The Middle East market is emerging as an essential revenue stream for UK hoteliers. Benefiting from key events such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, the UK hotel industry will attract visitors worldwide. The Middle East market will play a major role in boosting profits and room occupancy.
The UK is benefiting from the political unrest and consequent safety concerns relating to usual Arabic tourist destinations. London has also gained business from its closest competitor Paris, who banned the use of the niqab, the Islamic veil.
According to VisitBritain, American visitors typically spend five times more than domestic travellers but this is far outstripped by the Middle East market whose levels of spending are unrivalled.
Investment in the UK hotel industry has also come from the Middle East. The Savoy is owned by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia and the Four Seasons by Bahrain’s ruling family.
The Middle East market is a key source for Hilton Worldwide, London, seeing over 39,000 room nights occupied by travellers from the region in 2011. Occupancy is set to increase in 2012 due to the exciting events ahead. In 2011 London Hilton Park Lane saw visitor numbers from the top five Middle Eastern markets grow by 21% YoY. They saw a 104% growth YoY from Saudi Arabian visitors and a 33% growth YoY from UAE visitors. According to VisitBritain the UAE is the largest source market in the Middle East with an 11% increase in visitors to the UK in 2011 vs 2010.
In an interview with the Guardian, a spokesman for InterContinental Hotels stated that “During the peak season you will get families taking 30 or 40 rooms to house their extended entourage. It is quite common for a whole floor, or even two, to be booked out by just one group.”
A visit from the most wealthy of Middle Eastern families can alter the fortunes of a business in a few weeks.
Top Five Source Markets for Hilton Worldwide, London in 2011
1) UAE (12549 room nights)
2) Saudi Arabia (11535 room nights)
3) Qatar (8583 room nights)
4) Kuwait (3779 room nights)
5) Egypt (2712 room nights)
* < 1000 room nights: Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, Lebanon & Jordan.
Key Periods for visitors from the Middle East 2012
Two key periods are expected this year as follows:
- Pre-Ramadan – 20 June 2012 – 20 July 2012
- Post-Ramadan – 20 Aug 2012 – 20 September 2012
Key Events 2012
- RHS Chelsea Flower Show (May)
- Hampton Court Festival (June)
- Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (May/June)
- London 2012 Festival (June 21 to Sept 9)
- Newly opened Kensington Palace, following two years of investment
Middle Eastern Visitor: Trends and Travel Habits
Middle Eastern guests are increasingly organised with the time they spend in London, combining a variety of activities; Attending business meetings, visiting property, shopping, enjoying the vast array of entertainment on offer, Children are often sent to attend summer schools in the capital.
An ongoing trend is for visitors to benefit from the services of Harley Street and private medical practices during their time in London. As Europe’s leading medical tourism ‘hub’, London has around twenty private hospitals and NHS hospitals with private patient units. The square mile of London around Harley Street is the base for over 1,000 leading specialists in all areas of medicine.
There is a passion amongst visitors from the region to shop whilst visiting London, and research from VisitBritain reveals that dedicated shopping holidays are on the rise. London also provides visitors from the Middle East with access to sought-after British brands including Harrods and Marks & Spencer.
Welcoming and ‘safe’ environment
London is perceived by Middle Eastern travellers to be safer than other European cities. There is also a simple visa process, no significant language barrier and London is a cosmopolitan city open to all cultures.
Historic family ties
Often visitors have spent time at British Universities earlier in their lives and feel welcome and at home in the UK. Middle Eastern visitors also travel to the UK to visit friends or family members currently attending a British university.
Guests escape hot Middle Eastern temperatures to enjoy the relatively cool summers in the UK, enjoying sunshine and showers.
Sheikhs from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and UAE own residences in London so often bring their entourages to stay in nearby hotels. London’s wide range of restaurants and coffee shops also provide popular places to socialise as well as enjoy varied nightlife.
Provisions for the Middle Eastern Visitor
- Staff Training in etiquette and skills to welcome the clientele; handling and delivering tailor made requests.
- Guest Relations teams with Arabic speaking members.
- Provisions made for private chefs to cook and serve their own food.
- Arabic TV stations made available.
Capitalising on the unique events the UK has to offer this year could give the hotel industry a much needed boost and evidently the Middle East market is essential in providing this.