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The time has come to restart tourism!

The time has come to restart tourism!

We are already beginning to rethink the city and housing to respond as best as possible to future health crises and other natural disasters (earthquakes, flooding, Tsunami) or accidental (fire, carbonization, nuclear threats, etc.). Transportation will evolve by adapting to the new rules of distancing. Walkers and cyclists will be encouraged through adequate infrastructure per sustainable regulations. The famous concept of urban intensification will be forgotten because of unforeseen anachronism. In short, cities will have to evolve considering the new climate and health situation requirements. Sustainability would be a must in All Regions as it is clear that all future development will surely come at the expense of the planet because of the need for urban areas will double in view of the sine-qua-none condition of social distancing. In the hope that the urban will cease to overflow into the rural, questioning the fragile balance between the city and the countryside, life carries on. Other times, other manners and despite that, touring towns, villages and countryside will have to go on so as to sustain parts if not all economies of all nations. The word is therefore the time has come to restart tourism!
The World Tourism Organization, a United Nations Specialised Agency produced the following press release for this purpose. Marking the World Environment Day, the One Planet Sustainable Tourism Programme has announced its new vision for global tourism: growing better, stronger, and balancing the needs of people, planet, and prosperity.
The quasi unanimous agreement of many


At both the local and the global level, the crisis we have faced up to together has shown the importance of making the right decisions at the right time.

The time has come to restart tourism!

We do so on the back of many weeks of hard work and commitment. This crisis has affected us all. Many, at every level of the sector, have made sacrifices, personally or professionally. But in the spirit of solidarity that defines tourism, we united under UNWTO’s leadership to share our expertise and abilities. Together, we are stronger, and this cooperation will be essential as we move onto the next stage.

Our research shows that several countries around the world are starting to ease restrictions on travel. At the same time, governments and the private sector are working together to restore confidence build and trust – essential foundations for recovery.

In the first stage of this crisis, UNWTO united tourism to assess the likely impact of COVID-19, mitigate the damage to economies, and safeguard jobs and businesses.

Now, as we change gears togetherUNWTO is taking the lead again.

Last week, we convened the fifth meeting of the Global Tourism Crisis Committee. Here, we launched the UNWTO Global Guidelines to Restart Tourism. This important document outlines our roadmap and priorities for the sector in the challenging months ahead, from providing liquidity for vulnerable businesses to opening borders and coordinating new health protocols and procedures.

At the same time, we continue to promote innovation and sustainability. These must no longer be small parts of our sector, but instead must be at the heart of everything we do. This way, as we restart tourism, we can build a sector that works for people and planet.

Governments and businesses are increasingly on our side as we work to build this new tourism.

UNWTO is also working to make sure that tourists too share in this vision.
Our partnership with CNN International will take our positive message to millions of people around the world. The #TravelTomorrow message, embraced by so many, is one of responsibility, hope and determination.

And now, as we do get ready to travel again, we remind tourists of the positive difference their choices can make.

Our actions can be meaningful and highlight the road ahead, travelling again to restart tourism.

Zurab Pololikashvili
UNWTO Secretary-General

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New Entertainment Complexes to Prime Locations across the Kingdom

New Entertainment Complexes to Prime Locations across the Kingdom

The Saudi Entertainment Ventures Company (Seven), established by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) and mandated to invest, develop and operate entertainment destinations in Saudi Arabia, has announced the expansion of new entertainment complexes to prime locations across the kingdom.

New Entertainment Complexes to Prime Locations across the Kingdom

Seven to build 20 leisure complexes in Saudi Arabia was confirmed by all local media.

RIYADH, These will delight residents and tourists alike and contribute to positioning Saudi Arabia as a hub for entertainment and leisure, said a statement from Seven.

The entertainment complexes will meet the fast-growing tourism sector and contribute to realising the goals outlined in Saudi Vision 2030, it stated.

These projects are being developed in key strategic geographic locations, providing large resident populations with innovative leisure choices that will appeal to all the family. Each complex will feature several entertainment and leisure choices including cinemas, play areas, rides, food and beverage (F&B) outlets, attractions and more, it added.

Chairman Abdullah Al Dawood said Seven is building the entertainment ecosystem of the kingdom, having already opened the first cinema in Saudi Arabia in 35 years.

“We have a clearly structured development plan to build 20 entertainment destinations, 50 cinemas and two large theme parks in prime locations across the kingdom,” stated Al Dawood.

In Jeddah, Seven will develop several entertainment complexes adding to the leisure choices for over four million residents and visitors.

With entertainment complexes coming up by the azure waters of the Red Sea as well as in areas that are popular among residents, the leisure ecosystem of Jeddah will witness a dramatic transformation.

In line with the vision of the leadership to offer more attractions that add to the quality of life of residents and visitors to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, Seven will open new entertainment complexes.

Another addition is in Taif, the fifth biggest city in Saudi Arabia and the unofficial ‘summer capital’, where the cool climes draw people to its location on the slopes of the Sarawat Mountains.

Known as the spring by the sea for its popularity among tourists as a scuba-diving destination with white sandy shores, Yanbu is another strategic location. With easy connectivity from Riyadh and Dammam, Al-Kharj will also feature a Seven entertainment complex.

Another area which will feature a project by Seven will be Buraydah, located in the centre of Saudi Arabia, said the statement from Seven.

Abha and Khamis, set in the Asir Mountains and known for equitable all-year weather, will also have new entertainment complexes by Seven, adding to their touristic value.

The port city of Jazan by the Red Sea, serving as a large agricultural heartland of the kingdom, features several ambitious infrastructure projects and is another natural choice for Seven – along with Tabuk, one of the historic sites, rich in rock art, archeological sites, castles and mosques.

Adding to the entertainment ecosystem of the capital city of Riyadh is the development of the entertainment complex at Al Hamra that will serve the densely populated neighbourhoods in the north-east of Riyadh.

At the intersection of King Abdullah Road and East Ring Road, the project will serve over 2.5 million people within a radius of a 30-minute drive. Another exciting upcoming addition to Riyadh is the entertainment complex at Al Nahda, with the Nahda Park Metro Station just a few metres away. Announced last year, work on these projects is progressing as per schedule.

Further adding to the communities of  Dammam and Al Khobar, which serve as vital hubs for several key industries and global businesses, Seven is bringing waterfront attractions that will create unforgettable moments of joyful entertainment for everyone. Announced last year, these projects will also offer a range of entertainment choices for residents and visitors.

“We are committed to realising the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 to accelerate the creation of world-class entertainment assets in the Kingdom that support economic diversification, create new jobs, and contribute to socio-economic progress. Our complexes will position the kingdom as an entertainment, culture and tourism hub of the region,” he stated.

“At Seven, we believe in promoting and creating opportunities for the private sector to thrive in the fast-evolving entertainment landscape of the kingdom,” noted Al Dawood.

“We are inviting the most ambitious and creative business partners and vendors to join us in our remarkable step forward to shape the entertainment landscape of the Kingdom,” he added.

TradeArabia News Service

MENA to see $23B in Hotel Building by 2023

MENA to see $23B in Hotel Building by 2023

HOTEL BUSINESS on February 17, 2020, informs that MENA to see $23B in Hotel Building by 2023, mostly in the Gulf region. A region that still knows a significant construction boom despite inevitable volatility in its primary revenue would be hosting crowds of visitors soon to two major international events. These are the International Exhibition of 2020 and the Football World Cup 2022 in Qatar. The other regions of the MENA, whether North African or of the Levant that mostly preoccupied with their respective geostrategic concerns, have smaller demand for hotels buildings.



INTERNATIONAL REPORT—The Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) 2020 has released the third annual AHIC Hotel Investment Forecast, which reveals that more than $23 billion worth of hotel construction contracts are scheduled to be awarded in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) between now and 2023.

According to research conducted by regional project tracking service MEED Projects in Q4 2019, the hotel development sector will be most active in Oman, Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia, making these the markets to watch in 2020.

“On the back of the more than 700 new hotels worth in excess of $53 billion having been built over the past seven years, the Middle East is rightly viewed as a high-growth region for tourism,” said Ed James, director of content and analysis, MEED Projects. “Growing economies, enhanced infrastructure and the opening up of the sector have acted as catalysts for development.”

He continued, “In terms of the hotel pipeline, Saudi Arabia is the leading future market with just under $9 billion worth of projects planned to be awarded over the next four years. This includes a minimum of 21,500 rooms, across 36 individual hotel, resorts and master-planned tourist destinations. The Kingdom has made tourism and the opening up of its cultural heritage and pristine Red Sea coastline key components of its 2030 Vision. Self-styled ‘gigaprojects’ like The Red Sea Project, Amaala, Neom and the Qiddiya entertainment hub are set to transform Saudi Arabia and the region over the next few years.”

The UAE is in second place, with $7.6 billion worth of hotel construction contracts on the four-year horizon. Oman has hotel developments worth more than $2 billion in the pipeline, while Egypt has some $1.9 billion worth of projects set to be awarded by 2023.

The levels of investment revealed by the AHIC Hotel Investment Forecast over the next four years are testament to an incredibly buoyant market, according to forecasters. “New hotel resorts like Jebel Sifah and the St. Regis Muscat in Oman, the Ritz-Carlton in Sharm el-Sheikh and the MGM Resort and Bellagio Hotel in Dubai are set to continue to make the Middle East one of the most vibrant and diverse tourism destinations in the world,” said James.

The regional hotel pipeline and the future outlook for hotel investment in the Middle East will be discussed in depth at the 16th edition of AHIC, which returns to Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai from April 14-16.

“The AHIC Hotel Investment Forecast is an incredibly valuable piece of research that clearly demonstrates that the Middle East still has so much to offer when it comes to future hotel expansion and investment,” said Jonathan Worsley, chairman, Bench Events, and founder, AHIC. “We’re especially excited to see markets such as Oman and Egypt, which offer incredibly rich and diverse tourism landscapes, return to the forefront of development in the region.”

AHIC Hotel Investment Forecast

Kuwait seeks global firms for Entertainment City

Kuwait seeks global firms for Entertainment City

On January 7, 2020, Sam Bridge on Arabian Business posted Kuwait seeks global firms for Entertainment City mega project. This follows a hyped-up move of other GCC countries such as Saudi Arabia that decided to Make an Entertainment City with the aim of diversifying its economy away from its hydrocarbon ties.

Kuwait has issued a global tender to seek international experts for a major project to help diversify the economy.

(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

Kuwait has issued a global tender looking to companies to help develop a new Entertainment City in the country.

The mega-scale tender seeks to locate the right partners to undertake planning, development, execution, operation, maintenance and investment in the project which forms part of Kuwait Vision 2035.

Al-Diwan Al-Amiri said in a statement that it aims to sign up partners “at the nearest possible opportunity”.

Considered to be one of the largest projects of its kind in the region, the mega project will actively support the ongoing efforts by the government to diversify sources of income and will contribute to the revitalisation of the cultural, leisure and tourism sectors in Kuwait, the statement added.

As part of the project, a global entertainment and tourism city will be established, featuring an amusement park and a world-class integrated entertainment complex.

Project components primarily include a ride based outdoor theme park, an indoor theme park, an aqua park, a kids’ activity and entertainment centre, in addition to gaming arcade, a snow/ski park and a multiplex and open air theatre.

Other components comprise a sports centre, a museum, public parks and social entertainment areas with landscaped areas and trails. The project also comprises 4 and 5 star villas, apartments, a retail mall, commercial areas and restaurants. It also includes an observatory, an amphitheatre, indoor water channels.

The current location for Al-Diwan Al-Amiri’s Entertainment City in the Doha region in the north of Kuwait will be expanded and developed to cover 2,750 million square metres.

The deadline for the global tendering and bidding process is set for February 27.

Al-Diwan Al-Amiri’s other projects include the Jahra Medical City, Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Centre, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Cultural Centre, Kuwait Motor Town and Shaheed Park.

MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019


It has been revealed by the local media that Chinese tourists numbers are growing by the day in the Gulf region. In effect, the number of Chinese tourists travelling to the GCC is expected to increase 54 percent from 1.4 million in 2018 to 2.2 million in 2023, according to new research. In however a wider view of the flows, here are excerpts of the WEF’s MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019.


MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

Overview

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region significantly improved its T&T competitiveness since the last edition of the TTCI. With 12 of the 15 MENA economies covered by this year’s index increasing their score compared to 2017, the region was able to slightly outpace the global average in competitiveness growth. This is particularly important given that, in the aggregate, T&T accounts for a greater share of regional GDP than in any of the other four regions. MENA is also the only region where international visitor spending is greater than domestic visitor spending. Yet despite improved competitiveness and a strong reliance on T&T for overall economic growth, MENA continues to underperform the global TTCI score average.

MENA’s below-average competitiveness is primarily a result of low scores on indicators related to natural and cultural resources and international openness. The region’s historical and religious heritage and geographic features create the potential for significant natural and cultural tourism; yet, while some individual nations come close, no MENA country scores above the global average for natural resources and only Egypt and Iran score above for cultural resources. In fact, the entire region’s score in both of these areas has fallen in recent years. More needs to be done to expand habit protection and heritage sites. Moreover, digital demand for MENA’s natural, cultural and entertainment demand is fairly low, indicating potential gaps in marketing and traveller perceptions. One potential reason for this gap is continued safety and security concerns. Eleven MENA countries rank within the bottom 40 for terrorism incidents, with two among the worst 10 countries globally. Further, the region is plagued by geopolitical tensions, instability and conflict. Security concerns also play a role in why MENA members are some of the most restrictive when it comes to international openness, with only Qatar, Oman and Morocco making significant improvements. Consequently, travellers often face barriers when visiting the region, while the aviation and overall T&T sector is stifled by limiting bilateral air service and regional trade agreements.

More positively, stability, safety and security have started to recover throughout the region, slightly reducing travel fears and underlying one of the key reasons for the recent pickup in arrivals. Furthermore, it seems that there has been greater recognition of T&T’s importance, with broad regional improvements in T&T prioritization, including increased government funding and more effective marketing campaigns to bring back or attract new visitors. Greatly enhanced environmental sustainability also has the potential to pay dividends for natural assets (note that environmental sustainability comparison is influenced by the use of new data to measure marine sustainability). In addition, prices have become more competitive among countries within the region, amplifying MENA’s single biggest advantage relative to the global average. As one of the world’s main producers of fossil fuels, MENA includes some of the world’s lowest fuel prices, with some governments offering subsidies. Moreover, many of the region’s economies offer visitors greater purchasing power (especially Egypt, Algeria, Iran and Tunisia), which has been increased by lower exchange rates. Yet it is reductions in ticket taxes and airport charges as well as lower hotel prices that have primarily driven regional price competitiveness in recent years.

Infrastructure has also improved, with particularly impressive growth in the number of airlines and route capacity. Despite these gains, world-class infrastructure remains concentrated among the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The Gulf countries have been able to use their natural resource wealth, central geographic location and relative security to develop world-class T&T infrastructure, defined by quality airports, ports, roads, tourist services and some of the world’s leading airlines. These efforts are in stark contrast to some other MENA nations that—due to a lack of investment and ongoing instability—have yet to develop competitive infrastructure, especially regarding air transport. Similarly, the region’s above-average score on the Enabling Environment subindex is due to the performance of the Gulf countries and Israel, which have developed economies, strong business environments, ICT readiness and some of the highest scores in safety and security. Finally, most regional economies also score near the bottom when it comes to female participation in the labour market, depriving the T&T industry of a greater labour and skills pool.

MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

Subregion Analysis

The Middle East subregion is by far the more competitive of the two subregions, outscoring North Africa on nine pillars. Thanks to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and Israel, the subregion is wealthier and more developed than the North Africa subregion. Consequently, it is no surprise that the Middle East scores above the global and regional averages on indicators related to enabling environment and infrastructure, with particularly high ranks on ICT readiness and business environment. Nevertheless, the subregion does trail the world and North Africa on T&T prioritization and policy and natural and cultural resources. In particular, many Middle East nations score relatively low on the International Openness and Natural Resources pillars, which represent the subregion’s greatest disadvantages relative to global competition. One of the Middle East’s highest-scoring pillars is Price Competitiveness, with some economies leveraging their fossil fuel abundance to offer lower fuel prices. Since the 2017 edition of the report, the subregion has improved across all pillars of T&T policy and enabling conditions, safety and security, ICT readiness and much of infrastructure, but declined or stagnated on other pillars.

This year, eight out of the subregion’s 11 members improved their TTCI score since 2017. Oman demonstrated the greatest improvement, moving up eight places to 58th. MENA’s safest (3rd) country recorded the subregion’s fastest improvement for its human resources and labour markets (103rd to 65th), and is among the most improved when it comes to international openness (116th to 97th), environmental sustainability (109th to 57th) and overall infrastructure (60th to 52nd). Yet some of the improvement in environmental sustainability is exaggerated due to new marine sustainability metrics. In contrast, the UAE had the Middle East’s largest decline, falling from 29th to 33rd, including the biggest percentage decline in score on the Safety and Security pillar (falling from 2nd to 7th) and Ground and Port Infrastructure (19th to 31st) and the subregion’s only decline on Environmental Sustainability (40th to 41st). Nevertheless, the country remains in the lead in the Middle East and is MENA’s top TTCI scorer, leading on ICT readiness (4th), air transport (4th) and tourist service (22nd) infrastructure. The Middle East’s—and MENA’s—largest T&T economy is Saudi Arabia (69th), which scores above the subregion’s average on most pillars, but near the bottom on international openness (137th). Plagued by ongoing conflict and a lingering humanitarian crisis, Yemen (140th), ranks at the bottom of the global index.

North Africa scores lower than the Middle East, but demonstrates far greater improvement in overall competitiveness. The subregion outscores the Middle East on five pillars and bests the global average on four. North Africa is the most price competitive subregion in the world, with three out of its four members among the 12 least-expensive economies covered in the report. North Africa’s greatest advantage relative to the Middle East is its natural and cultural resources—although it still underperforms the world on both the Natural Resources and Cultural and Business Travel pillars. The subregion also bests the MENA average in prioritization of T&T and environmental sustainability, areas where it has improved since 2017. On the other hand, North Africa has underdeveloped infrastructure and T&T enabling environment, contrasting some of the high performers in the Middle East subregion. In particular, North Africa trails when it comes to tourist service infrastructure and ICT readiness. The subregion’s strong rate of improvement is due to enhanced safety and security, overall T&T policy and enabling conditions and air transport and ground infrastructure.

All four members of the North Africa subregion increased their TTCI scores over 2017. Egypt (65th) is the subregion’s top scorer and its largest T&T economy. The country is also MENA’s most improved scorer. Egypt is price competitive (3rd) and has MENA’s highest score for cultural resources (22nd). Its improvement comes from increases on 11 pillar scores. These include the world’s second-best enhancement of safety and security (130th to 112th), albeit from a low starting base. Morocco (66th) demonstrates North Africa’s slowest improvement in TTCI performance. The country is a close second to Egypt when it comes to overall competitiveness, boasting the MENA region’s top TTCI scores on natural resources (63rd) and North Africa’s best enabling environment (71st) and infrastructure (69th). However, TTCI performance improvement is tempered by declining safety and security (20th to 28th), which remains well above the subregion’s average, and a deteriorating combination of natural and cultural (41st to 54th) resources. North Africa’s lowest scoring member is Algeria (116th), which nonetheless did move up two ranks globally. The country ranks low on business environment (118th), T&T prioritization (132nd), tourist services infrastructure (136th), environmental sustainability (133rd), natural resources (126th) and international openness (139th). On the other hand, Algeria is one of the most price-competitive countries in the world (8th).

MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

Read more on the original PDF document.

Oman is the most improved nation in MENA

Oman is the most improved nation in MENA

Oman is the most improved nation in MENA, moving up eight places to 58th, in the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) 2019 prepared by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Oman most improved nation in MENA in WEF’s Travel and Tourism Survey is an article of the Muscat Daily of September 7, 2019.

Oman is the most improved nation in MENA

Conducted biennially, the survey found that Oman is MENA’s safest country and overall third in the world. Oman ranks third in safety and security due to lower homicides rates (19th in the world), a reliable police force (5th), and low costs of terrorism (7th) and crime (3rd).

Oman also recorded the region’s fastest improvement for its human resources and labour markets (103rd to 65th) and is among the most improved in international openness (116th to 97th), environmental sustainability (109th to 57th) and overall infrastructure (60th to 52nd).

The top 10 countries this year are Spain, France, Germany, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, Canada and Switzerland. India (40th to 34th) had the greatest improvement over 2017 among the top 25 per cent of all countries ranked in the report.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region significantly improved its T&T competitiveness since the last edition of the TTCI. ‘With 12 of the 15 MENA economies covered by this year’s index increasing their score compared to 2017, the region was able to slightly outpace the global average in competitiveness growth. This is particularly important given that, in the aggregate, T&T accounts for a greater share of regional GDP than in any of the other four regions,’ stated the report.

Consequently, it is no surprise that the Middle East scores above the global and regional averages on indicators related to enabling environment and infrastructure, with particularly high ranks on ICT readiness and business environment. Nevertheless, the subregion does trail the world and North Africa on T&T prioritisation and policy and natural and cultural resources.

This year, eight out of the Middle East’s 11 members improved their TTCI score since 2017. In contrast, the UAE had the Middle East’s largest decline, falling from 29th to 33rd, including the biggest percentage decline in score on the Safety and Security pillar (falling from 2nd to 7th) and Ground and Port Infrastructure (19th to 31st) and the subregion’s only decline on Environmental Sustainability (40th to 41st).

Nevertheless, the country remains in the lead in the Middle East and is MENA’s top TTCI scorer, leading on ICT readiness (4th), air transport (4th) and tourist service infrastructure (22nd).

Each country receives a score in categories from business environment, safety and security, health and hygiene, human resources and labour market and ICT readiness.

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly. The obelisk will be restored, assembled and erected in Tahrir Square.

By Nevine El-Aref, Friday 30 Aug 2019

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

In an attempt to develop Tahrir Square and to show the whole world Egypt’s unique civilisation, eight blocks of one of Ramses II’s obelisks, found in his temple at San Al-Haggar archaeological site in Zagazig, arrived in Cairo on Friday.

They will be restored, assembled and erected in Tahrir Square.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that the transportation of the parts of the obelisk was carried out under tight security by the tourism and antiquities police, within the framework of the government’s plan to beautify and develop Tahrir Square as part of the Historic Cairo Development project.

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

The obelisk is carved in red granite and decorated with scenes depicting Ramses II standing before the gods with his different titles written alongside. After restoration and assembly, the obelisk will be 17 metres tall and weight 90 tonnes.

Mohamed Al-Saeidy, director of the SCA’s Technical Office, said that the antiquities ministry completed the first phase of the development project at San Al-Haggar archaeological site last September.

A collection of two obelisks, two colossi and two columns from the temple of Ramses II were restored, assembled and re-erected in their original location.

Now, he continued, the ministry has started the second phase of the project, which aims to restore, assemble and re-erect more obelisks, colossi and columns.

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

In collaboration with the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo (IFAO), the antiquities ministry has recently launched a project to upgrade the facilities and services provided to the site’s visitors, including the establishment of a visitor centre, the installation of signage, and the development of a website for the site.

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

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Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Posted on July 29, 2019, and written by Whitney, an American traveller, is the following article titled Doha, Qatar… Epitome of Opulence. Having personally stayed in the country in the 90’s through to early 2000, I can confirm every single detail of the author’s story. The difference would perhaps be that I was leading a quasi-normal resident life whilst making a living through practising my skills of Architect. Indeed, today there is a bit of a situation vis a vis its surrounding neighbours, Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East but it was not exactly as enthralling as you might imagine in my early years but at least I had the privilege to see before my very eyes, the making of this city. I must say, I did contribute however modestly into the shaping of its skyline. But enough of me, here is Whitney’s.

A tidbit of information – Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East, allowing Transit Visas upon arrival for free, given you have a valid passport and return ticket. These Visas are valid for stays from 5 hours and up to 96. Additionally, Discover Qatar offers one-night free hotel stay in a variety of 5-star accommodations, or two to three nights for a fee of $100 in the same hotels. Given that the layover in Doha is a whopping nine hours, this was absolutely worth the extra money for a good nights sleep in luxury lodging.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Impressive Skyline

Unfortunately, I did not know that Qatar Airlines offered a stopover through Discover Qatar in Doha when Hubs and I initially booked our Maldives flights through Qatar Airlines (ranked the #1 airline in the world). We made this delightful discovery after we had already departed the States. However, the airline (for a fee, of course) altered our flights, and we made a two day pit stop in the incredibly wealthy, insanely hot, and bustling country.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

The money flowing through Qatar is obvious before you even land at the airport. From the sky, you can see the intricate, man-made island. The skyscrapers litter the cityscape. Upon landing at the airport, a sparkling air-conditioned building greets you. We were met by a smiling gentleman driving a black luxury sedan. He ferried us the 25 minutes through Doha to our accommodations for the next couple of nights. He deposited us at our five-star hotel in the ‘City Center’, the Marriott Marquis.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Unlike US hotels, security has a much larger presence. We had to go through a metal detector upon returning to the hotel each time we left. They scanned our bags before allowing us access to the enormous lobby. The friendly, multi-lingual front desk checked us in, and we took the elevator up to our room.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Downside to vacationing in a conservative Muslim country… twin beds in hotel rooms.

We are actually married (at least in Slovenia), does that entitle us to at least a queen-sized bed?

Negatory!

However, we were at least provided a decent view through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the city center on the 11th floor.

Tiny little admission… I may have slept brilliantly while buried beneath the blankets in my personal feathery, comfy haven in the starkly cold room thanks to the wonderfully chilly air conditioning.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Snapshot from the harbor

We began our Doha exploration with a City Tour provided by Discover Qatar for a minimal cost of $24 a person. We were ferried around the city by a local gentleman, who regaled us with Doha facts throughout the jaunt. Doha is the capital of Qatar and boasts a population of about 2.4 million. It is located along the Persian Gulf. He informed us, water is more expensive than fuel in the wealthy country. And if we happened upon any green spaces (grass is a novelty there), it was likely watered every 30 minutes in order to survive in the extreme heat of the desert.

We cruised through the city in air-conditioned comfort in a van, just the two of us and our insightful guide. A few highlights and/or stops:

PEARL-QATAR

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

The Pearl-Qatar, an artificial island jutting into the Gulf, is a $15 billion (so far) project. It will be a stunning residential estate made up of luxury villas and commercial amenities. The project was originally to cost $2.5 Million, but clearly, that budget was a tad off.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

A colossal to-scale model of the not yet finished island takes up the first floor of a building, displaying a life-like representation of the what the man-made archipelago will look like upon completion.

The imitation even has people, boats, greenery, and lighting!

And it was so enormous that I could not even get a photo of the entire model in a single photo.

Moral of the story: Sorry for the disjointed photographs that do not portray the full enormity of this undertaking.

Yet another displaying of probably the most financially stable country I have ever travelled to. They successfully made the desert desirable.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

MOSQUE (Unfortunately, I don’t recall the name)

We also crept into a mosque. Thankfully, I had smartly packed a shawl and light sweaters to cover my provocative shoulders. I was also clad in baggy, white linen pants (thanks, Athleta for selling breathable and comfortable pants perfect for the occasion).

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Anywho… the lower floor, only suitable for men, was basically an open floor for praying. The upper balcony was where the women were relegated to. I was escorted outside to the separate entrance they were banished to. The much smaller space overlooked the men’s sanctuary below. After collecting our footwear, we returned to our Discover Qatar chariot.

MUSEUM OF ISLAMIC ART

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Borrowed from the Museum’s website. My photos were nothing compared to this.
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Our guide dumped us at the entrance to the Museum of Islamic Art. This free museum sports an unusual exterior facade. It is geometric and quite unique, looking vaguely similar to a stack of building blocks. Our chaperone challenged us to guess the significance. Stumped, he enlightened us that it is meant to resemble a woman in a hijab with only her eyes visible. If you decide to visit the museum, abide by the conservative dress code, otherwise, you may be refused entrance. Little update: My recent perusal of the museum’s website showed there is now a fee in order to gain entry to the museum. You now… because Qatar is a poor country…

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

The collection was fascinating, with pieces ranging from the 7th to 19th centuries, and included scrolls, textiles, ceramics, and metalwork, along with items of early mathematical importance. There is also a cafe, a gift shop, and an exterior park. Don’t forget both male and female private pray rooms. The glass windows at the rear of the building provide an uninterrupted view of the water beyond.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

SOUQ WAQIF

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

We were given 45 minutes to peruse the sprawling Souq Waqif by our chauffeur. The Souq is a maze of vendors selling everything from spices to jewelry to daily goods to birds to furniture. We could have spent hours wandering the alleys, and made a mental note to return later with more time to spare.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Fast forward several hours, and we returned by cab to the Souq. Unlike when we were roving the passageways earlier, most of the merchants were open for business at the later afternoon hour. The bazaar is organized into areas by means of the goods the shopkeep was bartering. Spice hucksters were in one section, while rug peddlers were off in another. I must admit, the souqs have become one of my favorite places to visit common in many Middle Eastern countries. We walked out of there is color footwear, mugs, spices, tea (cinnamon was my poison, but should one have consumed a few too many beans that day, flatulence tea was also an option), kitchen wares, and a chess set. Bartering is welcomed!

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

We opted to walk the 5.5 km from the Souq back to our hotel. We strolled along the pathway ringing the water front. Due to the requirements of my gender covering up, it was quite the toasty saunter. Regardless of my clamminess, the walk provided quite the view of the very colorful skyline.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

And a handstand of course. I made sure to wait until there were no other onlookers, so that I did not offend anyone when my shirt dropped to my shoulders, revealing my stomach. GASP! I’m such a heathen.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

IPANEMA

During our exploration of the hotel, and the attached mall, we discovered several restaurants that were housed in the same building as the hotel. After perusing the options, Hubs decided we were going to splurge on our meal that evening. He settled upon Ipanema, a Brazilian-style steak house. Because… when in Rome??? I suppose we spent the previous couple weeks dining on Indian food, for the most part, we can branch out on our final night overseas.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

The food did not disappoint. I could not tell you everything I ate that night since I felt like a whale upon departing. After getting a smallish sampling from the buffet (I had to save room for the immense amounts of meat to come), we purchased a bottle of wine, and awaited the first round of meats to be whisked by our table. For anyone unfamiliar with Brazilian steakhouses, you are given what amounts to a coaster – one side RED and the other GREEN. When you’re ready to gorge on whatever tasty hunk of meat the waiters are strolling by with, you flip your coaster over to the green side, prompting the servers to cut you a fresh slice off the slab they are toting.

Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

I swore I was not going to give into every delicious smell that wafted passed me, but alas, I was defenseless against the succulent fare, acquiescing to my cravings. I felt like I gained 30 pounds when we waddled out of there. Totally worth it, and I slept like a baby. Another note… I discovered grilled pineapple. The delectable fruit was blanketed in cinnamon. I was incapable of dismissing the servers when they came by with it.

Meat, meat and more meat. Brought to your table on skewers and chopped off with large knives.
Grilled pineapple… dessert, appetizer or main course… that shit made me happy.
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East
Quite the scrumptious wine. A+

Random side note… Arby’s in Arabic present in the busy food court in one of the many malls. Along with the longest, flattest escalator, I have ever ridden.

Yes, us lame Americans dined here for lunch one day.
Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East

Alas, it is time to depart the warmth of Qatar and return to the cold, snowy climate of Virginia in November.

وداعا … Apparently, that is “goodbye” in Arabic. Back to reality (and winter).

Economic uncertainties within the GCC countries

Economic uncertainties within the GCC countries

Travel AND Tour World published on Monday, July 29, 2019, this article elaborating on the current tourism together with other types of related business activities in the Gulf region. Dubai with its impressive urban development, artificial islands and other coastline attractions has been for a time spearheading the regional shopping and business tourism. The recent economic uncertainties within the GCC countries as well as through the political movements of the US, the EU and all other heavyweights vested interests of the world economy seem to be behind this story.

Tourism slowdown in Dubai’s Jumeirah cuts 500 jobs

Economic uncertainties within the GCC countries

Due to a slowdown in the emirate’s tourism industry, Jumeirah Group has cut hundreds of jobs and according to people familiar with the industry, it weighs on the operator of Dubai’s sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel.

As per sources hundreds of jobs were slashed recently by the operators of Burj Al Arab along with 24 hotels worldwide.

As the information was private the government-owned luxury hotel chain, which manages 24 properties in eight countries, recently shed about 500 jobs.

Jumeriah has more than 13,500 employees according to its website and most of the cuts were support roles.

The tourism sector is stalled causing Dubai’s hotels to struggle and the occupancy level was found to be the lowest during the second quarter since 2009.

The average daily rates and revenue available per room fell to 2003 levels as stated by STR, a global hotel data provider.

There has been an oversupply due to new opening ahead of the 2020 World Expo.

The geopolitical tensions, relatively low oil prices, the ongoing real estate and the retail slump has caused Dubai-based companies and real estate developer and banks to cut down their staffs.

New measures have been introduced by the Dubai government to stimulate the economy by lowering business fees and providing long-term visas.

Archaeological Discovery in Egypt to Boost Tourism

Archaeological Discovery in Egypt to Boost Tourism

On April 19, 2019, Willamette International Travel came up with this story that follows an earlier one on how Egypt Unveils Ancient Burial Site, Home To 50 Mummies or how all related works with an ancient culture could serve all purposes, notably those of tourism.

Travel News: Archaeological Discovery In Egypt To Boost Tourism

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Archaeological Discovery In Egypt To Boost Tourism

Travelwirenews reports in a major archaeological discovery, Egypt on Saturday unveiled the tomb of a Fifth Dynasty official adorned with colourful reliefs and well preserved inscriptions. The tomb, near Saqqara, a vast necropolis south of Cairo, belongs to a senior official named Khuwy who is believed to have been a nobleman during the Fifth Dynasty, which ruled over Egypt about 4300 years ago. “The L-shaped Khuwy tomb starts with a small corridor heading downwards into an antechamber and from there a larger chamber with painted reliefs depicting the tomb owner seated at an offerings table,” said Mohamed Megahed, the excavation team’s head, in an antiquities ministry statement. Flanked by dozens of ambassadors, Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Enani said the tomb was discovered last month. It is mostly made of white limestone bricks. Ornate paintings boast a special green resin throughout and oils used in the burial process, the ministry said. The tomb’s north wall indicates that its design was inspired by the architectural blueprint of the dynasty’s royal pyramids, the statement added. The excavation team has unearthed several tombs related to the Fifth Dynasty. Archaeologists recently found an inscription on a granite column dedicated to Queen Setibhor, who is believed to have been the wife of King Djedkare Isesis, the eighth and penultimate king of the dynasty. Egypt has in recent years sought to promote archaeological discoveries across the country in a bid to revive tourism that took a hit from the turmoil that followed its 2011 uprising.

Tourism’s importance in Saudi Arabia

Tourism’s importance in Saudi Arabia

Travel and Tour published on Thursday, February 21, 2019, this article on Saudi Arabia that aims to attract 1.5m tourists by 2020 all according to its Prince Mohamed Bin Salman’s Vision 2030. In this prince’s vision, diversification of the economy is emphasised and Tourism as a segment of it, is aimed at increasing the State revenue.

Tourism now holds pivotal importance for Saudi Arabia

Tourism has turned out to be the central development theme in Vision 2030 for Saudi Arabia, and as the Kingdom gradually opens its doors to tourists from around the world, its own citizens are also considered as one the fastest growing segment in the global travel market.

With travel bookings in the Kingdom considered the largest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, worth more than $25 billion each year, the power of the Saudi traveller is strong, which was reflected in recently concluded Jeddah International Travel and Tourism Exhibition (JTTX), where thousands of Saudis, including women, attended the event.

The show is touted as the largest travel trade show in Kingdom, featuring outbound destinations for Saudi tourists and travel companies showcasing various lucrative options.

The JTTX ninth edition was formally inaugurated by Prince Saud Bin Abdallah Bin Jalawi, Advisor to Makkah Governor and also secretary at Jeddah Governorate. The show was held under patronage of Prince Mishal Bin Majed, Governor of Jeddah.

More than 200 exhibitors from 29 countries took part in JTTX which was held at Hilton Hotel. There were stalls displaying a wide range of tourism facilities such hotels, resorts, airlines, travel technologies, medical and educational tourism.

A majority of the Kingdom’s tourists travel to the UAE, Bahrain, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Turkey and the UK as top holiday destinations.

However, new destinations like Kerala in India, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan and Georgia emerge as new destinations for Saudis.

The show also featured eight new destinations: Hong Kong, Finland, Spain, Mauritius, Morocco, Kosovo, Vietnam and New Zealand with Tunisia being the guest of honor of the event.

Christmas festivities in Bethlehem

Christmas festivities in Bethlehem

Bethlehem, West Bank (AP) – Palestinians are preparing to host pilgrims from around the world in celebrating Christmas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, crossed an Israeli military checkpoint from Jerusalem on Monday ahead of midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

Hundreds of locals and foreign visitors gathered in Manger Square as bagpipe-playing Palestinian Scouts paraded past a giant Christmas tree.

Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maaya says “the whole world is looking toward Bethlehem” and the Palestinians are ready to host them.

The Christmas festivities traditionally bring a boost of holiday cheer to Christians in the Holy Land, who make up just a small percentage of the local population.

Christmas in Palestine

December 22nd – December 30th 2018

During the Christmas season, Bethlehem in Palestine welcomes Christian worshipers from all denominations from all over the world. An estimated 10,000 were in the Square on Christmas Eve last year!  It is an exciting, colorful and lively time during which a message of hope is broadcast around the world by the large number of media agencies covering Manger Square in which the Church of the Nativity is found.

What will we do?

You are invited to take part in this unique experience with To Be There. We have a well-planned a program providing you with opportunities to enjoy the Christmas season as well as gain an understanding of ancient and recent history, and how the occupation affects the lives and the future of Palestine and its people.  Topics which will be covered during your visit include Palestinian refugees, their  legal status and the hardships they face; Israeli settlement colonies which contribute to the forcible displacement of Palestinians and land theft; the treatment by Israel of Palestinian children and the documented violations of their rights; Palestinian political prisoners and their treatment under military law; the Israeli infrastructure of occupation and apartheid – walls, security zones, check points and much more.

Why should we come?

Palestinians enjoy welcoming foreign guests to participate in the procession to the Church lead by Palestinian scout groups from all over Palestine and Israel accompanied by the music of horns, bagpipes and drums. However, Christmas is experienced differently Bethlehem, providing an example of how Palestinians enjoy such occasions while living under the Israeli military occupation which imposes sever hardships on the people, restricting their freedom of movement, their livelihoods and economic and social well-being.  Sadly, the occupation and its policies have turned Bethlehem in to a ghetto around which Israel continues to tighten the noose with its encroachment and development of settler colonies, ‘Jewish only’ restricted roads and security zones, checkpoints and military installations.  In fact, Israeli controls 90% of tourism into Bethlehem.  Christmas in Palestine is an opportunity to visit Palestine, to make a contribution to this vibrant community during the Holiday Season and witness the reality of occupation.

May we all have a Merry Christmas.

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