Indian travel and hotel brands including Cleartrip.com and Taj Hotels are expanding operations in West Asia as countries focus on tourism to reduce dependence on crude oil. The latest to woo foreign travellers is Saudi Arabia which announced an e visa-scheme last month.
"We see the easing of visa regulations being a significant growth driver for inbound traffic to Saudi Arabia. According to recent figures published by the Saudi Foreign Ministry over 24,000 tourists have visited Saudi Arabia in the first ten days after the introduction of tourist visas and we only see this figure increasing in time to come,"said Amit Taneja, chief business officer (international markets), Cleartrip.
The online portal established its presence in West Asia in 2012 and the region now accounts for around half of its consolidated revenue. Cleartrip acquired Saudi travel firm Flyin last July and it provides bilingual on ground support service and itineraries for inbound tourists.
Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL) and East India Hotels which own the Taj and Oberoi hotels respectively run hotels in Dubai and have properties under development in other parts of the region.
"The Middle East is a significant market for us which has been demonstrated by our presence in the region with Taj Dubai since 2015," said IHCL's executive vice president (real estate and development), Suma Venkatesh. The company is set to open two new hotels in Dubai in 2019 and 2020 and has tied up for its first hotel in Makkah in Saudi Arabia. The Makkah hotel which is a part of a large urban rejuvenation project will open in January 2023.
The region's attractiveness for Indian companies comes in the backdrop of regional push to diversify their economies. While Oman has seen an increase in tourist arrivals after relaxation of visa norms, Qatar is luring foreign tourists and football fans with promotional offers. Opening doors for tourists is part of Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 plan and the country is expanding its tourism infrastructure. "Saudi Arabia has launched a number of upcoming tourism projects such as The Red Sea Project (luxury development/ enhancement of 90 islands in the Red Sea) and Amaala (luxury wellness masterplan) with the intention of attracting international leisure tourists. Previously, international tourism in Saudi Arabia was focused on religious and corporate travelers only,"said Christopher Lund, Head of Hotels at Colliers International in Middle East North Africa region.
Demand for travel in the region remains strong despite reduction in airline seat capacity this year, said Taneja. " The region has managed to maintain growth and we expect it to grow," he said. Cleartrip is a major player in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE and is making foray in Jordan and Lebanon, he said.
Venkatesh said IHCL is keen to expand in West Asia and is focused on Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Muscat, Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah and Bahrain. "We have seen substantial customer crossover, between India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, with Indian travellers visiting Taj in the region and with GCC travellers particularly from UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait representing a high proportion of guests that are experiencing our hotels worldwide. GCC ‘gateway’ markets are a big priority for our expansion plans,"she said.