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niedziela, 24 kwietnia 2011

The many faces of Jeddah

Harriet Sinclair explores Makkah’s main gateway and finds a business hub and leisure destination that is also trying to capitalise on the increase in religious tourism to Saudi Arabia.
Mention the hospitality market in Saudi Arabia and many industry experts will comment on the dramatic increase of inventory in Makkah, the year-round appeal of Medina and the overall growth in religious tourism — which global information publisher Euromonitor International forecasts will continue to rise by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15%.
But although religious tourism means big business in the Kingdom; Makkah and Madinah are not the only markets pulling in travellers — Jeddah’s proximity to the holy city, combined with its seaside-resort appeal and business market, make it a serious contender in the Saudi Arabian tourism stakes.
Although it is growing at a relatively modest rate — particularly when comparing the new additions to the city with the proposed inventory in Makkah — the market in Jeddah has remained buoyant over the last few years, thanks mostly to its connection to Makkah, and in part due to its reputation as the preferred holiday destination of Saudis wanting to escape the summer heat of Riyadh and other inland cities.

Gateway to Makkah
Jeddah also benefits from religious tourism as a secondary market — pilgrims visiting the holy city of Makkah have to travel through Jeddah to reach their final destination; meaning the city has long been able to seize the opportunities that hosting religious travellers provides.

“Jeddah is the gateway to Makkah and as a result of this privilege, the city is getting hajjis or pilgrims upon their arrival for a couple of days until their arrangements in Makkah are made,” says Golden Tulip area general manager for Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Dabbas.
“Jeddah also acts as a hub for groups to congregate and stay after their visit to Makkah. For example Malaysians and Indonesians can stay in Jeddah for up to 10 days after they leave Makkah, and because the King Abdul Aziz airport in Jeddah is the one all visitors to Makkah arrive through, Jeddah gets a share in the religious tourism business — people have no choice but to come through Jeddah if they want to get to Makkah,” he adds.
Pilgrims wanting to visit Makkah may have to come through Jeddah — with many choosing to stay in hotels there — but with the increasing number of rooms in the holy city, hotels in Jeddah risk losing some of the religious tourists who would previously have stayed.
Jeddah Hilton and Qasr Al Sharq cluster general manager Wolfgang Maier says: “In the past Makkah was undersupplied, so Jeddah was used for Hajj groups to do the daily pilgrimage, but the authorities are now trying to move away from this.
“Encouraging everyone stay in Makkah means that there are more hotel rooms coming online there and that is having an effect on hotels in Jeddah — especially during the Hajj season which normally runs for two weeks in November.
In the past Jeddah was full of Hajj groups and they are now going directly to Makkah, so as the holy city grows in terms of room availability, religious tourism in Jeddah will suffer,” Maier asserts.
In addition to the increase in inventory in Makkah, there is another planned changed to the holy city’s links with Jeddah — the Haramain high speed railway, which will connect holy cities Makkah and Madinah with Jeddah, via the new King Abdullah Economic City.
The railway — phase one of which is planned to be completed in 2012 — is expected to make it easier and safer for Makkah and Madinah’s four million-plus pilgrims to reach their destinations, as well as ease road congestion in the heavily-populated cities.
“The railway will be a major improvement for all the cities involved,” says Soraka Al Khatib, head of Jones Lang LaSalle Saudi Arabia, Jeddah Branch.
“It will help with pilgrimage and it will definitely help a lot with the hospitality business and the office market.
There will be good transportation and a lot of developments in Jeddah, but on the other hand there is also a lot of investment in Makkah — they are looking at not only expanding the infrastructure, but also the merchandising, if you will; creating enough interest in Makkah for people to spend extra time there,” he continues.
Despite the increase in rooms coming online in Makkah, it is unlikely that Jeddah will completely lose out on the religious tourism market — particularly with the expansion of the King Abdullah Aziz airport that will include two new terminals and the extension of the southern terminal— as it will remain a port for pilgrims, who also may choose to take advantage of Jeddah’s location on the Red Sea and combine a trip to Makkah with a coastal break.

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