New international hotel announced for Sharjah on back of rising guest numbers

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High-end hotel investments, new flight connections and an active meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) segment are combining to drive growth in Sharjah’s tourism industry.

In mid-September Hilton and local developer Tilal Properties announced plans to build a DoubleTree by Hilton-branded hotel adjacent to the 2m-sq-metre Tilal Mall, which is currently under construction.

The DoubleTree by Hilton Sharjah Tilal Mall will add 200 rooms to the emirate’s existing stock when it opens in 2021, as well as a business centre, and associated recreational and hospitality facilities.

The development will be the third Hilton property in the emirate; the Hilton Sharjah is already in operation, and the Dh158m ($43m) DoubleTree by Hilton Waterfront Hotel and Suites, currently under construction, is scheduled to open in 2020.

The increased presence of such international hotel chains provides a series of benefits to the emirate, according to Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, chairman of the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA).

“Branded hotels are crucial for Sharjah's market as they contribute to the reputation and perception of a destination, as well as facilitating booking processes and raising standards in terms of guest experience,” he told OBG. 

Sharjah is home to more than 100 hotels and hotel apartments, most of which are in the middle to upper range. To accommodate rising demand, around 500 four- and five-star rooms are expected to come on-stream by the end of this year, according to media reports, with even more to be launched in the medium term.

“We know that there are more than 5000 hotel rooms in the pipeline over the next three years, which represents an increase of more than 50% on our current inventory,” Al Midfa told OBG.

Guests and revenue up 3.5% and 7.8%, respectively

The announcement of the Hilton and Tilal plans came on the back of a positive performance by the hotel industry in the first half of 2017.

Occupancy rates at the emirate’s hotels averaged 70% over the January-June period, with 885,000 guests hosted, according to data issued at the end of September by the SCTDA. The latter figure represents growth of 3.5% year-on-year (y-o-y).

The solid flow of visitors translated into higher earnings for the hospitality segment, with revenue for the first six months of the year at Dh372m ($101.3m) – up 7.8% y-o-y.

One market that showed significant growth was Russia; hotel bookings from the country rose 94% y-o-y as a total of 106,963 Russians checked in.

New air links with St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg, local carrier expansion

The upward trend in Russian visitors could well continue into next year, propelled by the October launch of two new flights to the emirate by private Russian carrier Rossiya Airlines. The new services will run between Sharjah, St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg until March next year.

The addition of new routes reflects Sharjah’s growing importance as a travel destination, according to Ali Salim Al Midfa, chairman of Sharjah Airport Authority.

“Such flights contribute to establishing Sharjah as a centre for tourism, culture and business, and to attracting more visitors, both holidaymakers and businesspeople, from Russia to Sharjah,” Al Midfa said at a media event marking the landing of the first Rossiya Airlines flight on October 8.

With an increasing number of airlines serving routes to the emirate, and the Sharjah-based carrier Air Arabia looking to expand its reach from the 72 destinations it currently serves from Sharjah International Airport, visitor access to Sharjah should improve in the coming years.  

In mid-November the carrier announced it was seeking to add new destinations in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe in 2019 following a leasing deal signed with the US-based Air Lease Corporation for six new long-haul aircraft.

The rise in visitor numbers has had a positive impact on Air Arabia’s earnings. The airline posted net profits of Dh376m ($102.4m) in the third quarter of 2017, a 27% increase on the same quarter last year. Meanwhile, profits for the first nine months of the year were Dh637m ($173.4m), an 18% y-o-y increase, with overall turnover for the January-September period totalling Dh2.88bn ($784.1m).

Attracting non-leisure travellers

In addition to being a destination for leisure trips and holidays, the emirate is continuing to develop its nascent MICE tourism segment.

Sharjah is home to the Expo Centre Sharjah, a major conference centre that hosts several large-scale events including the annual Sharjah International Book Fair.

The recently concluded 36th edition of the fair, which ran from November 1 to 11, attracted 2.3m local, regional and overseas visitors, helping to boost arrival and hotel bookings numbers, as well as turnover for the hospitality services segment.

The fair also served as a promotional vehicle for Sharjah tourism, with SCTDA using the event to launch three books on the emirate: a bilingual guidebook, a publication showcasing Sharjah’s architecture and a “toolkit” for tourism professionals.  

By staging events such as these during non-peak periods, Sharjah should be able to sustain maintain occupancy rates and turnover year-round.

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