Saudi luxury hotel market taps religious tourism
Thursday, 14 April 2011
The religious tourism industry in Saudi Arabia is taking on an increasingly luxurious feel as high-end hotel construction in Mecca booms to accommodate pilgrims with upmarket needs.
Hadi Helal, a marketing agent for Abraj al-Bait, a complex of luxury hotels, malls and flats on the outskirts of Mecca, said that upmarket hotels choose to open shop in Mecca because business can count on being able to fill rooms and tables with Muslims who must make the pilgrimage, or hajj, at least once in their lives.
“The big name hotels come here [to Saudi] because they know there is business here,” said Mr. Helal in a report released Thursday by Euromonitor. “People will not stop coming to hajj, they cannot do hajj anywhere else.”
Last November, about 2.5 million Muslims went on the hajj pilgrimage, he said.
The Abraj complex–known for its looming clock tower—has 15,000 housing units and 70,000 square meters of retail space. The complex offers luxuries such as Asprey toiletries, a 24-hour butler service and $270 worth of chocolates for every customer.
The growth in Saudi’s hospitality sector comes as the kingdom seeks to boost its tourism industry. Business Monitor International forecasts that that there will be 343,000 hotel rooms in Saudi Arabia by 2015, up from 250,000 in 2011. The firm expects the number of tourist arrivals to grow by an average of 6 percent each year to 2015.
International chains first opened their hotels in Saudi Arabia in 2009. Since then, Mecca has become home to a number of high-profile names, including Raffles Hotels & Resorts, InterContinental Hotels Group and Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
Mustafa Damblat, sales manager at Al Deyar Travel, a Hajj and Omrah specialty travel agency in Dubai, said the reason why there are so many luxury hotels in and around Mecca is expensive land prices.
“It is the one of the most expensive land locations in the world,” he said. “Only upmarket businesses can afford to locate to the best spots in Mecca. They invest with big sponsors and royalty to secure their land.”
For now, luxury hotels surrounding Mecca’s holy site will remain popular simply because they are in the most convenient location, he added.
“They are the closest to the Holy Mosque of Mecca and people want to be in a hotel where they feel the most convenient and comfortable, particularly as many of the pilgrims are of old age,” he said.
The tourism revenue in 2010 reached SR66 billion ($17.6 billion), according to the Center for Studies and Research at Asharqia Chamber. The group predicts that the revenue is expected to cross SR232 billion ($61 billion) by 2020.