Iftars and suhoors sustain hotels

Ramadan this year cuts visitor flow and income from rooms, meaning venues rely on food and beverage sales more than ever.

DUBAI - AUGUST 15,2010 - Iftar meal at Ewaan , The Palace Hotel in Dubai. ( Paulo Vecina/The National )

UAE hotels are relying on food and beverage revenues from iftars and suhoors more than ever this year, given that fewer corporate events are being booked and more GCC nationals are staying at home because of Ramadan. "The hospitality industry has always been accustomed to experiencing a drop in room occupancy during Ramadan, especially when it falls on summer season," said Syed Zulfiqar Mehdi, the sales director at Samaya Hotel Deira in Dubai.

"We have been hosting groups for iftar from banks and pharmaceutical companies. However, it is a bit slow compared to last year." Mr Mehdi speculated that some companies might be cutting costs, and other hoteliers said meetings and corporate business tended to fall off over the summer. But revenue from iftars was helping to offset lost room revenue at Samaya. And there continued to be group and individual bookings, although at lower levels, and Samaya's guests tended to break their fast in the hotel's restaurant, Mr Mehdi said.

Naeem Darkazally, Rotana's area director of sales and marketing for Dubai and the Northern Emirates, reported "a 5 to 10 per cent drop in occupancy in the city this Ramadan compared to last Ramadan". The decline among Rotana's Dubai hotels was in line with the performance of the industry across the emirate, Mr Darkazally said. Occupancy levels for hotels in Dubai were between 40 and 50 per cent this month, he said.

"This is clearly the impact of the new properties that have come on board. We have, of course, contributed to this," Mr Darkazally said. In the past year, Rotana has opened three hotels in Dubai. Members of the industry say Dubai is also missing out on guests from the GCC because the holy month this year overlaps significantly with August, which is normally a busy month for holiday travel. Iftar business had made a slow start in Dubai, Mr Darkazally said, but activity had picked up in the second week, and at some of Rotana's hotels they were now running at more than 90 per cent capacity.

In Abu Dhabi, hoteliers agreed that food and beverage revenuewas helping to make up for depressed income from rooms. Arshad Hussain, the director of sales and marketing at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, pointed to the success of the hotel's iftars and suhoors, which he said were more than compensating for the hotel's low occupancy levels. "We started working on our Ramadan food and beverage concept three months ago and it has paid handsome dividends," Mr Hussain said.

Hoteliers said room bookings were expected to pick up dramatically in the UAE during and after Eid. They had high expectations for the last quarter of the year. Data released by London-based research company STR Global, meanwhile, showed that last month Abu Dhabi continued to suffer a decline in occupancy because of hotel openings in the emirate. Occupancy was down by 23 per cent to 51.6 per cent last month compared with July last year, while the average daily room rate was down 28.1 per cent to US$141.54 (Dh519.86) for the same period.

That resulted in a 44.7 per cent decline to $73.10 in revenue per available room (RevPAR). In the Middle East in general, occupancy was down by 1.2 per cent to 59.4 per cent, while the average room rate was down 3.1 per cent to $162.16. rbundhun@thenational.ae