Tourism tipped as growth sector in Fujairah

Published March 27th, 2003 - 02:00 GMT

The opening of Le Méridien Al-Aqah Beach Resort three months ago has spawned renewed interest in tourism as an economic growth sector for the emirate of Fujairah, with both government and private sector entities throwing their weight behind the latest moves to promote the emirate worldwide, according to the hotel’s press release. 


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 signaled 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 Al-Aqah 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. 


“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,” said Sheikh Saleh Bin Mohammed Al-Sharqi, chairman of the Department of Industry and Economy, Government of Fujairah. “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 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 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. 


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-kilometer 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, according to the directives of Fujairah ruler, Sheikh Hamad Bin Mohamed Al-Sharqi. 


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 authorizing licenses 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 United Arab Emirates (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 Gulf Cooperation Council (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 traveling via Dubai airport, is the recent federal decision to build a new road between Fujairah and that emirate, estimated to half traveling time with the distance reduced to just below 70 kilometers. Even before work begins on the road, local interest in Le Méridien Al-Aqah Beach Resort has been high, with the hotel enjoying 100 percent occupancies during weekends and holidays. 


Le Méridien is a global hotel group with a portfolio of more than 140 luxury and upscale hotels (38,000 rooms) in 55 countries worldwide. Properties are located throughout Europe, the Americas, Asia Pacific, Africa and the Middle East. The company also enjoys a strategic alliance with JAL-owned Nikko Hotels, providing loyal guests access to an additional 42 properties around the world. Headquartered in London, Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts Ltd is owned by Nomura International Plc and managed by Terra Firma Capital Partners. — (  

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