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Cleartrip, Taj Hotels to spread wings in West Asia

By Aneesh Phadnis & Shally Seth Mohile
October 23, 2019 22:39 IST

Cleartrip acquired Saudi travel firm Flyin last July and it provides bilingual ground support service and itineraries for inbound tourists.

Indian travel and hotel brands, including Cleartrip.com and Taj Hotels, are expanding their operations in West Asia, a region whose countries are focusing on tourism, among other areas, to reduce dependence on crude oil.

The latest to woo foreign travellers is Saudi Arabia, whose government announced an e visa-scheme last month.

 

"We see the easing of visa regulations as a significant growth driver for inbound traffic to Saudi Arabia.

"According to recent figures published by their foreign ministry, 24,000 tourists visited Saudi Arabia in the first 10 days after introduction of tourist visas.

"We  see this figure increasing in times to come," said Amit Taneja, chief business officer (international markets) at Cleartrip.

The online portal established a presence in West Asia during 2012.

The region now accounts for around half its consolidated revenue.

Cleartrip acquired Saudi travel firm Flyin last July and provides bilingual on-ground support services and itineraries for inbound tourists.

Indian Hotels Company (IHCL) and East India Hotels, which own the Taj and Oberoi chains, respectively, operate properties in Dubai.

Elsewhere, they have other properties under development.

"The Middle East is a significant market for us, 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 a hotel each in Dubai this year and the next.

And, has tied up for its first hotel at Makkah in Saudi Arabia.

The latter, part of a large urban rejuvenation project there, will open in January 2023.

The region's attractiveness for Indian companies comes, as mentioned earlier, in the backdrop of a push to diversify their economies.

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 the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 plan; 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 (a luxury wellness master plan), with the intention of attracting international leisure tourists.

"Previously, international tourism in Saudi Arabia was focused on religious and corporate travelers only," says Christopher Lund, head of hotels at Colliers International for the 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."

Cleartrip is a major player in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, while foraying into Jordan and Lebanon, he said.

Venkatesh says IHCL is keen to expand in West Asia - their attention is on Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Muscat, Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah and Bahrain.

"We have seen substantial customer crossover between India and 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.

Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters

Aneesh Phadnis & Shally Seth Mohile in Mumbai
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