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Mon 5 May 2014 12:28 PM

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Live blog: Arabian Travel Market 2014

Latest: Qatar Airways planning to release profit results, its CEO confirmed

Live blog: Arabian Travel Market 2014

Mon/05 May/5:50pm: Hotelier Middle East is reporting that the Emirates Grand brand is due to launch a serviced apartments property by the end of the year. Emirates Grand Hotel Apartments will feature 300 units with a mix of studio one- and two-bedroom apartments and will be located on Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road. Furthermore, Emirates Grand will also rebrand the 127-key Tulip Inn Sharjah as an Emirates Grand property by Q2 of 2015, it reported.

Mon/05 May/5:30pm: Beatrice Thomas caught up with Marcello Baricordi, general manager UAE and global accounts lead at Visa MENA. According to its latest figures, international Visa card holders spent $5.5bn in the UAE in 2013, up 18 percent on the previous year. Interestingly, the top 10 source countries made up a massive 61 percent of total spend, led by the UK, Saudi, Russia, US, China, Qatar, Angolia, Kuwait, India and France. Saudi's contribution was up 33 percent on the previous year and Saudi and Qatar card holders accounted for 68 percent of the top 10, so seems local residents are heading to the UAE in big numbers to do their shopping.

That said, Russians were the biggest spenders at an average $337 per transaction, followed by Qataris ($327), Kuwaitis ($291) and Saudis ($277). Most of the money is being splashed on hotels (24 percent), with fashion retail (14 percent) and luxury retail (11 percent) as well as duty free (7 percent) also a big source of spending.

Reversed, UAE Visa card holders spent $2.88bn overseas, a 20 percent increase year-on-year. The top destinations by spend were the UK ($494m), US ($332m), Germany ($159m) and France ($154m). In what bodes well for the hospitality sector, he said the UAE on the Visa Index 2014 has shot up the rankings from 125th to 130th and compares favourably against Hong Kong (122) and Singapore (118).

Mon/05 May/4:30pm: Back to Al Baker...

Reuters reports that the Qatar Airways CEO has revealed that the carrier became fully government owned last July when the country's sovereign fund bought a 50-percent stake from Qatar's former prime minister and other shareholders. Reuters said a government source told it that Qatar wanted ruling family members to have fewer direct stakes in local business interests. Al Baker also said he was "very interested" in taking a stake in India's IndiGo airline but the owners may not be interested as the Indian carrier is performing very well at the moment.

Mon/05 May/4:10pm: Shane McGinley just grabbed a quick coffee and chat with Frits van Paasschen, chief executive officer of Starwood Hotels and Resorts. The American brand today announced plans to open 35 hotels in the Middle East in the next three years, expanding its portfolio to over 80 hotels worldwide. One of the interesting pieces in the news was that the September opening of a Sheraton hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road will mark Starwood’s 15th hotel in Dubai, making the emirate the company’s second largest hotel market behind only New York City, which has 21 hotels. So the obvious question is when will Dubai overtake New York? Van Paasschen says that was the exact question Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum asked him when they met up. However while he says the emirate will eventually overtake the Big Apple, he refuses to stick his neck out and name a date. We offered 2020 as a likely date but he wasn't moving off the fence. With nine brands in the Starwood portfolio, Van Paasschen said he wouldn't turn down the chance to increase that to ten but wasn't actively in talks for any new acquisition.

Mon/05 May/4:00pm: How about this for a rather strange hotel option from our friends over at ConstructionWeekOnline.com...

 

Everyone dreads the holiday nightmare when your hotel is right next door to a building site. However, in Amsterdam, that has been taken one step further as guests can now feel part of a building site.

The Faralda NDSM Crane Hotel Amsterdam, which is located at the top of a former industrial crane, celebrated its opening recently with a spectacular party - it even offered party guests the opportunity to bungee jump from the top of the crane. After the jump, which has a swing of at least 90m, guests could relax in the Jacuzzi on the roof of the hotel and enjoy the spectacular city views.

The hotel, which is 50m high and offers three luxury suites, is situated in the former NDSM wharf, which is now a popular area for festivals and events. How long until there's one in Dubai we wonder?

Mon/05 May/3:45pm: Beatrice Thomas just sat down with Hyatt's general manager for the Dubai area, John Beveridge, who confirmed that two more Hyatt Place hotels are under construction, and also in the Deira area. Earlier today the company announced the opening of its first Hyatt Place hotel, also in Deira. While it seems unusual to have three hotels from the same company under the same brand in such close proximity he says "this is Dubai, there's nothing unusual".

Beveridge admits that demand for mid-tier hotels and "select service" hotels, as Hyatt Place is referred to, is growing but doesn't believe it has been under-serviced to date. Rather, he believes "its time has come" and also forecast growth in the so-called "stay-on-the-way" hotel segment for transit travellers looking for a 1-2 night reprieve alone their journey. He argues Deira is well positioned for this as it's close to Dubai Airport.

Mon/05 May/3:25pm: More from Al Baker.... The Qatar Airways boss revealed that the airline, despite being 100 percent government owned, planned to release its profit results from its last financial audit. He won't say exactly when, but he confirmed auditors are currently going through its books and he already knows the profit figure.

With regards to the final phase of newly opened and much-delayed Hamad International Airport - which will service to "75 to 80 million passengers" when complete - will be ready in 2 1/2 years, with tenders due out early 2015. He said a decision on a second terminal would be made in due course as dictated by demand.

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Mon/05 May/3:05pm: Beatrice Thomas updates us on the juicy bits of information from the Qatar Airways press conference earlier this afternoon. The always outspoken Akbar Al Baker revealed that, depending on the success of the A380, he said there is the possibility of ordering more in the future beyond its current order of 13. He is hoping that the first A380 will be delivered in time for the start of its use on the Doha-Heathrow on June 17.

 

Commenting on Etihad's launch of its A380 residences, Al Baker said he is "very glad" about the launch because it shows that Gulf airlines are upping the ante but that "Qatar Airways is not a follower", seemingly indicating it had no desire to copy the concept. He also reiterated his belief that there was "very low demand for first class" and that the executive segment which used to travel, and hold up, first class for most carriers had long shifted to business class and would not shift back. He said even BA, which has a point-to-point market primed for first class, would admit its load factor was 60 percent on that level.

Mon/05 May/2:30pm: The Hotelier Middle East team caught up with Wolfgang Neumann, president and CEO of Rezidor Hotel Group, where he revealed Hotel Missoni Kuwait, which was designed in association with the Missoni Italian fashion house, will be rebranded as a Quorvus Collection property. We wonder how the Missoni brand is doing as last year Neumann's predecessor seemed downbeat about it when Arabian Business spoke to him before he retired, hinting the timing was wrong for launching the brand in 2009 during a global recession. “We started up in Edinburgh and that was not the fashion metropolis for that hotel… That was the reason. [Missoni] was not as lucky like Park Inn, where we just got this fantastic Park Inn. Missoni we came in at the wrong time… The main reason is we started up in late 2008 and in 2009 was the downturn. If you start a luxury brand in the downturn you have little luck.”

Mon/05 May/2:20pm: Dubai is known for its bling and its outlandish record-breaking attempts at luxury, but Dubai Holding wants to change that perception and bring more choice to the market. Therefore, it has unveiled new commercial incentive packages to encourage hotel and leisure industry investors to enter the three and four-star hotel segment. The government company, which includes Jumeirah among its portfolio - says it has identified 40 different plots around Dubai which will be earmarked for the packages.

Mon/05 May/2:15pm: Emaar may already have three hotel brands under its belt - The Address Hotels + Resorts, Vida Hotels and Resorts and Dubai Inn - but it has just launched a fourth. The new Manzil brand will celebrate "authentic Arabesque design aesthetics and culinary flavours" and each property will include a courtyard and a traditional Arabic ‘majlis’. The first property will be Manzil Downtown Dubai (formerly Al Manzil), located opposite Souk Al Bahar.

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Mon/05 May/2:10pm: Another nugget of information from the travel community: Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths has revealed that the National Geographic behind-the-scenes documentary about Dubai Airport - called Ultimate Airport Dubai - was such a success that the airport has agreed to a second and third series. The 10-part first series aired in late 2013, was shown in 160 countries and featured Emirates Airline, Dnata, Dubai Duty Free and Dubai Customs.

Mon/05 May/1:45pm: Exclusive: Shane McGinley had spoken to Alex Kyriakidis, president and managing director of Marriott International. The American hotelier yesterday announced plans for six new hotels in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, as well as 14 in Africa, but Kyriakidis said there will be more big announcements, especially with Dubai's Emirates Group. “Marriott is partnering Emirates on promoting Dubai with Emirates Airline and is also looking to partnerships with different parts of Emirates. You will hear about that later on this week when there will be an announcement,” he confirmed, without confirming any specific details.

However, Kyriakidis was more forthcoming on plans for the group's new Protea Hotels brand, which it formally acquired last month: “Protea has now become one of Marriott’s brands, it is number 19 in our portfolio. We are looking to expand the Protea brands across Africa and the Middle East... Since announcing the deal was completed on April 1, already our developers have received enquiries from owners... The owner community is engaged with us but it is too early.”

Mon/05 May/1pm: Beatrice Thomas is at the Qatar Airways press conference and word on the ground is that the Doha-based airline will give details of its expansion plans, give an update on the newly opened Hamad International Airport and the arrival of its first A380 on May 31, just a few days after it moves its entire hub to HIA on May 27.

Describing 2014 as the "year of the fleet" for Qatar Airways, it is using ATM to introduce the A380's new first-class seat. It has seat pitch of just over 2.2m and can be converted into a full flat bed. The airline claims it is the widest seat in the industry with access to a 26-inch screen. Will also get a sneak-peak of the new A380 first and business class lounge and bathroom interiors.

The airline has plans for an extra 300 aircraft worth more than $60bn including 80 A350s, 13 A330s freighters 60 boeing 787s, 13 boeing 777s, 50 Boeing 777Xs, 80 A320 neos and 13 A380-800s.

It also revealed it is launching a new daily all premium business class service to London Heathrow and on track to launch it's new airline Al Maha in Saudi Arabia in November, with plans to have 10 A320s in service within the first 12 months of operation.

Mon/05 May/12:50pm: One of the most luxurious hotels in the region, if not the world, is Jumeirah's Burj al Arab. In the run up to ATM, TimeOut Dubai took a look behind the scenes at this iconic Dubai hotel:

Click here to go behind the scenes at the Burj Al Arab

Mon/05 May/12:30pm: The first bit of news from the media centre is that Emirates has cancelled its press conference, but there are plenty more events and interviews planned throughout the day. This is our pick of what is scheduled this afternoon:

1pm – 2pm – Qatar Airways press conference

1pm - 2:30pm: Seminar: Delivering the Tourism Vision for 2020 and how Dubai is marketed to the world, with Helal Saeed Al Marri, CEO and Director General, Dubai World Trade Centre and Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Ghaith Al Ghaith, CEO, flydubai, Thierry Antinori, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, Emirates & Neil Jones, Chief Sales and Marketing Office, MEA, Marriott International

2pm – 3pm – Katara Hospitality  press conference

2:45pm - 3:25pm: 10 years on: Public Q&A with Air Arabia with its CEO Adel Ali

3pm – 4pm – Emaar Hospitality  press conference

3:30pm – 4:30pm: India Tourism Authority  press conference

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Mon/05 May/12:15pm: Today markets the start of the annual travel showcase as representatives from almost every country, airline, hotel group and travel company and website arrive in Dubai to try and get a piece of the fast-growing multi-billionaire dollar Arabian travel market. Already Dubai has set the bar high with Helal Saeed Almarri, director-general of Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) stating that Dubai is not only aiming to host 20 million visitors a year by 2020, it is aiming to become the world's most visited city.

So sit back and relax as the Arabian Business team, consisting of executive editor Shane McGinley, deputy editor Courtney Trenwith and chief reporter Beatrice Thomas bring you all the news, announcements, launches, interview, rumours and gossip from Arabian Travel market 2014.

Before the official opening and things get started, here are some of the big headlines from the travel industry in the last 24 hours:

Dubai aims to become world's most visited city

Dubai hotel revenues, occupancy forecast to continue to rise

$50m deal to create first MidEast timeshare club

Starwood plans 35 new hotels in MidEast in 3yrs

Jumeirah revisits contemporary lifestyle brand

Marriott International to open three new Dubai hotels

UAE's Rotana unveils new hotels in UAE, Iran, Tanzania, Sudan

Qatar set to launch "mega" JBR-style beach project

Habtoor Grand Beach set for refurbishment

Hilton Worldwide to bring two more brands to GCC

Dubai theme park 'space frame' now complete, says developer

Etihad launches luxury A380 residences in the sky

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