Hoteliers in Dubai are trying to tempt pilgrims to stop over in the emirate on their way to Saudi Arabia to make up for an expected slump in business next month during Ramadan.
The GCC is usually the most important market for Dubai hotels during the summer months, a low season for the industry as many Europeans are put off by the soaring temperatures.
This year, Ramadan takes place throughout August. Most GCC nationals prefer to spend the holy month at home.
The dual impact of Ramadan falling during the slowest month in the year has prompted hoteliers to launch â€œpilgrim packagesâ€ as they seek out alternative markets. Ramadan is a peak time for umrah trips to Saudi Arabia. About 4 million pilgrims travelled to Saudi Arabia for umrah throughout last year.
â€œWe are trying to link the stopover for many of the Muslims who are travelling from India, Pakistan, Iran, and they go for umrah in Saudi Arabia,â€ said Habib Khan, the general manager of the Arabian Courtyard Hotel and Spa in Dubai. He said the packages were likely to include iftars and suhoors.
Indonesia and Malaysia were other potential markets for this business, he said, adding that the pilgrims could be persuaded to stop over either on the way to Saudi Arabia or on their way back.
â€œThatâ€™s an opportunity to give them a special offer and reach out to them,â€ Mr Khan said. â€œIf they get a good offer, they will stop over and stay for two or three nights.â€
The Ramada hotel in the Downtown Burj Khalifa area is also trying to attract pilgrims, aiming to draw stopover business from the large Muslim communities in South Africa and the UK.
â€œThey have to transit via Dubai,â€ said Wael El Behi, the executive assistant manager at Ramada Downtown Dubai. â€œThis is another market which can generate a good proportion of business. There is another factor to consider, which is the inventory in town.
â€œThe room inventory is increasing. We have to be tactical in our approach to win new business. Our expectations for the month of July, because of the Dubai Summer Surprises, will be 85 to 87 percent occupancy, while for the month of Ramadan our target is a maximum of 60 percent occupancy.â€
Mr El Behi said the room rates could more than halve next month compared with their present rates.
An influx of tourists from the GCC, in particular Saudi Arabia, has helped hotels in Dubai to achieve high occupancy levels in the past few months.
Beach hotels in Dubai benefited from an 11 percent increase in revenue per available room, a key industry indicator, during the first four months of the year, according to the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle. Occupancy levels across Dubai reached 81 percent, compared with 77 percent in the same period last year.
Dubai hotels will also be targeting their home market, with packages for UAE residents to attract guests from neighbouring emirates.
Tourists from China could also help to counteract the expected decline next month.
â€œThe Chinese market will come because of the low prices,â€ Mr Khan said. â€œMy hotel has seen a threefold increase in the months of May and June.â€
He said that Chinese tourists made up 15 percent of all guests at the hotel during that period.