x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Growth in pilgrimages to boost hotel building

The number of pilgrims going to Mecca and Medina could double within a decade, creating major opportunities for expansion in hospitality, according to a new report.

The number of pilgrims going to Mecca and Medina could double within a decade, creating major opportunities for expansion in hospitality, according to a new report. There could be scope to increase the number of hotel rooms in Mecca to 82,000 from about 50,000 rooms, the report from Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels said. "Our analysis of potential capacity constraints suggests that the total number of Haj and Umrah pilgrims visiting Mecca and Medina could almost double to 13.75 million by 2019," analysts at the consultancy said in the report.

The constraints on growth in the number of pilgrims included inadequate transport and lodging shortages, the report said. The Saudi government is spending more money to increase the number of hotel rooms in the holy cities, the report said. "The Saudi government has plans to increase both the number of religious tourists undertaking Haj and Umrah and also encourage pilgrims to stay for longer breaks," said Chiheb Ben Mahmoud, the senior vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels in the region.

"The Saudi committee for tourism and antiquities is expecting an increase of revenues from Umrah visitors through its strategy of 'Umrah-plus', which aims to encourage middle and upper-income Umrah pilgrims to extend their stay and visit other regions of the kingdom. "Key target markets include Malaysia, Egypt, Oman, Morocco and the UAE." Despite expected growth in demand, last year there was a 30 per cent fall in the average room rate in Mecca because of a larger number of rooms coupled with a lower-than-expected visitor count on concerns about the H1N1 virus. Room occupancy fell to 53 per cent.

Jones Lang LaSalle also noted that many would-be pilgrims had trouble obtaining visas. Luxury hotels are being built around the holy sites as travellers increasingly demanding higher-quality and more comfortable lodgings. Just 10 per cent of the existing hotels in Mecca could be described as international standard, upscale hotels, the report said. Fairmont Hotels and Resorts plans to open an 858-room hotel in the Mecca Clock Royal Tower this year. The hotel is part of the seven-tower Abraj Al Bait complex, next to the Masjid al Haram - Mecca's Grand Mosque - at the centre of which stands the Kaaba.

Other hotels that are to open nearby include Raffles and Swissotel. The Moevenpick Hotel and Residence Hajar Tower in Mecca is to undergo a 797-room expansion, bringing the total number of rooms in the property to 1,200, the hotel management company said this month. "Dedicated rooms on five floors of the hotel will have a direct and exclusive view of the Kaaba and Haram," said Omar Boujlid, the general manager of the Moevenpick Hotel.

Meanwhile, the Jabal Omar Towers development, an immense project in Mecca, is expected to include about 10,000 hotel rooms. rbundhun@thenational.ae