(MENAFN - Arab News) The Eastern Province has seen a dramatic rise in the number of hotels and furnished apartments in the last two years.
From just about 45 three-star, four-star and five-star hotels in 2005, the region now has nearly 85 hotels. Sixteen hotels are under construction and are due for completion in the next two years, according to latest tourism data released.
Two years ago, there were only 340 furnished apartments. Now the province boasts of nearly 640 such plush housing units.
The major tourist attractions in the Eastern Province are located in Al-Hasa, Dammam and Alkhobar and An-Nariya.
"Once upon a time there were only three major hotels in Dammam and Alkhobar," said Hammad Al-Motairi, a hotel industry and tourism expert. "One was the Al-Gosaibi Hotel in Alkhobar and the other two were the iconic Le Meridien Alkhobar and The Dammam Sheraton."
In the last two years, the region has witnessed a surge in the tourism industry and some of the most prestigious hotel chains started rushing in to cash in on the boom.
Among the top hotel names that added prestige to the region were Movenpick, Novotel, Sofitel, Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, Park Inn, Crown Plaza and Coral.
"All these chains are here and they are doing good business," said Waleed A. Batarfi, a hotel industry watcher. "A number of hotels are under construction and they are big names such as Kempinski and Rotana."
According to newspaper columnist Abdulateef Al-Mulhim, the increased traffic from Riyadh has resulted in the mushrooming of hotels. "But I still feel that Jubail needs more hotels in view of the massive projects that are taking place there," he told Arab News.
Al-Mulhim, who has spent a big part of his life in Alkhobar and Al-Hasa, said, "The Al-Gosaibi Hotel in Alkhobar and the Intercontinental in Al-Hasa changed the culture of hospitality industry; they were the pioneers and then other followed suit."
The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), headed by Prince Sultan bin Salman, is being widely credited for creating an awareness about establishing a robust tourist infrastructure in the region.
"The series of conferences, seminars and roundtable discussions and the number of tourism awards that were instituted to acknowledge good hotels provided the real thrust toward making this region an ideal place for tourism," said Thamer Al-Shehri, a travel and tourism consultant. He feels that the awarding of licenses to Qatar Airways and Gulf Air to operate domestic flights will lead to the doubling of tourist traffic in the next two years.
"Better air connectivity means more tourist arrivals, and more tourists means more business and more business means more money in the region, all this has raised the share of the Eastern Province," said Al-Shehri.
By SIRAJ WAHAB