Locals give hotels a vital boost

The number of hotel guests in Abu Dhabi increased by 2 per cent last year, boosted by sharp growth in domestic tourism at a time when visitor numbers from Europe declined.

The number of hotel guests in Abu Dhabi increased by 2 per cent last year, boosted by sharp growth in domestic tourism at a time when visitor numbers from Europe declined, figures from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) show. Last year, 1.54 million guests stayed in hotels in Abu Dhabi, for a total of 4,673,494 guest nights.

UAE residents accounted for 42 per cent of hotel guests in the capital, for a total of 650,585 and an increase of 26 per cent on 2008. Major events and conferences in the capital boosted visitor numbers, while the economic crisis and concerns about swine flu prompted many residents to forgo foreign travel, analysts said. "Strong growth in domestic demand made an important contribution to Abu Dhabi's ability to weather the global tourism industry challenges," said Mubarak al Muhairi, the director general of ADTA.

The number of UAE hotel guests grew by 43 per cent in December from a year earlier. Guest stays in the final quarter grew by 16 per cent from the same period in the previous year, ADTA said. "The year ended on a high with a very successful last quarter driven by major events and an Eid break with strong stay-at-home characteristics," Mr al Muhairi said. But the increase in guest numbers has been accompanied by an even sharper rise in the number of hotel rooms, which has put pressure on room rates and occupancy levels.

The capital's room supply increased by 4,700 rooms, or 36 per cent last year, to 17,500 from 12,800, with a wave of hotels opening in October for the Formula One Grand Prix. Abu Dhabi is aiming to attract 1.65 million visitors this year, with a goal of 2.3 million a year by 2012. The tourism authority has said it is focused on attracting the "discerning high-income" traveller, rather than trying to appeal to the mass market. To this end, attractions that have recently opened include the luxury Qasr Al Sarab desert resort in the Western Region and the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club.

Abu Dhabi's main market for international hotel guests last year was the UK, with 96,709 visitors. The second-largest market was the US, with 67,804, followed by India and Germany. "Markets such as Russia and China are gaining in significance while markets in South East Asia have shown strong recent growth benefiting from enhanced air access," Mr al Muhairi said. Guest numbers in Abu Dhabi saw double-digit annual increases until last year, with numbers rising to more than 1.5 million from 960,000 in 2004, ADTA said.

The majority of Abu Dhabi's hotel guests are business travellers, but leisure tourism will play an important role in guest numbers this year, it said. The opening of the Ferrari World theme park is expected to boost the leisure segment. Last year, there was a rise in the contribution of the meetings, incentive, convention and exhibitions (MICE) segment to the guest total, with that segment growing by 10 per cent.

The emirate is investing heavily in its tourism infrastructure including expansion of airport capacity, exhibition and meeting space and hotel developments, ADTA said. Five thousand hotel rooms are expected to open in Abu Dhabi this year, which is likely to put further downward pressure on room rates and occupancy levels. In November, revenue per available room, the benchmark indicator for the industry, declined 53 per cent in Abu Dhabi from a year earlier to US$171.97 (Dh631.66), from $367.24, data from the London research firm STR Global show. Abu Dhabi's rates, nevertheless, are still high by global standards, and Hotels.com said the city had the highest rates in the world for the first half of the year.

Abu Dhabi's National Corporation for Tourism and Hotels, which owns and manages some hotels in the capital, said yesterday that preliminary results showed net profit increased last year by Dh56.7 million, or about 62 per cent, to 147.8m due to increased hotel revenue. @Email:rbundhun@thenational.ae