x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Swiss hotel to woo Gulf guests

The historic Schweizerhof hotel in Bern is turning to GCC guests amid weak economic conditions in Europe.

The Schweizerhof hotel in Bern reopened five months ago following its two-year renovation. Courtesy Hotel Schweizerhof
The Schweizerhof hotel in Bern reopened five months ago following its two-year renovation. Courtesy Hotel Schweizerhof

A historic luxury hotel in Switzerland renovated by its Qatari owners is turning to the GCC for guests amid weak economic conditions in Europe.

The Schweizerhof hotel in Bern, owned by the property investment fund Qatari Diar, reopened five months ago following its two-year renovation.

The 150-year-old property counts the film stars Peter Ustinov, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor among the guests it has accommodated.

Deteriorating economic conditions mean the hotel is looking to new markets.

"The economic impact at the moment is very strong," said Michael Thomann, the general manager of the hotel.

"We see it especially in the corporate accounts in Switzerland. They have problems at the moment. Now we are trying to get more business from the GCC market. The economy in some of the Arab destinations is better than in Europe at the moment."

The Middle East is growing sharply as an outbound travel market. Figures from the UN World Tourism Organisation show the number of international tourism arrivals generated from the Middle East is expected to reach 81 million a year by 2030, compared with 37 million last year.

Many destinations have indicated tourists from the GCC are among the highest-spending they receive.

Mr Thomann was meeting travel agents and business partners in Dubai and Doha this week to try to drum up business, for the summer season in particular. "In the summer we have a low season and we know that the summer here in Dubai is very hot."

The hotel's average rates are about 400 Swiss francs (Dh1,599).

"You'll notice more aggressive awareness campaigns by hotels promoting themselves to both trade and consumers in this region as they attempt to retain a higher position when it comes to being preferred destinations in Europe," said Gaurav Sinha, the managing director of Insignia, a brand communication firm that specialises in luxury travel."GCC consumers are also savvy enough to know that this is a great time to travel to Europe - the downturn's upside is that there are great bargains to pick from."

While the GCC is becoming an increasingly important outbound tourism player, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are also experiencing growth in terms of inbound tourism.

Data released yesterday by STR Global showed growth in occupancy levels for the UAE last month.

"Across the Middle East, demand continued to improve with a 12 per cent growth against October 2010, while supply growth remained around the 5 per cent mark," said Elizabeth Randall, the managing director of STR Global.

"Northern Africa's trading continued to be difficult with declining demand resulting in declining occupancy and average room rates."

Revenue per available room, a key measure of the health of the industry, was up 13.5 per cent to $194.05 at hotels in Dubai last month compared with a year earlier.

Saudi Arabia experienced growth of 29.5 per cent occupancy at its hotels to 61.5 per cent, while average daily rates were up 33 per cent to 931.80 Saudi riyals (Dh912.63).

"Cairo, Egypt, posted the largest occupancy decrease, falling 38.4 per cent to 46.4 per cent, followed by Amman, Jordan, with a 22.6 per cent decrease to 65.1 per cent," STR Global said.

Meanwhile, Mr Thomann said winter resorts in Switzerland were struggling in particular because of the decline of the euro against the Swiss franc.

He said reservations at winter resorts were down as much as 20 per cent on last year, while city hotels had reported a decline of up to 5 per cent.

"The winter resorts are fighting over prices at the moment and prices are going down. That's difficult in Switzerland because the salaries are very high."

Qatari Diar has two other hotel properties it is redeveloping in Switzerland - the Burgenstock Resort in Lucerne and the Royal-Savoy in Lausanne.

rbundhun@thenational.ae