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Thu 25 Sep 2008 04:00 AM

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Kingdom rising

A boom in mixed-use developments has laid the ground work for a flurry of hotel openings across Jordan, as the kingdom works to attract 12 million arrivals by 2010.

A boom in mixed-use developments has laid the ground work for a flurry of hotel openings across Jordan, as the kingdom works to attract 12 million arrivals by 2010.

Jordan's tourism industry has plenty to sing about. The inaugural Jordan Festival, which played host to such musical greats as opera singer Placido Domingo performing with Julia Migenes and Monica Yunus, as well as modern stars such as Lebanese singer Mika, and jazz legend Diana Krall, put Jordan firmly in the spotlight this summer.

The festival, which took place from July 8 to August 9, aimed to reinvigorate the Jordan summer season - and proved to do just that, as tourists from across the Middle East and further abroad visited the kingdom to see their favourite artists.

Revpar was up 19% in amman for the year [in 2007].

Jordan has been basking in the limelight for quite some time now, following the recognition of Petra as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in July 2007. The new accolade to one of the world's oldest tourism attractions gave Jordan's tourism marketing a new boost, with Petra now playing host to thousands of visitors each day.

Tourism in Jordan, which lacks the oil wealth of its neighbours, is the second-largest private sector employer and contributes 10% to the country's GDP. The kingdom plans to invest 4% of its tourism revenue back into the industry, in a bid to double tourism arrivals to 12 million by 2010, according to a new study by Deloitte.

According to previous year-end 2007 results from the HotelBenchmark Survey by STR Global, Jordan, after experiencing a slight fall in RevPAR in 2006, saw a change in fortunes in 2007. RevPAR was up 19% percent in Amman for the year.

Success was not only limited to Amman, as the ancient stone-carved city of Petra capitalised on its newfound fame. According to the Jordan Tourism Board, tourist arrivals to Petra increased by 43% during the first 11 months of 2007 to just over half a million.

Currently, the kingdom receives more than 6.5 million visitors a year, with the Middle East and Europe being the main inbound markets. However ambitious plans and landmark developments are reshaping the tourism market in the kingdom and making way for a host of new hotels and mixed-use developments across the country.

Preparing for the predicted increase in arrivals, Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA) is to undergo an 83,000m2 expansion which will increase passenger capacity to nine million a year.

Capital development

The massive Abdali Downtown development in Amman, Jordan was launched in June 2003 with the goal of creating a vibrant central business and residential district to catapult the city into the 21st century. Although the project is still in its construction phase, early signs indicate that it is well on the way to meeting its objectives.

"The development aims to give Jordan and its citizens a capital to be proud of and be a centre of world-class standards on a par with other great cities like Paris and New York," says Abdali Investment and Development chief executive Jamal Itani.

Formally known as the Abdali Urban Regeneration Project, the US $3 billion development will create a network of pedestrian-friendly streets, plazas and gardens, central shopping and entertainment facilities, an urban university campus, office complexes, hotels, a national library and performing arts centre, prestigious residential buildings, and a state-of-the-art infrastructure.Being built in two phases on 447,000m2 of land, the development will eventually be home to more than 40,000 residents and 50,000 daily commuters.

The developers say it is the largest project in Amman, both in terms of its magnitude and the impact it will have on the capital.

As construction continues apace, an increasing number of international companies are lining up to take part in the project, including Abu Dhabi-based Rotana Hotels, Dubai-based Damac properties and Lebanese insurance firm Med Gulf.

The development aims to give Jordan and its citizens a capital to be proud of.

In addition, Saraya, a real estate and investment company, is to build its headquarters on 3,600m2 in the development. The Saraya centre will also feature a five-star luxury business hotel, hotel apartments, and serviced residences.

Saraya has entered into a deal with Starwood Hotels and Resorts to build a W Hotel in the new downtown. Scheduled to open in 2011, the W Amman will be a 280-room hotel with plans to service additional luxury residences in the development.

Saraya Holdings vice chairman and chief executive Ali Kolaghassi says the Saraya Headquarters in Abdali will form a "state of the art project" for Saraya customers and partners. "The uniqueness of the W brand will take our business to new horizons by introducing an innovative lifestyle and a distinguished luxury experience to Amman," he adds.

W Amman will showcase the brand's warmth, wit and whimsy. Strategically located adjacent to Amman's financial district, the hotel will offer unbeatable proximity to major governmental buildings including the Houses of Parliament, Palace of Justice and the King Abdullah I Mosque.

The hotel will feature all of the W brand's signature comforts, including its Living Room experience where guests can socialise while sipping cocktails, an exclusive restaurant, destination bar, indoor and outdoor pools as well as a unique poolside bar.

Visitors to W Amman will have access to more than 1,200m2 of meeting space and an exclusive spa and Sweat fitness centre.

Dead Seareborn

The world's largest natural spa, the Dead Sea has undergone regeneration in recent years, with new hotels opening up and even more on the drawing board for future development.

European brand Kempinski opened its first resort on the Dead Sea in 2006, adding 201 more rooms in 2007.

Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea, which played host to the World Economic Forum in 2007, offers more than 300 rooms in total and boasts the largest private beach on the Dead Sea coastline.

As well as sand and sea, the hotel boasts nine fresh-water swimming pools incorporating two infinity edge pools and a dedicated kids pool situated in the grounds.

Since opening, the hotel has proved popular with local Jordanians and international visitors alike, with its two Royal Villas gaining particular preference.The property has noticed a surge in bookings for its most opulent room product over the past year, with occupancy anticipated to reach almost 90% during 2008.

The hotel's general manager and regional director Bugra Berberoglu comments: "In this travel-savvy generation many guests are seeking a more emotive and experiential vacation that almost transports them to another world where both their mind is stimulated and their body is pampered.

"This arising trend paves the way for the evolution of the hotel industry, in that we now seek to provide differentiated accommodation solutions that encompass the very best in space, sanctuary, design, amenities and on-demand services".

The Royal Villa has hosted a plethora of well-known guests such as former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Michel Ferrero from the famed family chocolate company Ferrero Rocher and Academy Award-winning actress Renee Zellweger.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is also looking to expand its presence on the Dead Sea, and across the kingdom. IHG signed an agreement with Sun Days International for Tourism Investment to develop a US $70 million luxury resort, on the shores of the Dead Sea earlier this year.

Set to open in late 2012, InterContinental Resort Dead Sea will cater for the luxury travel sector.

"We believe that this new property will continue to strengthen our position across the region and are committed to further establishing our presence in this rapidly developing market," remarks  IHG chief operating officer Middle East and Africa John Bamsey.

The property will comprise 236 rooms, including one Presidential Suite and one duplex Royal Suite - both located in the main building - as well as several chalets, some with private swimming pools. In addition, the resort will include a private beach with beachfront restaurant, swimming pools, pool bar and all-day dining facilities.

IHG already has a strong presence across Jordan with five properties and 1509 rooms established. There are an additional three properties with 890 rooms in the development pipeline, furthering the company's growth in the kingdom.

Aqaba ambitions

The southern coastal town of Aqaba, which offers Jordan's only seaport, accessing the Red Sea, is also emerging as a tourism destination in its own right.

Aqaba, which boasts the only airport in Jordan to operate an Open Skies agreement, King Hussein International Airport (KHIA), is quickly becoming a regional hub for both holiday and business travellers.

Several large-scale mixed use developments are at various stages of completion at the resort, which is adding more than 1000 hotel rooms a year at present.

The largest development in Aqaba is the 430-hectare Ayla Oasis. This mixed-use development takes up over 15% of the total land mass of Aqaba and will include hotels, residential units, a golf course and a town centre offering a marina, retail units, cafes and entertainment and recreational facilities.

Carefully designed to maximise its modest 250m of shoreline, Ayla Oasis is being developed around an inland bay offering 75 hectares of lagoons.Hotel management contracts have not yet been awarded, as completion of the development is still a long way off, slated for 2015.

Somewhat further along in development is Saraya Aqaba, located next to the Ayla Oasis pitch.

Saraya Aqaba is built over an area of 617,000m2, around a man-made lagoon adding 1.5km to the beach front of the Gulf of Aqaba.

The destination includes five five-star hotels and two boutique hotels; Souk Saraya, which includes retail shops, restaurants and recreational activities; Wild Wadi Water Park; an amphitheatre; a kids club, Sports Park, and beach club; and offices and conference centre.

Starwood and Jumeirah will operate the bulk of the hotel projects for Saraya Aqaba. These include the 350-room Jumeirah Al Qala'a Hotel, 300-room Jumeirah Qasr Al Aqaba Hotel, Jumeirah Dar Al Masyaf boutique hotel with only 13 rooms, the 300-room Westin Aqaba, the Al-Manara Hotel with 201 rooms and Bab Al Bahra Hotel with 13 rooms - both operated by The Luxury Collection.

A third hotel operator for the development was signed in May when Saraya Aqaba Real Estate Development teamed up with Nikki Beach EMEA Hotels and Resorts Limited, to operate a luxurious hotel and a number of serviced lifestyle residential units.

The Nikki Beach Hotel and Residences at Saraya Aqaba will be the first in the Middle East for the group, which plans to open fifteen new hotels and resorts located in 12 countries around the world.

Nikki Beach EMEA Hotels chief executive Jihad El-Khoury says the location was ideal for the project. "Saraya Aqaba, with its unique blend of luxury villas, high-end retail and world-class hotels, fits perfectly with our strategy to develop the best and most exclusive destinations in the world," he explains.

"Nikki Beach offers a unique experience combining five-star service, luxury accommodations, design and ambiance with signature entertainment in an international, jet-set resort environment."

Located on the shores of Aqaba on the Red Sea, the Nikki Beach Hotel at Saraya Aqaba will include approximately 140 hotel rooms and suites. In addition, the brand will manage a residential component consisting of 132 units of one-, two- or three-bedrooms.

Saraya Aqaba is expected to open in 2009, with an approximate cost of US $1 billion.

Also in Aqaba, located some 14km south of the city, is Tala Bay, another mixed-use development in advanced stages of progress. Covering 2.6 million m2, Tala Bay consists of more than 400 villas, apartments, townhouses and duplexes overlooking a 2km private beach.

It also has a private marina that can host more than 65 boats. Three hotels make up the accommodation offering: The Marina Plaza Hotel, Radisson SAS and Jaz Tala Bay.

The Marina Plaza Hotel, owned and operated by Orascom, opened in early 2008 bringing 260 hotel rooms to Tala Bay.

This was closely followed by the Radisson SAS Tala Bay Resort, which opened in July. The new-build resort contains 336 rooms, a variety of food and beverage outlets, a kid's club, and five heated pools.

Meanwhile, JAZ Hotels and Resorts, the hotel management company of Egypt's Travco Group, will inaugurate its five-star property at Tala Bay later this year.

Infrastructure and development looks set to be in place for welcoming 12 million tourists by 2010; now Jordan just needs to focus on its marketing activities. But with headline acts like Placido Domingo and Petra pulling in the visitors at an unprecedented rate, it seems Jordan won't need to sing for its supper for long.

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