It's hard to believe that we're already at the end of another year! After the turbulence of 2020, 2021 has been a bounceback year for the GCC's hospitality sector.
From new hotels and restaurants opening to hosting one of the world's biggest events - Expo 2020, of course - here's a run-down of what made this year a win across the region.
It may have started a year later than planned, but Expo 2020 Dubai was absolutely worth the wait. There are still several months still to go until the event wraps up on March 31, 2022, but there has already been a significant positive impact on the emirate's hospitality sector.
Expo 2020 is a major draw for business and tourists alike, and an influx of visitors into the country naturally has a positive knock-on effect across all hospitality segments.
Dubai's hotels in particular have been reaping the benefits. Average daily rate (ADR) and revenue per available room (RevPAR) have been 'significantly higher than comparable periods in previous years', according to a recent study by STR.
Occupancy hit a peak of 90% towards the end of October thanks to a combination of Expo 2020 and Dubai hosting the Cricket World Cup. STR's study notes this as the highest since January 2020, and only 3% lower than pre-pandemic October 2019 rates.
It's expected that occupancy levels will continue to rise towards December 31, which is great news all around.
There's been an upwards curve in the hospitality sector across the GCC.
Bahrain is expecting to see 53% year-on-year growth compared to last year in its tourism sector, with an estimated 43% hotel occupancy rate. Oman's Dhahirah region has become a major draw for eco-tourism, with close to 7,000 guests staying in green hotels between January-September 2021. Staycations have had a hand to play in boosting numbers - with travel still being somewhat difficult thanks to COVID-19, there's been a lot more interest in taking a break without crossing borders.
Saudi Arabia has had a decent year, too, with ADR increasing by 9.9% and RevPAR growing up to 54.9% in some cities compared to September last year - and that's despite a decline of 3.4% year-on-year in average occupancy rate across the country.
The Kingdom is investing significantly in boosting its leisure and tourism offerings. 2021 saw the country's first ever Formula One Grand Prix held earlier this year, and the inaugural edition of the Red Sea Film Festival. There was also the return of MDLBeast Soundstorm, the region's first electronic dance music festival. All three of these major events drew in celebrities and tourists from across the world. The stage is now set for Saudi's future as a powerful contender for global events - music to the ears of the hospitality sector!
New hotel openings
Wherever you are - or wherever you want to go! - in the GCC, you're spoilt for choice in terms of places to stay. There have been numerous new hotels openings this year, but a handful stand out as bringing something really exciting to the region.
The new 25Hours Hotel One Central in Dubai is a prime example. As the first 25Hours property to be launched outside of Europe, this one's making a real splash by turning the idea of what a hotel should be on its head, with super-creative rooms, the option to ditch the digital world and go analogue during your stay, and even a pottery room.
Fans of the iconic Warner Bros Studios will enjoy the recently-opened WB Abu Dhabi, Curio Collection by Hilton. Connected to the Warner Bros World theme park in the UAE's capital, the hotel features loads of familiar characters and makes for a truly unique destination.
Habitas AlUla is a recently-opened gem of a hotel, in the heart of Saudi Arabia's historic region. The luxury eco-resort is aimed at Millennials and those seeking art, culture, and adventure, providing a haven amidst the monuments that make this area so special.
There have been plenty of luxury openings across the region too, proving that, as ever, the GCC is at the top of its game when it comes to providing exceptional service and hotel experiences.
Dining out - or in!
One thing everyone can agree on is that the GCC - especially the UAE - has a restaurant scene that offers something for everyone. On the back of a rough 2020, this past year saw a whole host of new restaurants opening their doors in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in particular.
From homegrown concepts such as Moon Slice pizzeria to Instagram hotspots like La Cantine du Faubourg (including their speakeasy concept Gohan), Jamaican specialist Kingston 21, and the ever-popular Brunch & Cake and many more in between, it's been a boomer year for launches, bringing in even more choice for the UAE's diners.
It hasn't just been restaurants making waves across the sector.
Dubai Municipality announced that from January 2022 it will introduce a new rating system to encourage sustainable practices for safe, healthy, and high quality food, as well as social responsibility. Restaurants will be given 'Dubai Stars', with a maximum of three available to outlets that score a rating of 95% or higher. It's definitely a bold move, and one that will no doubt further boost the emirate's already strong standards!
The road ahead...
With plenty of new hotel and restaurant launches planned for 2022 and beyond, there's a lot to look forward to in the years to come... as well as a lot of potential for growth.
So long as travel stays somewhat restricted in the midst of the pandemic there will be a demand for staycations, even 'regionalcations' as people look to travel within the GCC rather than going further afield.
In terms of restaurants, the sector continues to rise up and find creative new ways to reach people. Globally-speaking, experts anticipate that 2022 will see restaurants becoming increasingly diversified to strengthen their revenue, and that there will be a strong focus on sourcing local ingredients.
Opportunities will arise for those who look to differentiate themselves through customer experience - because perhaps even more so than ever, people are looking for something exceptional to take them beyond their everyday normality.
In times as strange as we currently live in, a little bit of escapism can go a long way, which is something that those within the hospitality sector should keep in mind as we head into 2022.
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