.

But the latest destination for the budget carrier could also funnel more outbound tourists from the Emirates seeking a reprieve from the summer heat.

At more than 2,000 metres above sea level, the town of Abha is one of the coolest places in Saudi Arabia - and already a popular spot for holidaymakers in the kingdom.

It becomes the airline's eighth destination in Saudi Arabia, taking Air Arabia's total number of flights to the kingdom to 88 every week.

Air Arabia also flies to Riyadh, Jeddah, Madina, Dammam, Qassim, Yanbu and Taif.

Tourism from Saudi to Sharjah is on an upswing, according to the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority. The emirate marked a 96 per cent rise in the number of tourists from Saudi Arabia last year.

More than 195,400 Saudi tourists visited the emirate last year, as against 99,500 a year earlier. Among Gulf tourists visiting Sharjah, Saudi Arabia contributes the most, according to tourism industry analysts.

"From Saudi Arabia, we get lots of conferences and families in summer," said Richard Gosling, the general manager of Hilton Sharjah, which opened in February. A third of his guests come from the Gulf region.

While the emirate has a rich heritage, museums and a Formula One powerboat racing championship, it has faced difficulties in promoting itself to visitors.

"A challenge is helping people to understand what sort of place Sharjah is," Mr Gosling said. "People drive from Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah through the Sharjah industrial area and don't realise this is a destination on its own."

The Hilton Sharjah, which is located on the city's corniche, welcomes 40 per cent of its guests from the corporate sector, while the rest comprises leisure travellers.

"This is a trend that will reverse in one to two years as we are a city centre hotel, and the economy is coming back, and there are opportunities to cater to corporate visitors more," Mr Gosling said.

Ras Al Khaimah is also competing with its nothern neighbour for Saudi visitors.

Last year the emirate attracted 3,500 visitors from Saudi Arabia - a tiny fraction of the overall visitors but among the biggest spenders.

Saudi visitors in RAK spent an average of US$110 per room last year, compared with $98 per room for UAE guests, falling to $78 for Germans and $68 for Russians.

 

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