The swine flu epidemic had a much greater impact on religious tourism in the Saudi city of Makkah than the global recession, the head of a hotel group based in the Muslim Holy City told Arabian Business in an interview on Tuesday. “I think it was affected by H1N1 more than the financial situation last year,” said Mohammed Hassan Arkobi, vice president and managing director of Fairmont Raffles Hotels International in Makkah. “It affected between fifteen to twenty percent… [but] this year it has picked up and occupancy wise in Makkah it has increased,” he added. Arkobi said occupancy rates in the Holy City of Makkah had increased by eighteen percent in the first quarter of this year, compared to the first quarter of 2009. He added that revenue per available room (revPAR) “has seen a slight increase of about five percent.” The Fairmont Raffles hotel group is planning two hotels in Makkah by the end of July, including the Makkah Clock Royal Tower and the Raffles Makkah Palace. The Makkah Clock Royal Tower will be a Fairmont hotel and at 76 storeys will include a 40-metre Royal Clock which will be visible for up to 17kms and will announce the daily prayers to the Muslim world. The Raffles Makkah Palace will include 219 residences, some of which will have panoramic views of the Grand Mosque. In April, Fairmont Raffles said it would sell new shares equivalent to 40 percent of its capital to Qatari Diar - an affiliate of Qatar's sovereign wealth fund - as part of an $847 million deal to fund the firm's global expansion. Fairmont Raffles' biggest shareholder is Saudi investment firm Kingdom Holding. Kingdom, 95 percent owned by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed, becomes the second largest shareholder in Fairmont after the Qatari Diar deal. Canadian-based Fairmont Hotels and Resorts said it is planning to add fourteen hotels in the Middle East by 2014, focusing on Saudi Arabia, as it looks to tap into regional growth. This is to facilitate the growth in religious tourism in Saudi Arabia, which generates around $7bn annually, according to research last year by the Elaf Group of Companies, a business organisation serving the Saudi Arabian travel, tourism and hotel industries.
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