UAE : Abu Dhabi An Expensive Business Destination


Abu Dhabi, a costly business destination

ABU DHABI - AUG 10: The capital’s new-found status as the world’s second most expensive business destination is causing headaches for firms keen to carve out a niche for the city as a top conference venue, event organisers said yesterday.

Abu Dhabi is second only to Moscow in the average cost of hotel accommodation, according to a report by the Hogg Robinson Group, an international business travel firm.

And while the remainder of the world’s most costly business tourism destinations saw double-digit price slumps during the first half of the year, room rates in Abu Dhabi rose by five per cent.

Business travellers visiting the capital can expect to pay an average of Dh1,390.22 (US$378.50) per room per night.

In Dubai during the same period, hotel rates tumbled by almost a quarter, to Dh1,003.23, as the global economic slowdown cut demand for rooms.

In Abu Dhabi, conference management companies complained that the high room rates were making the city uncompetitive. The upward pressure on prices would ease only as new hotels opened, they said.

“Although we work with a UK-based travel agent who [makes] our Middle East hotel bookings and secures good rates for us, expensive hotel rates are still a concern for us,” said the general manager of Nexus Holdings and Associates, Neil Manwaring, whose firm is staging the Middle East Broadcast Solutions (MEBS) 2009 conference in the capital.

“Hotel rates are not competitive, and when larger exhibitions are held, they tend to increase until a cap is put into place.”

However, despite the lower hotel prices in Dubai, Mr Manwaring ruled out a shift away from Abu Dhabi by his company.

“We will continue organising our events here in Abu Dhabi, because we feel it is the new hub and the biggest platform in the Middle East, but, obviously, the rates of hotel rooms here are a challenge for us.

“The solution is more hotel rooms, which will bring the prices down and force competitiveness,” he added.

“There is a lack of hotel rooms now compared to Dubai, but that will quickly change.”

The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) said the city currently had 13,000 hotel rooms, with a further 3,000 expected to open by the end of the year; 4,000 more are expected to become available next year.

The authority conceded that hotel prices were rising and attributed the trend to strong demand.

“Abu Dhabi is a place where business is still actively being done,” it said in a statement.

Akram Sabri, the general manager of Sky Conferences and Exhibitions, which is organising the Bonjour La France European Exhibition for later this year, spoke about the effect of higher hotel rates.

“We have a lot of people coming from France who have asked us for two or three-star hotels, thinking that the prices we gave them are so high because they are five-star hotels,” Mr Sabri said.

“They don’t care about where they are staying, as long as it is affordable, but we can’t offer them anything affordable.

“The exhibition and conference industry is important to Abu Dhabi.

“We are beginning to rent out our stands for less so we can entice exhibitors who will also have to consider hotel costs and flight costs.

“We know what the situation of hotels is like here in the city, so we try to find other ways to keep our clients.”

The high room prices should be seen in terms of market dynamics, said Reema Baroudi, a spokeswoman for the InterContinental, one of the city’s biggest hotels.

“By the end of October, there will be a number of new hotels opening and much more supply available.

“Normally, an increase in hotel supply would drive down prices, but there are so many projects being launched in Abu Dhabi, I would expect the number of business travellers to continue to increase.

“Whether or not the increased number of rooms will be enough to satisfy the increase in demand is difficult to know.”

Hotel chains including Fairmont, Radisson, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza are expected to open properties later this year.

The new, 499-room Yas Hotel will open this year at the heart of Abu Dhabi’s Grand Prix racetrack in time for the finale of the Formula One season in November.

Business travellers made up around 90 per cent of hotel guests, an increase from the 80 per cent in 2008, Ms Baroudi said.

“Abu Dhabi is a booming business centre. There are a lot of things happening in the city which continue to draw people here for work.”

Klaus Niefer, the deputy general manager of Le Meridien, said that the higher room rates reflected the fact that Abu Dhabi had been more sheltered from the worst effects of the global credit crunch.

“The people who are coming to Abu Dhabi are still mostly business people, and the supply of rooms is still quite moderate.

“The US and Europe has been worst affected [by the economic slowdown], and they felt the impact sooner, too.

“England is still a key feeder market for Dubai, particularly in the financial sector, so any impact felt in England as a consequence of the slowdown will be felt in Dubai.”

Abu Dhabi’s hotel market remains relatively small and undersupplied, according to Max Cooper, executive vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, the commercial real estate brokerage firm.

“The current stock of hotels is also heavily skewed to the upper tier segments, with approximately 58 per cent of hotel rooms being five-star and 32 per cent four-star,” he said.

“With a significant increase of hotel inventory coming on line by year end and over the next two years, it is expected there will be additional pressure on rates generally in this market as has been experienced in Dubai.”

European couple are charged over ‘greeting’ kiss

ABU DHABI - AUG 10: A European couple appeared in court yesterday charged with adultery and consensual dishonour for a greeting kiss.

IK, the woman involved in the kiss, pleaded guilty at the Criminal Court of First Instance to consensual dishonour, while ZV, the Russian man involved, is facing the more serious charge of adultery.

IK was asked by Judge Syed Abdul Baseer whether they had kissed.

She replied through the court translator: “It’s a normal greeting.”

“Maybe it’s normal in Russia,” Judge Abdul Baseer said.

Why the two were facing different charges was unclear.

IK denied smoking hashish but pleaded guilty to a charge of drinking alcohol.

Two other defendants, AS, a Russian man, and AR, a Moldovan woman, also denied using drugs.

ZV, AR and another defendant identified only as S denied consuming alcohol.

Their defence lawyer, Abdul Qader Ghazal, asked the judge to postpone the proceedings to allow the defence to prepare its case.

Judge Abdul Baseer granted an adjournment until August 16, when more details of the alleged offences are likely to emerge.

Mystery hair loss afflicts the UAE

ABU DHABI - AUG 10: Doctors and specialists are baffled by a phenomenon that appears to be hitting the UAE harder than most countries: hair loss.

More than a third of people living here say they have lost hair to some degree, with the problem hitting almost half of all women (47 per cent) questioned in a survey for The National by the pollster YouGov.

It found that 37 per cent of respondents had lost hair, with Emiratis and Arab and Asian expatriates being most affected.

The problem was most prevalent in the 21 to 29 age bracket, with 42 per cent saying they had lost hair, although the under-21s and the 30 to 39 age bracket were not far behind.

Among those groups, 35 and 39 per cent respectively reported hair loss. However, the differences between these three groups were not statistically significant.

Perhaps surprisingly, the group that claimed least hair loss was the over-40s, of whom only 26 per cent said they had been affected.

Opinions on the cause are almost as wide-ranging as the anecdotes of UAE hair loss themselves.

The quality of the water, dry weather conditions and even genetics have all been cited as possible causes. More likely, doctors say, is that some combination of these factors is at the root of the problem.

Shahn Beq, an Iranian-Canadian financial adviser, moved to Dubai from Toronto last year. Within a few months, he had noticed a problem.

“I realised I was losing more hair than usual,” he said. “I was always losing a lot of hair when I went to the shower, more than I should have been. I became quite concerned and did a little bit of research, talked to a couple of doctors.

“It was something I had to address very quickly. When you go through that stage of your life, and you look at yourself in the mirror, you become quite concerned.”

Mr Beq acknowledged that his age might be a factor, but said the rate of the hair loss was evidence of a greater problem. He has since sought medical help.

He added: “It could be chance, but in Toronto I was not shedding anywhere near as much hair as I have here. But after only three months of being here, it started. And when I first started complaining about this to my friends, I realised that it is a common problem here.”

Dr Safwan Khraisheh, a dermatologist at the Gulf Diagnostic Centre in Abu Dhabi, said hair loss was a “big, big problem” in the UAE compared with other countries. He said he treated up to 10 people a day, mainly women, for the complaint.

“Water might be an issue, because it used to be so salty, and stress may increase the condition.

“But first, you need to rule out diseases like anaemia or thyroid problems, which can lead to hair loss.

“Hair dye, which is very popular, and using a hair dryer all the time can make it worse. It is very, very common here – with men it is usually genetic, though.”

Dr Rolf Soehnchen, a dermatologist at the American Hospital Dubai, said the problem was “quite, quite obvious” and generally affected expatriate women between 25 and 45 years old.

One of the known causes is vitamin D deficiency. Last year, Afrozul Haq, a clinical scientist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi, said that women wearing abayas were not exposed to sunlight, leading to falls in their vitamin D levels. He said 65 per cent of the hospital’s female patients and 60 per cent of all male patients were deficient in the vitamin.

“We need research into this. We really do,” said Dr Khraisheh. “I recommend we screen for anaemia, thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies to see if there are big problems across the country.”

Katie Luckings, the manager of Hairworks, a women’s salon in Khalidiya, said about three quarters of her mainly expatriate clients suffered a degree of hair loss. Of those, around a quarter had lost more than half of their hair.

“Everybody feels the water is harsher and they feel itchy after a shower,” she said. “People think there is something wrong – it is quite a common thing. People are worried.”

Blaming the “excessive amount” of chlorine in the water, Amin Sheybani, the owner of the Vivandi Hair Spa in Dubai, said: “People coming to live here do feel they are losing more and more hair.”

He said the spa had installed filters in its showers to remove chlorine from the water, but Joseph Harrison, technical director with the Water Quality Association, a US body, said there was no evidence to link chlorine to hair loss.

A study in 2000 by Dermatology, a health journal, found that swimmers regularly exposed to chlorine suffered no greater rate of hair loss than non-swimmers.

Elie Hanna, the owner of the La Finesse salon at Le Meridien hotel in Abu Dhabi, said women tended to suffer more than men, and that people of all ages were affected.

“They feel very, very bad about it. But people need to learn to use products to protect their hair properly – they put something on one day and then don’t use it. And that is when it gets worse.”

Dr Sunoj Kalpadrumam Sukunuthan, a plastic surgeon at the Cosmolaser clinic in Sharjah, said he had performed close to 40 hair transplants in his first few months in the UAE – “a very high number”.

“You can expect to lose 100 hairs every day, that is normal,” he said. “But since I moved here, I look down in the morning and see 150 hairs on the pillow.”

Parking trial a success ... until it’s time to go home

DUBAI - AUG 10: Trial runs for paid parking caused longer than normal jams leaving two city malls yesterday, and shoppers anticipate even longer delays once the system is up and running.

The trials at Mall of the Emirates and Deira City Centre went without any hitches until motorists started leaving, when queues stretched back well inside the car parks.

“There need to be a lot more exits in this mall if this system is to work, otherwise there is bound to be long queues here all day,” said Abu Basti, a shopper at Deira City Centre.

Paid parking is being introduced to coincide with the opening of the Dubai Metro on September 9, to avoid the malls being used as unofficial park-and-ride facilities.

Until then, motorists will not be charged for parking but will still have to validate their tickets.

Another driver at Deira City Centre, Samir Vajrani, said the new system might discourage people from going to the mall at the weekend.

“It is impossible to get parking in here on weekends. Now, it will be impossible to get in and out of here,” he said. “The weekends will be really crowded and they will need people in the parking area to direct the traffic.”

Drivers at Deira City Centre agreed that the ticketing process was easy to understand. Staff were on hand to explain how the system worked.

“Luckily it is only a Sunday,” said Donald Sosnonski at Mall of the Emirates. “I can’t see it being a problem today but when it gets busy, there will be a lot of people queuing up to enter the mall, then to pay and leave the place.

“Weekends will be busy. I hope it works well with the traffic lights on the Al Barsha side of the mall because that can be jammed at times.”

Susan Daniels said she did not mind the new system – the problem was remembering to validate the ticket. “I didn’t drive up to the gates but I did walk the whole way to the car and then had to turn back to get it validated,” she said.

The malls, both run by the Majid al Futtaim Group, will introduce charges on September 10, a day after the opening of the Metro.

The first three hours will be free on weekdays, and for the first four hours at the weekend. It will be Dh20 (US$5) per hour after the free period and six to seven hours’ parking will cost Dh100.

More than seven hours will cost Dh150 and for cars left overnight there will be a charge of Dh350.

A lost ticket will cost D150 even during the free period. Cinema-goers and visitors to Ski Dubai will get an extra hour on their ticket if they present it at the cash desk.

Saghar Foroughi, from Iran, at first complained that paid parking was another expense for residents before she heard the plan was to deter Metro users from leaving their cars in the malls all day.

“That makes perfect sense. To be honest, I don’t know much about it, but if it’s free for the first three hours, I don’t mind,” she said.

Gary Thomas, from Scotland, said three hours of free parking is ample time to do his business in the mall.

“It is a matter of getting in and out as quickly as possible,” he said. “I think it is a great idea and should keep the car park free.”


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