Saudi’s Seera Mounts Comeback to Report Operating Profit for 2022

Driven by the resurgence in demand for travel, Saudi Arabia-based travel services provider Seera Group reported its first yearly post-pandemic operating profit of $800,000 in 2022, compared to a loss of $76 million in 2021. This return to profit for the group for the year was mostly bolstered by Seera’s financial results for the third quarter in which the group had reported a post-pandemic operating profit of $8 million. In 2022, the group generated gross booking value of $2.5 billion, a 94 percent growth relative to the $1.3 billion recorded in 2021. Almosafer, Seera’s travel platform, which operates the consumer and business travel business lines, as well as the destination management company Discover Saudi and Hajj and Umrah tour operator Mawasim, achieved around 74 percent growth in gross booking value to $1.6 billion in 2022 compared to 2021. Almosafer noted that travel demand in 2022 surged across inbound, outbound and domestic tourism and at times, exceeded 2019 levels. With the full reopening of travel in 2022, the company noted that Almosafer’s consumer travel business saw an unprecedented surge in bookings, which led to an aggressive demand capture ahead of a full-blown travel season in 2022. Fueled by the unwavering appetite for leisure travel following the removal of nearly all pandemic travel restrictions in many countries across the world, Almosafer’s consumer business saw 2022 booking volumes exceed pre-pandemic levels. With an average of 35 percent share of booking volume, domestic tourism continued to be an important contributor to the success of the company’s consumer business. Seera also observed that the digital adoption rate for its travel management portal reached 40 percent in 2022 as companies made bookings through Almosafer Business’ digital portal. Seera continues to expand the group’s hospitality footprint nationwide, primarily in the mid-market and upper mid-market segments. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has also acquired a 30 percent stake in Almosafer for $412 million.

Signaling the next big leap for the United Arab Emirates’ hospitality industry, the global headquarters of the Fairmont Group, one of the world’s largest hotel operators, is reportedly moving from Paris to Dubai. Talking about choosing Dubai as the headquarters for the brand, Gulf News quoted Mark Willis, the newly-appointed CEO of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, who said, “Dubai has continued to strengthen its position as a global hub, and is currently a major center of attention, attracting some of the best talent and top global brands, companies and investors.” Willis, who was Accor’s CEO for the Middle East, Africa, India and Turkey until January this year, also said, “When it became official that I would be leading the Fairmont brand, we began discussing the location for the headquarters. While cities like New York and London naturally came to mind, I kept coming back to Dubai.” The other obvious reason for the choice of Dubai was the geographical proximity to Europe, Asia and Africa, where the Fairmont footprint is expanding. Also, with nearly 40 percent of Fairmont’s current developments taking place in India, the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, Willis said from Dubai the brand would be poised to take advantage of the huge opportunities across the region. After its acquisition by the Accor Hotels group in 2016, Fairmont moved its headquarters from Canada to Paris. In addition to Fairmont, the group owns and operates the Raffles and Swissotel brands.

The increase in airfares across the Middle East and Asia-Pacific was significantly above the global average even as airports continue to lose money, according to an Airports Council International (ACI) report. The airfare surge averaged 53 percent in nominal terms or 35 percent in real terms in 2022 compared to 2019. The constant increase in airfare poses a threat to the aviation sector’s full recovery in 2023, ACI noted. Even as airline yields that were 29 percent higher in 2022 than in 2019 in nominal terms. ACI noted that fares were trending down towards the end of the year as traffic recovered. However, the ACI report observed that airports are still losing money, with regional earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization and net profit margins being negative for the tenth consecutive quarter since 2020. “Despite substantial efforts by airports to freeze or lower airport charges in 2022, the average 53 percent increase in airfares throughout 2022, compared to 2019, reveals a fundamental imbalance in the financial stability of the industry and poses a threat to the sector’s full recovery in 2023,” said Stefano Baronci, director general of ACI Asia-Pacific. Fuel prices, wage inflation, insufficient seat capacity relative to demand and a lack of airline competition on specific routes, are the major determinants in the increase in airfares. “Efforts by airlines to recover losses incurred during the pandemic and increased debt and interest rates,” ACI observed. Among the routes covered in the study, those with strict travel restrictions and scarce frequencies and airlines competition recorded the largest airfare increases.

Saudi-based developer Jeddah Central Development Company has signed an agreement with Malta-based International Hotel Investments to set up its Corinthia brand of hotels within its beachfront lifestyle project in Jeddah. International Hotel Investments will be providing advisory services for the development and operation of these projects at Marina district located within the mega $20 billion Jeddah Central project. A part of the Jeddah Central’s 9.5-kilometer waterfront on the Red Sea, the Marina District will feature a world class marina equipped for local and international boats, yachts, and superyachts. Jeddah Central Development Company, a subsidiary of Saudi sovereign wealth fund Public Investment Fund and the master developer of the Jeddah Central development, said this comes as part of its strategic plan to create a local attraction and global destination in the heart of the Saudi port city. The deal with International Hotel Investments is mainly aimed at exploring co-operation in developing and operating assets within Jeddah Marina district, stated Ahmed Al Sulaim, CEO of Jeddah Central Development Company. The development is being implemented in three phases, the company said. The first one will be completed by 2027 following which it will start receiving Jeddah residents and visitors. The second phase is set for completion by 2030 and the rest after 2030, it added.

Expo 2020 Dubai and its legacy are expected to contribute $42.2 billion of gross value added to the United Arab Emirate’s (UAE) economy from 2013 to 2042, a report from Ernst & Young has shown. The World Expo, which welcomed 24.1 million visits during its six-month run, is also expected to support approximately 1,039,000 full-time equivalent job-years, equal to more than 35,000 full-time equivalent jobs per annum in the UAE over the same period. The EY reports states that sectors contributing most to gross value added — a measure of economic productivity — are events organization and business services ($20.6 billion), construction ($8.7 billion), and restaurants and hotels ($6.3 billion). From the outset, we were committed to hosting a World Expo that would achieve long-lasting economic, social and environmental benefits for the UAE, the region and the world, with positive impacts extending well beyond the six months of the event, said Reem Al Hashimy, UAE minister of state for international cooperation and CEO, Expo City Dubai Authority. “Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, we have delivered on that promise,” Al Hashimy said.  

Rosewood Hotels and Resorts has been selected by multi-project developer Red Sea Global to manage Rosewood Amaala in the Red Sea region of Saudi Arabia. Surrounded by the world’s fourth-largest reef and the scenic Hijazi mountains, Rosewood Amaala will focus on the well-being of its guests, the community, and the native flora and fauna — all while recognizing the integral connections between the three, a release from the company read. The property will feature 110 guest rooms and suites, and luxury 25 Rosewood Residences. With sustainability as the cornerstone of the property’s entire design, the larger Amaala development has set meaningful targets toward zero impact. The entire destination aims to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy and to have a zero-carbon footprint — with plans to be both zero waste to landfill. Rosewood Amaala joins the brand’s strong pipeline of projects set to open in the Middle East including Rosewood Doha (2023), Rosewood Riyadh (2025) and Rosewood Red Sea.

Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts has announced the seasonal reopening of its hotels in Mallorca and Capri. The Mallorcan clifftop retreat Jumeirah Port Sóller Hotel & Spa reopened for visitors on March 28 while the Capri Palace reopening in Anacapri is scheduled to take place on April 27. Jumeirah Hotels is keen to invest in more properties in Europe, Katerina Giannouka, CEO of Jumeirah Group had said at Skift’s Future of Lodging Forum in London last week. Having recently acquired Le Richemond in Switzerland’s Lake Geneva, Jumeirah with a 26-property portfolio now has five hotels in Europe. Talking about investing in more properties in Europe, Giannouka said in the medium-term Jumeirah also wants to grow through hotel management agreements.

United Arab Emirates national carrier Etihad Airways and China Southern Airlines are set to explore deeper and broader cooperation opportunities. Following Etihad’s move to Beijing Daxing International Airport, which is also China Southern Airlines’ hub, the agreement provides scope for expansion of the current codeshare co-operation and allows the partners to explore extending global flight networks beyond the two carriers’ hubs. This is further enhanced by Etihad services to China Southern’s home hub at Guangzhou Baiyuan, introduced in October 2022. The agreement also contains plans for mutual procurement opportunities across ground handling, cargo handling, bonded warehousing, catering, and maintenance, repair and overhaul in either Guangzhou, Beijing or Abu Dhabi, broadening cooperation opportunities in the airline supply chain, a release from Etihad stated. “Advanced cooperation between the two airlines sends a very strong signal to the industry and brings further hope of recovery for the global aviation and travel markets,” said Arik De, chief revenue officer of Etihad Airways.

With almost 52 percent of travellers from the United Arab Emirates searching for a trip of a week or less for the Easter break, Skyscanner noted that India was the top searched destination followed by UK and Egypt. Sharing travel insights for travellers from United Arab Emirates for the Easter break based on searches on Skyscanner, the flight marketplace further noted that almost 74 percent travellers preferred to travel on April 10. With Easter coinciding with Ramadan during 2023, travellers from the Middle East are planning their trips during this period and making the most of time with family and friends, said Ayoub El Mamoun, Skyscanner travel expert. Skyscanner further noted that the “Everywhere Search” appeared in the top 5 destinations indicating UAE travellers are remaining flexible and also considering a variety of destinations.

Sri Lanka’s first privately-owned carrier FitsAir will now be operating daily flights between Dubai International and Colombo. The airline, that started operations in October last year, has increased its from four times a week to daily. The daily service, operated on an Airbus 320 aircraft, commenced last week and comes just in time for the Sinhala and Tamil New Year in April, which witnesses an increase in demand on the route. Sri Lanka is part of Dubai International’s key regional market of South Asia with annual traffic between Dubai and the island nation exceeding 900,000 in 2022. Aviation veteran Peter Murray Hill serves as the vice president of passenger operations for the airline. Murray had earlier been the CEO of SriLankan Airlines while it was under the Emirates management, helming the airline from 1998 to 2007.

Marriott’s Aloft Hotels has announced plans to open Aloft Muscat in spring 2023, marking the brand’s debut in Oman. The hotel is expected to feature three dining outlets, places for guests to come together, including a Californian style eatery, an international restaurant with a Mediterranean twist, and the brand’s signature bar W XYZ.  Other facilities will include a rooftop pool and gym. Danny Al Chayeb has been appointed the general manager of the hotel. “A brand known for its design-driven and tech-savvy ethos, Aloft Muscat will bring a modern, friendly, and comfortable option for global travelers and a new hotspot for residents in the Sultanate,” said Al Chayeb.

Bahrain flag carrier Gulf Air has now started operations to the Indian beach destination of Goa. Goa is the ninth Indian destination that the airline is now flying into. In January, while announcing its summer routes, Gulf Air had said that it would be operating four flights per week to Goa’s Dabolim airport. “Our ninth Indian destination represents a qualitative addition to tourism, business and trade exchange between Bahrain and India,” said Waleed Al Alawi, Gulf Air CEO. Al Alawi hoped that it would soon become the one of the most popular destinations for the airline. Gulf Air had earlier announced that it would also be bringing back five seasonal summer routes tha had been operated in the 2022 summer. It will open a twice-weekly service to Alexandria and Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt from June 3 to September 13. The airline will also be flying twice weekly to Mykonos in Greece from June 1 to September 30. 

UK-based luxury long and short stay serviced apartments Cheval Collections is due to open its very first international property, Cheval Maison — The Palm Dubai on April 15. Cheval Maison — The Palm Dubai is an all-apartment boutique property located at Palm Jumeirah. The property consists of 131 contemporary apartments ranging from one to three bedrooms, as well as an opulent three-bedroom penthouse, all with fully equipped kitchens. “Our ambitious aims to expand both internationally and domestically are well underway with the launch of Cheval Maison – The Palm Dubai,” Mohammed S Alawadhi, managing director for Cheval Collection, said. The opening of this property and upcoming launches in Glasgow, UK of MY Locanda in 2024 and another Cheval Maison in 2025 mark the start of Cheval Collection’s impressive target to sign with four new properties every year as the demand for serviced apartments grows across the world, Alawadhi continued.

Francis McGee

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