x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rise in Sharia-compliant hotels in Dubai to meet demand

Demand for Sharia-compliant hotels in Dubai are driven by increasing numbers of Saudi Arabian tourists.

The  Jawhara Gardens Hotel in Deira is the only Dubai hotel that gets highest marks in a ranking of Muslim-friendly hotels.Pawan Singh / The National
The Jawhara Gardens Hotel in Deira is the only Dubai hotel that gets highest marks in a ranking of Muslim-friendly hotels.Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // There is a demand for hotels in Dubai that are not only alcohol free but also cater to regional sensibilities, experts have said.

The growing popularity of the emirate among more conservative tourists has created demand for Sharia-compliant hotels, which offer separate pools and health club facilities for men and women.

“There is definitely a demand for more Sharia-compliant hotels in Dubai,” said Mohammed Nasir, the social media manager for Crescentrating, a website that rates hotels around the world based on how Muslim-friendly they are.

“The demand is increasing all the time, particularly from travellers from Saudi Arabia.”

The Singapore-based website ranks hotels on a 1-7 scale. Despite dozens of reviews in Dubai, only one hotel has been awarded a rating of seven – the Jawhara Gardens Hotel.

All the other reviewed hotels in Dubai received a ranking of five.

“If more hotels in Dubai tried to get themselves rated at least six or seven, I’m pretty sure they’d see more visitors coming in,” said Mr Nasir.

While he said there were a growing number of dry hotels in Dubai, which was a positive step, there was a need for hotels to go further.

“Many female travellers opt to not swim in the pools, because men are also swimming there too,” Mr Nasir said.

“If there is a separate pool for the ladies, sometimes they tend to be more attracted to the hotels of that nature.”

The comments come after the end of the Hotel Show in Dubai last week during which Hamad Buamim, the chief executive of the Dubai Chamber, said more hotels were going dry in a bid to cater to the Saudi tourism market.

According to statistics from the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, there were 710,000 Saudi tourists visiting Dubai in the first half of this year. Last year, there were over 1.12 million Saudi tourists in the whole of the year.

There are more than 12 hotels in Dubai which do not serve alcohol, and the number is growing.

Guy Wilkinson, managing partner of Viability Management Consultants, said the trend grew out of the beliefs of investors, rather than a desire to cater to a niche clientele.

“There’s more and more hotel investors who want to build dry hotels, because of their religious convictions,” he said.

“The whole movement started about five years ago, because of the emergence of Islamic banking as a viable alternative source of funding for hotels in the Gulf.

“With that came certain obligations with regards to how they develop the hotel. In order for the finance to be forthcoming, there has to be an Islamic sheikh who checks out the project.

“The original first burst of chains and brands in the Gulf was basically on the back of the availability of new sources of money.”

Mr Wilkinson said that over time the face of the halal hotels were changed so that they were alike to western hotels in all respects other than the availability of alcohol.

“They found that a lot of Muslims had a live-and-let-live attitude,” he said.

One of the most popular alcohol free hotels is the Gloria, which owns two branches and consistently sees high occupancy rates of at least 70 per cent.

However, Chris Hewett, from TRI consulting, said it was unlikely that major international chains would operate a dry hotel in a wet market.

“Dry hotels normally generate less returns, from an investment perspective, than what a wet hotel would,” he said.

“There’s two main reasons for that. The first is that they often don’t command as high an occupancy as a wet hotel would. Secondly, the revenues, especially through food and beverage, are often lower.

“In markets in Saudi Arabia, where the whole country is dry, it’s not an issue,” he added.

“What’s causing this trend towards dry hotels in Dubai is that there’s a lot more investors coming in from Saudi Arabia and the GCC and investing here.

“They are obviously choosing to develop a dry hotel on the basis of their own religious beliefs, not necessarily a desire to only serve a clientele that’s looking for a dry hotel.”

mcroucher@thenational.ae