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Tourism tipped as growth sector in Fujairah

United Arab Emirates: Wednesday, March 26 - 2003 @ 12:05

The property is the first international hotel to open in Fujairah for two decades, and is a joint venture between Emirates airline and the Hotel & Resort Investment Company, managed by Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts.

This alliance brings a combination of experience and prestige in the global hospitality sector that underlines the viability of the Fujairah tourism product, according to HH Sheikh Saleh bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, chairman of the Department of Industry and Economy, Government of Fujairah.

“We have already seen the impact of the hotel, brining more people to the emirate, and this is helping to put Fujairah on the map,” he said. “It is a relatively small investment for Emirates but a big move for us as it underlies their confidence in Fujairah tourism.”

The new focus on partnerships to boost tourism investment is one that is endorsed by both the government and the private sector, aiming to bring in experience to kick-start tourism rather than the go-it-alone strategy formerly embraced by the emirate.

“In Fujairah, we have focused on oil, industry, bunkering and oil storage and this is our field of expertise,” acknowledged Sheikh Saleh. “We know we need help to enter the tourism field and Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort is the result of this new strategy.”

With the example of Dubai, authorities in Fujairah are taking the essential steps to fine tune the raw product, from finessing the infrastructure in the emirate to global promotions that will ensure recognition of the name around the world.

“The success of Dubai in no small part has been due to its marketing, and this is something we have to focus on here,” explained Sheikh Saleh. “Le Méridien’s name has international presence, and with the Emirates’ connection too, results are beginning to show with more investor interest.”

With four areas earmarked for tourism development, including Al Aqah and Dibba, various plots of beachfront have been long allocated for hotel construction but concrete results were slow to follow until now.

Confirming an expression of interest in hotel development by the German tour operator TUI, chairman of the Fujairah Tourism Bureau, Sheikh Saeed bin Saeed Al Sharqi, said Le Méridien Al Aqah had signalled a green light for other international hotel names to commit to Fujairah.

As well as the provisional agreement for up to three hotels signed with TUI, other groups that have expressed interest in the past include Westin, Shangri-La and locally based Rotana.

The proposed expansion of the hotel infrastructure is keenly anticipated by Patrick Antaki, hotel manager of Le Méridien Al Aqah, who claims that additional rooms would be good for business on the two-kilometre stretch of beach fronting the Indian Ocean.

“We want to have more hotels here,” he stressed. “As well as keeping us on our toes, it will give guests more choice – and with a greater bed capacity, we can push for charter operations to begin, and this is where Fujairah as a destination will really become a reality.”

Already, reaction has been positive from those carriers that have visited Fujairah International Airport, said Mohamed Alsalami, chairman at the Department of Civil Aviation.

“With agreement to expand the terminal and introduce more facilities at the airport, we are gearing up to attract more passenger services,” he said. “Our flexibility of operations and pricing, and ability to negotiate on a one-to-one basis means there is great potential to adapt the airport to charter traffic.”

With an airport that can cater to the biggest jets, plus a port already established as a cruise ship call, several elements necessary for tourism development are already in place but growth will be at a steady pace, in accordance with the wishes of the ruler of Fujairah, HH Sheikh Hamad bin Mohamed Al Sharqi.

“His Highness will not jump in to new ventures but rather proceed in small steps and with great care,” said Sheikh Saleh. “While he welcomes new ideas and proposals, he wishes to use the knowledge of experts to proceed.”

With a tourism masterplan as the next step, the long-term vision is for Fujairah to play a complementary role to Dubai, offering a relaxed environment offering natural attractions, and opportunities for adventure and marine tourism.

“The government is now in the process of authorising licences for new hotels and other tourism attractions,” explained FTB’s Sheikh Saeed “Progress will be steady and we are aiming to add hotels and facilities such as a golf course, marina, spring water spa and cable car in a gradual development over the next 10 years.”

In the meantime, promotional work by Emirates and Le Méridien is already paying dividends, according to Hans Haensel, head of the leisure division at the airline: “The travel trade in Europe is already beginning to look at Fujairah as a destination in its own right since their clients are not interested in city-based holidays and the unspoilt environment here is a huge pull – Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort itself contains every facility, while the beach is fantastic.”

A key plus point for Fujairah’s new role as a holiday hotspot is its twin appeal to overseas and regional tourists, with residents in the UAE already aware of its get-away-from-it-all attractions.

Sheikh Saleh confirmed the emirate was keen to encourage all types of visitors: “We want to see tourists from the GCC, from the UAE and also from overseas,” he said. “And, we also want to encourage all categories of visitors with a range of accommodation to suit premium holidaymakers through to package tourists and others.”

A major boost to local tourism, as well as tourists travelling via Dubai airport, is the recent federal decision to build a new road between Fujairah and that emirate, estimated to half travelling time with the distance reduced to just below 70km.

Even before work begins on the road, local interest in Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort has been high, with the hotel enjoying 100 per cent occupancies during weekends and holidays.

“Reaction has been excellent, with many visitors surprised at the level of service and facilities now available on the east coast, from spacious rooms and quality cuisine through to every recreation facility and a large dedicated complex for children, our Penguin Village,” said Antaki.

“Being in Fujairah doesn’t mean that we are a second class hotel and we know that expectations are very high given the pioneering role of Le Méridien here – we have to give the same if not superior levels of service to those that people associate with Dubai.”

“Really, Fujairah can be as quiet as you want … or as active as you want,” he added, “and for those coming from Dubai and its metropolitan attractions, the greatest appeal of the East Coast is its unspoilt scenery and virgin coastline,” said Antaki. “Easy access to the Musandam is another plus point, while deep-sea fishing forays is another recent addition to our attractions.”

FTB’s Sheikh Saeed confirmed that the appeal of the Indian Ocean was one of Fujairah’s biggest selling points, and one where steps have been taken to utilise the marine environment in global promotions.

The emirate has hosted Formula One offshore powerboat racing grand prix annually since 1998, and earlier this year staged a smaller Formula 2000 championship at Dibba to give that town a boost too.

Organiser and key mover in marine activities is the Fujairah Marine Club, where Major Ahmed Ibrahim Mohammed is overseeing an expansion plan to include 45 chalets, health club and additional marina facilities.

“As well as the powerboat championships, we do jet-ski racing, dhow races, sailing and rowing regattas, fishing competitions and family days,” he said. “Our aim is to introduce more activities and become a centre in Fujairah offering free entry to visitors.

“Already we have a new restaurant and an international-category scuba college that operates recognised courses.”

Events such as the powerboat racing has attracted visitors to the emirate, and it is this type of combination of product and marketing that will Fujairah to fulfill its long-heralded role as a tourism destination.

“It’s a great product, and with the assistance of Emirates and the authorities here in Fujairah, we think the time is ripe to introduce the emirate to the tourism world as a whole,” concluded Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort’s Antaki.

ends

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Wednesday, March 26- 2003 @ 12:05 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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