Riyadh among world's top 20 most visited cities

Updated 19 June 2013

Riyadh among world's top 20 most visited cities

Riyadh is ranked 19th in the list of the most visited cities in the world in 2013, with Dubai placed in the seventh position, according to MasterCard global destination cities index.

The top destination city in terms of international visitor arrivals in 2013 is Bangkok, which edged out London by a very slim margin. This is the first time that an Asian city has figured at the top since the Index was launched in 2010.
Citing a report from Forbes Magazine, Saud Al-Moqbel, media head at the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), told Arab News that Riyadh, which figured in the list for the first time, was expected to receive 5.4 million visitors this year. According to him, business and work-related visits formed a major chunk of visitors’ volume to the capital, which is regarded as one of the most important economic and commercial cities in the world, and home to many international companies and offices. Riyadh also hosts numerous conferences and economic activities that attract large numbers of visitors, he said.
London was followed by Paris, Singapore, New York, Istanbul and Dubai. Though Paris is in third position, it is the only destination city among the top 20 that has shown a decline in the estimated number of international visitor arrivals.
In contrast, Istanbul and Dubai have shown the strongest growth (along with Bangkok) in arrivals recording an increase of 9.5 percent and 10.9 percent respectively.
With the exception of Bangkok overtaking London to be in the top rank in the world, the lineup of the global top 20 in 2013 is the same as in 2012.
"Destination cities in emerging markets in the Middle East and Asia are expanding the fastest in being connected to the rest of the world through having more flights to more cities, and more frequent flights to cities where they are already connected," said an article on the survey posted on MasterCard's website.
"This will strongly drive the growth of their visitor arrivals and cross-border spending in the coming years," it added.

The Merchant House: Bliss in Bahrain

This recently opened boutique hotel is a strong contender for the GCC’s best. (Supplied)
Updated 40 min 39 sec ago

The Merchant House: Bliss in Bahrain

DUBAI: A couple of years ago, I interviewed the founder of Campbell GRAY Hotels, Gordon Campbell Gray, whose most well-known venture in the region is the spectacularly homely-yet-luxurious Le Gray in Beirut, Lebanon.

During our conversation, he discussed some of the gripes he had about other boutique hotels or chains. For instance, he questioned why a shower tap had to take a few minutes for the water to be warm.

“Imagine how wasteful that is,” he said, going on to add that guests should be able to jump into the shower and finish in a few minutes.

So, on my recent visit to Campbell GRAY’s The Merchant House in Manama, the first thing I did was, of course, test the shower. And true to form, the hot water was almost instant.

It’s this attention to detail that has enabled the company to retain its status as one of the best hoteliers in the world. Campbell Gray himself is apparently involved in every aspect of each hotel’s creation, design and philosophy. And no two properties are the same.

While the company has avoided rapid expansion in the region — it doesn’t want to lose its sense of exclusivity — it’s now beginning to establish a firm presence in the Middle East outside of Lebanon. First in Amman and now in Bahrain.

The Merchant House, which is just a short drive from Bahrain International Airport, is the brand’s first hotel in the GCC, and what a debut to make. Superb is an understatement. This boutique property — which launched earlier this year — consists of 46 uniquely-designed suites, each with its own art pieces.

And if you’re into your art, then this is a dream stay. Partnering with a VIP Bahraini collector (who has chosen to remain anonymous), The Merchant House features an extensive contemporary art collection, with works by local artists including Dawiya Al Alawiyat, some regional names, and some international heavyweights such as Virut Panchabuse, Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol.

The rooms themselves are almost works of art too. Every little thing has been thought of, from the bathroom amenities where all packaging is recyclable (the hotel operates a non-waste policy, therefore expect things like biodegradable straws being used instead of plastic) to the shape of the ice. There is no ice bucket here. You get a pull-out fridge/mini-bar and an individual freezer filled with oval-shaped ice. And naturally, you can expect all the usual niceties like comfy robes and slippers.

The library on the first floor is not to be missed. It holds more than 1,000 curated books for guests and visitors to enjoy with a cup of tea. There’s also the property’s signature restaurant, Indigo on the rooftop, with a stunning terrace for the winter time. Lifestyle elements include an outdoor pool, a gym, and a spa promoting the Bahraini brand Green Bar.

If there is one drawback to staying at The Merchant House at the moment, it is the location. Yes, it’s next to the retro-styled faux-historic Bab el-Bahrain souk area, but a souvenir-hunting type of getaway isn’t for everyone.

The hotel is great for those staying in the city for business meetings nearby, but one can imagine it being quite tricky to lure visitors away from the more upscale Bahrain Bay area near the seafront. According to the hotel’s management, this has been accounted for. The Merchant House has arrived at a time when the surrounding area is being renovated to attract more visitors to downtown Manama. Judging by the progress, this will be become one of the Bahrain’s ‘must-visit’ places over the next year.