Sinai resorts pin hopes on Russia’s return

Egypt’s tourism earnings have slumped since a bomb attack halted Russian flights to Sharm El-Sheikh airport in 2015. Now the carrier Aeroflot is set to resume services. (Getty Images)
Updated 06 April 2018
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Sinai resorts pin hopes on Russia’s return

  • Hotels in Egypt, particularly those along the Red Sea, are gearing up for the return of Russian tourists.
  • Aeroflot said last month that it would resume services to Cairo from Moscow with three flights a week from April 11.
Dubai: Flights from Russia are about to resume for the first time since Oct. 31, 2015, when an Airbus A321, operated by the Russian airline Kogalymavia, crashed after taking off from Sharm El-Sheikh airport. All 224 passengers and crew were killed in what Egyptian authorities said was a Daesh bomb attack.
The Sinai tourism trade, which relied heavily on Russian tourists seeking winter sun, was decimated by the attack.
Now hotels in Egypt, particularly those along the Red Sea, are gearing up for the return of Russian tourists with the resumption of flights — even as analysts warn that it could take months to regain visitor numbers.
Aeroflot said last month that it would resume services to Cairo from Moscow with three flights a week from April 11, while EgyptAir flights will restart the following day. The Russian carrier also plans to fly daily from June 12 to July 2 during the FIFA World Cup in Russia. It is yet to resume flights to Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh.
Hotels in Egypt, especially Red Sea resorts popular with Russians seeking sun holidays, expect a pick-up in bookings this summer from Russia, which was among the top five source markets for Egypt before the incident.
“Red Sea resort destinations are expected to see strong growth in performance from returning flight routes and tour operator and travel agent bookings this year,” said Christopher Lund, a Dubai-based associate director at Colliers International.
Hotel room rates in Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh are expected to increase by 6 percent and 13 percent, respectively, compared with last year, he said.
The average occupancy rate in Hurghada is expected to reach
61 percent this year, up 19 percent from last year.
In Sharm El-Sheikh, hotels are expected to have 51 percent occupancy, up 13 percent from 2017. Cairo’s average hotel occupancy rate returned to a 2010 level of 67 percent last year, and this year is expected to climb to 69 percent.
“This is expected to further improve in 2019 and 2020 once more airline routes open and demand returns,” Lund said.
The Soho Square entertainment center in Sharm El-Sheikh is one of many tourism businessess in the resort that stand to benefit from the return of Russian visitors.
“We have heard news of flights resuming and we hope we will have more tourists from Russia now,” said a spokesperson for the center.
Before the Arab Spring unrest in Egypt in 2011, hotels in Red Sea resorts enjoyed about 83 percent average occupancy. But the sector has since struggled to recover, with successive attacks by militants thwarting every sign of recovery.
Still, it could be months before Red Sea destinations and the rest of Egypt enjoy any benefits from the resumed flights of Aeroflot and EgyptAir this month.
“Even with the summer season approaching, many tourists from Russia for the past several years have instead been heading to Dubai and the wider UAE — notably because of the tranquility and security there,” said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at London-based consultancy StrategicAero Research. “It will be a hard sell in the interim for both airlines.”
In the UAE, tourism agencies in Dubai and Ras Al-Khaimah have been aggressively courting Russian tourists through roadshows in Russia and are putting on more charter flights to fill their seafront hotels and hotel apartments as visitors avoid Egypt and Turkey — another country where tourist spots have been targeted by bomb attacks.
To increase demand, Aeroflot and EgyptAir are expected to keep ticket prices at competitive levels.
“Profitability will be almost
nonexistent because both Aeroflot and EgyptAir will have to depress pricing to entice travelers back,” Ahmad said. “Once they get robust forward bookings, perhaps then there could be a price hike that would bolster yields, but this will take a good few months.”
About 8.3 million tourists visited Egypt last year, a 54 percent jump compared with 2016, earning
$7.6 billion in revenue, up
123 percent from the previous year. The country received a record
14.7 million tourists in 2010, a year before the Arab Spring broke out.
Hotel owners are banking on the long-term recovery of the tourism market in Egypt with five-star properties in the pipeline.
Africa’s first Waldorf Astoria, with 247 rooms, is expected to open in Cairo’s Heliopolis this year. It will be part of a complex that also houses a 593-room Hilton.
The British travel operator Thomas Cook reported “a strong recovery in demand for Egypt” during the winter season that pushed overall bookings up. Summer bookings to Egypt also showed growth, it said in February.


Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

Hussain Sajwani
Updated 18 March 2019
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Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

  • Brexit a “concern” for UK property market says Sajwani
  • Developer mulls investing “up to £500 million” on London project

LONDON: The Dubai-listed developer Damac says it is scouting for additional plots of land in Saudi Arabia, both in established cities and the Kingdom’s emerging giga-projects such as Neom.
Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Damac Properties, also said the company would look to invest up to £500 million ($660 million) on a second development in the UK, and that it is on track to deliver a record 7,000 or more units this year.
Amid a slowing property market in Dubai, Damac’s base, the developer is eying Saudi Arabia as a potential ground for expansion for its high-spec residential projects.
Damac has one development in Jeddah, and a twin-tower project in Riyadh — and Sajwani said it is looking for additional plots in the Kingdom.
“It’s a big market. It is changing, it is opening up, so we see a potential there … We are looking,” he said.
“In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is the biggest economy … They have some very ambitious projects, like the Neom city and other large projects. We’re watching those and studying them very carefully.”
The $500 billion Neom project, which was announced in 2017, is set to be a huge economic zone with residential, commercial and tourist facilities on the Red Sea coast.
Sajwani said doing business in Saudi Arabia was “a bit more difficult or complicated” that the UAE, but said the country is opening up, citing moves to allow women to drive and reopen cinemas.
He was speaking to Arab News in Damac’s London sales office, opposite the Harrods department store in Knightsbridge. The office, kitted out in plush Versace furnishings, is selling units at Damac’s first development in the UK, the Damac Tower Nine Elms London.
The 50-storey development is in a new urban district south of the River Thames, which is also home to the US Embassy and the famous Battersea Power Station, which is being redeveloped as a residential and commercial property.
Work on Damac's tower is underway and is due to complete in late 2020 or early 2021, Sajwani said.
“We have sold more than 60 percent of the project,” he said. “It’s very mixed, we have (buyers) from the UK, from Asia, the Middle East.”
Damac’s first London project was launched in 2015, the year before the referendum on the UK exiting the EU — the result of which has had a knock-on effect on the London property market.
“Definitely Brexit has cause a lot of concern, people are not clear where the situation will go. Overall, the market has suffered because of Brexit,” Sajwani said.
“It’s going to be difficult for the coming two years at least … unless (the UK decides) to stay in the EU.”
Despite the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, Sajwani said Damac was looking for additional plots of land in London, both in the “golden triangle” — the pricey areas of Mayfair, Belgravia and Knightsbridge, which are popular with Gulf investors — and new residential districts like Nine Elms.
Sajwani is considering an investment of “up to £500 million” on a new project in the UK capital.
“We are looking aggressively, and spending a lot of time … finding other opportunities,” he said. “Our appetite for London is there.”
Damac is also considering other international property markets for expansion, including parts of Europe and North American cities like Toronto, Boston, New York and Miami, Sajwani said.
The international drive by Damac comes, however, amid a tough property market in the developer’s home market of Dubai.
Damac in February reported that its 2018 profits fell by nearly 60 percent, with its fourth-quarter profit tumbling by 87 percent, according to Reuters calculations.
Sajwani — whose company attracted headlines for its partnership with the Trump Organization for two golf courses in Dubai — does not see any immediate recovery in the emirate’s property market, or Damac’s financial results.
“(With) the market being soft, prices being under pressure, we are part of the market — we are not going to do better than last year,” he said. “This year and next year are going to be difficult years. But it’s a great opportunity for the buyers.”
But the developer said Dubai was “very strong fundamentally,” citing factors like its advanced infrastructure, safety and security, and low taxes.
In 2018, Damac delivered over 4,100 units — a record for the company — and this year, despite the difficult market, it plans to hand over even more.
“We’re expecting north of 7,000,” Sajwani said. “This year will be another record.”