KHARTOUM // Rotana, a hotel group based in Abu Dhabi, plans to open a second hotel in Khartoum within a year as it aims to capitalise on an increase in business travellers and a lack of quality hotels in the city.
Its existing luxury hotel in the Sudanese capital is described by locals as one of the two flagship hotels in the city, along with Corinthia's Burj Al Fateh, as international hospitality operators have largely avoided opening for business in the country, which has suffered from decades of conflict.
"We're having a new hotel, Arjaan by Rotana, opening in downtown hopefully within the next year," said Ghassan Dalal, the general manager of Al Salam Rotana hotel in Khartoum.
The new hotel is part of a development called Wahat Al Khartoum. The complex is also designed to include a shopping mall.
The structure of the hotel building has been completed and work is now being done on the interiors, Mr Dalal said.
The group's Al Salam Rotana hotel is considered one of the chain's strongest-performing hotels. Its lobby is a hub for business meetings where diplomats, investors and other members of the international business community congregate throughout the day. With little competition in Khartoum, the hotel charges rates starting from US$200 (Dh734.58) a night.
But occupancy levels declined in the first five months of the year because of political uncertainty ahead of the creation of the independent state of South Sudan.
"Unfortunately this year it has been negatively [affected] a bit because of the referendum," said Mr Dalal.
Last year the hotel was running at 100 per cent mid-week occupancy throughout the year and having to turn potential guests away, although levels declined at weekends.
"Unfortunately Sudan is not yet a tourist destination, so nobody comes here for tourism," said Mr Dalal. "Most of the time its split into three sectors … You have the business, which is people coming here directly for companies; you have the investors; and you have the diplomats, who are coming either for the UN, or embassies, or governmental issues."
But this year occupancy levels dropped into the mid-80 per cent range during the week in the first five months of the year and weekends were even lower.
"Now for the past couple of months things have been stabilising a lot. [Business travellers] just froze all their movements. It stabilised. People are having more confidence. Investors are back a bit. Things are starting to pick up again."
Ali Mahgoub Atta Al Mannan, the undersecretary at Sudan's ministry of tourism, antiquities and wildlife, said the luxury Burj Al Fateh and Rotana hotels were a vital part of the ministry's efforts to develop the country's tourism industry.
With strong links between the UAE and Sudan in sectors including telecommunications, as well as a large Sudanese population in the UAE, Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways both announced plans this month to increase the number of flights into Khartoum from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, respectively. The budget carrier flydubai also operates flights to the Sudanese capital.
The majority of Al Salam Rotana's guests come from Egypt, the UK, Germany and the GCC, Mr Dalal said.
The property employs 368 staff. When it launched in 2007, the employees were 20 per cent local workers and 80 per cent expatriates. Now 86 per cent of its employees are Sudanese and just 14 per cent are expatriates.
"We did a lot of training, even down to English courses," Mr Dalal said.