Twenty years ago holidaying in the Middle East was very much a minority choice. Since then, unprecedented growth of the region’s airlines, airport hubs, tourism-related infrastructure and visitor attractions has greatly changed all that.
Across the region there is now an unparalleled programme of investment and development to increase capacity, improve infrastructures and grow tourist numbers and revenues. It is currently estimated that over the next two decades upwards of £2.4 trillion/3 trillion CHF will be invested directly into leisure and tourism and indirectly into supporting infrastructure.
Projects announced to date show that by 2020 the region will add airport capacity for 300 million extra passengers, build more than 200 new hotels, add 100,000 more rooms, increase visitor numbers to 150 million, and increase the size of its aircraft fleet by over 150% by 2025.
A report published in January by financial services giant MasterCard noted that Abu Dhabi has been ranked among the fastest-growing destinations in the world, and the fastest-growing destination in the Middle East.
The Global Cities Index Report found that the UAE capital’s compound annual growth rate of 19.81% in overnight visitors between 2009 and 2016. This puts the emirate in third place alongside major upcoming destinations such as Osaka in Japan and Chengdu in China.
Dubai opened the world’s largest indoor theme park
In 2018 Abu Dhabi’s Ferrari World, which has the world’s fastest rollercoaster, will be joined by a new £800 million/1 billion CHF Warner Brothers theme park opening on Yas Island.
Culturally, the emirate will up the stakes, with the launch of The Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Zayed National Museum, and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi all locating on Saadiyat Island in the next few years.
Dubai opened the world’s largest indoor theme park - the size of 28 football pitches - in September 2016, IMG Worlds of Adventure. Seven more new year round parks have either recently opened or are in the pipeline, all set to be open by 2019. They include a Bollywood, a Legoland and a Hollywood-themed Motiongate.
Oman’s share of visitor numbers is being boosted by an increase in international flights, complemented by new hotel openings. Chief amongst these are a new Kempinski coastal hotel being built near Muscat, and the Saraya Bandar Jissah resort, with four individual hotels. Anantara has focused on Salalah in southern Oman, with two hotel openings.
Saudi Arabia is set to open the world’s largest hotel this year, at Mecca. Costing £2.8 billion/US$3.5 billion/3.5 billion CHF, it will have 10,000 rooms, 70 restaurants and four helipads on the roof.
Of the seven United Arab Emirates, most people can only name Abu Dhabi and Dubai. However, another, Sharjah, may soon be on the tip of more travellers’ tongues. It has for some time dipped its toe gently into tourism, with understated cultural festivals. The last two or three years have seen it focus on enlarging its share of family, eco and cruise tourism. A new recreational island, Al Noor, recently opened, with an aviary, butterfly house and literary centre, while new hotel projects include the Chedi Khorfakkan, Four Points by Sheraton Sharjah, and the theatre-themed Act Hotel.