Ajman: the next destination for Muslim travellers?

Ajman tourism authority is trying to attract regional travellers who are now looking for alternative destinations in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Roland Obermeier, general manager of the Ajman Palace hotel on the Ajman corniche, said a dry hotel was not a handicap. Antonie Robertson / The National
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AJMAN // Ajman tourism authorities are hoping to take advantage of the recent turmoil in the region to appeal to Muslim travellers.

After the Arab Spring, tourists have shied away from countries in the Middle East that previously were popular, such as Libya, Egypt and Lebanon.

That has left an opportunity for stable countries, such as the UAE, and Faisal Al Nuaimi, director general of the Ajman tourism authority, said the emirate had already benefited.

“The UAE is the most compatible for them, yet near by they have lots of flight operators,” Mr Al Nuaimi said. “Prices are going down and down. Now Saudi families can go to Ajman as well as going to Dubai.”

And those tourists were creating a demand for plush hotels more tailored to the Islamic sensibility.

In December last year, the Ajman Palace opened on the Corniche as a five-star Islamic hotel.

“It’s important to have an Islamic hotel,” Mr Al Nuaimi said. “I’d like to see more of them because we need to have that variety.”

Roland Obermeier, general manager of the Ajman Palace, which  opened in December, preferred to call the hotel “dry” rather than Islamic, saying it was a traditional family hotel that chose not to serve alcohol but imposed no other rules.

“For us in Ajman it’s not a handicap,” Mr Obermeier said. “We have an advantage. It really attracts the locals for us from Ajman and Sharjah, especially for weddings, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“Previously it was only the Kempinski hotel, and locals [from across the UAE and GCC] like to have a wider choice, and this means they don’t have to travel to Dubai or Sharjah.”

The hotel has opened more gradually than most. Mr Obermeier said caution was best while everything was put into place during the first few months.

Sheikha Al Nuaimi, director of tourism development and marketing at the emirate’s tourism authority, admitted the Ajman Palace had to fight for custom.

“People want to come to hotels for the restaurants, the bars and clubs and the entertainment, so the hotel is really working on things it offers, like its spa,” Ms Al Nuaimi said.

“Even those people from the GCC come here for this [entertainment] because it’s something they may not have at home.”

She said a dry hotel was simply diversifying what the emirate offered to cater for all tastes.

And price was important, too, Mr Al Nuaimi said.

“Families can go to Dubai for five days for about Dh10,000, whereas you can come to Ajman for eight days for about Dh9,000,” he said.