By Ali Khaled

DUBAI // Hotels are pinning their hopes this summer on UAE residents.

UAE hotels are looking for customers closer to home. Courtesy of Anantara
UAE hotels are looking for customers closer to home. Courtesy of Anantara

Residents who plan to stay home for their holidays – so-called staycationers – are being offered some sweet deals by hoteliers eager to fill rooms.

“We are in our first year of opening and our strategy is to reach out predominantly to UAE residents for staycations and weekend getaways,” said Didier Tourneboeuf, the general manager of the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort in Liwa.

“Coupled with the fact that the market has been somewhat volatile for the past few years, I think the tourism industry in the UAE in general is a little unpredictable this summer.”

Hotels in the capital, such as The Aloft Abu Dhabi, are facing similar challenges. But Rene Camilleri, The Aloft’s director of sales, said falling occupancy rates are not an issue for him.

“Families tend to travel in summer [and] we have addressed this with a number of value offers rather than a simple cheaper base price,” he said. “We don’t expect the numbers to drop.”

Mr Camilleri also said that The Aloft, the only hotel in the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, was participating in the capital’s Summer in Abu Dhabi programme, which is attracting visitors from across the GCC.

John Podaras, the associate director at TRI Hospitality Consulting, says that hotels are being “very aggressive with prices by offering attractive rates and extras like breakfast and airport travel, as well as deals like ‘pay for three nights and get the fourth free’.”

A good number of hotels have opened in the UAE in the past two years, most of them projects begun before the global economic slump. “Clearly there is an increase in supply in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but judging visitor numbers is difficult,” Mr Podaras said.

“Globally tourism is down, but Dubai Airport figures show they are up. While that includes transits, many do tend to spend one or two days in Dubai before moving on.”

Recent high-profile additions to the hotel scene in Dubai include The Address Dubai Marina, The Armani Dubai in Burj Khalifa and a Sofitel in The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence. Furthermore, mainstream hotel chains such as Holiday Inn and Ibis have recently opened locations across the country.

That has led to a 13 per cent jump in available supply – to more than 64,000 hotel rooms and hotel apartments – in Dubai in the first quarter of the year. And the newcomers are working hard to carve their own niche in an overcrowded market, a strategy that includes an aggressive campaign to lure UAE residents.

For example, from August 1 through September 8, Dh895 gets you a deluxe room at the Atlantis in Dubai, including access to the Aquaventure Waterpark and the Lost Chambers.

The nearby Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s Summer Break package comes with a deluxe king-sized room and includes beach access and a buffet breakfast.

In the capital, Yas Hotel’s Mr & Mrs Summer Getaway promotion offers rooms from at Dh1,170 and includes one night for two guests, breakfast, a round of golf at the Yas Links Golf Club, dinner and a massage treatment for one guest, while the Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel & Resort is offering double rooms on the weekends for Dh599, including breakfast.

Another way that hotel operators are trying to offset the room glut is by offering managed-apartment residences or suites. These type of accommodation attracts longer-term customers, such as people on temporary contracts or corporate executives.

“The residences help us to target the entire length of the summer market, as we can provide rooms for single travellers, as well as larger apartments for families,” said Martin Kubler, manager of the recently opened Bonnington Tower Hotel in Dubai.

* With additional reporting by Rebecca Bundhun and Matthew Chung