Site visit: Wyndham Garden, Ajman

Upper mid-market hotels like Wyndham Garden are rapidly emerging in Ajman, signalling an exciting time for tourism in the Northern Emirates.

The project is expected to be completed by August.
The project is expected to be completed by August.

For many tourists, Dubai is often the first place that comes to mind when planning a UAE getaway, and understandably so – with sprawling beaches, massive waterparks, and a range of five-star resorts, the city has a vast array of tourism-oriented attractions.

Of late, however, Ajman has been emerging as an increasingly attractive leisure destination. Its hospitality market is booming, with a host of upper mid-scale hotels and resorts springing up along the emirate’s rapidly changing waterfront.

UAE-based hospitality company, R Hotels, has seen the benefits of investing in Ajman over the last couple of years, with two of its Ramada hotel branches already in operation in the emirate.

The outfit is now building the first Wyndham Garden hotel in the UAE. Located on the Ajman corniche, it is one of a a number of resort projects that are currently under construction along the emirate’s coastline.

“This development is one of the newest brands from Wyndham Hotel Group, and it will be the first Wyndham Garden in the UAE,” says Iftikhar Hamdani, cluster general manager of Ramada Hotel & Suites Ajman.

The 17-floor Wyndham Garden Ajman Corniche is a four-star hotel that will feature 179 guest rooms, including 138 standard rooms and 41 suites. Set to open in October 2017, the hotel’s construction is currently in full swing, with structural works fully completed, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) works more than 40% complete.

With a $54.5m (AED200.2m) real estate value, construction on the hospitality project officially began on 6 January, 2016, and is expected to be completed this August.

“Air-conditioning set-up is also 40% complete, and lift installation is now in progress,” says Asrar Masoodi, R Hotels’ cluster chief engineer for the project.

Electrical connections were established in July, and façade and aluminium works will be finalised by August. Alhamad Building Construction is the project’s main contractor.

Six subcontractors are currently working on the hotel. These include Kitchen Solutions for kitchen equipment; Aluglass Tech for aluminium works; Wood Tech for interior design; ABL for heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC); and NAFFCO for fire-fighting solutions.

Sustainability is also a key facet of the new Wyndham Garden hotel, which will include energy-efficiency features, such as solar water heating.

Although Hamdani admits that the project has been slightly delayed – by  only 15 days – he emphasises that all construction work is set to be completed on schedule, adding that the team is currently working to make up time.

However, despite this minor delay during the project’s initial construction, both Hamdani and Masoodi agree that the collaboration between the contractor, consultant, and client teams has been the project’s greatest strength.

“We have weekly meetings with everyone on the team, including the suppliers, to ensure that there are no problems,” Hamdani says.

“Our main priority is getting the project completed on schedule.”

R Hotels currently has several hotels in operation across Dubai and Ajman, including the Ramada Hotel & Suites Ajman; the Ramada Beach Hotel Ajman; the Ramada Downtown Dubai; the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham JBR [Jumeirah Beach Residence], Dubai; and the Ibis Styles Dubai Jumeira.

Hamdani says he expects that around 80% of the new hotel’s occupancy will be sourced from the leisure market. However, the highest demand, Hamdani adds, is expected to come from sports tourism. A key focus for this hotel will be on international teams coming to compete in the UAE.

“We have specifically designed the rooms in the hotel to accommodate sports teams, especially for cricket, football, and basketball players coming from local emirates, and from abroad, for competitions,” he says.

With several free zones close by – including the Hamriyah Free Zone in neighbouring Sharjah – Hamdani also expects to see a significant volume of corporate tourism.

“We have already signed a contract for 50 rooms on a back-to-back basis with a German operator,” he says, without disclosing the name of the operator.

“As an upper mid-scale project, we are targeting mainly tourists from Russia, Central Asia, the Baltics, and the Balkans, as well as some German tourists,” he adds.

Hamdani explains that while occupancy rates in the UAE are lower than last year, the upper mid-market Ramada Hotel & Suites Ajman has witnessed occupancy rates of more than 70% this summer, while many hotels across the country are “barely scraping 50%”.

According to an EY Hotel Benchmark Survey report, all Middle East and North Africa (MENA) markets witnessed a decline in room yield in the first quarter of 2017 compared to Q1 2016, with the exception of Cairo, Beirut, and Kuwait.

In the UAE, however, Dubai hotels maintained the highest occupancy rates in the first quarter of the year, at 86.8%, though summer months in the region may pose a challenge for the country’s hospitality industry.

“I do not think this is due to an economic crunch, but [it has] more to do with factors such as the timing of the Holy Month of Ramadan, as well as the usual lull in occupancy [experienced] during the summer months in the Gulf,” Hamdani explains.

For Ajman’s wider hospitality and tourism industry, Hamdani says that demand is strengthening as the emirate starts to develop its identity as a leisure destination with its own clientele.

Some visitors – from overseas as well as other UAE emirates – are now coming specifically to Ajman in order to take advantage of its lower hotel rates and to enjoy the calm and relaxing environment, he explains.

In addition, forward-looking legislation has also paved the way for Ajman’s tourism sector, Hamdani explains: “There were a lot of great decisions taken by the government [of the UAE] – like allowing visas on arrival for Russian [tourists], for instance – that have helped to fuel the [growth of the] hospitality industry in the country.”

Hamdani says the government of Ajman has also introduced a marketing plan to help further establish the emirate as a leading leisure destination in the coming years.

“The government has taken the lead in establishing Ajman as a leading tourist destination, through roadshows, as well as by implementing an aggressive marketing strategy for the emirate.

“[Authorities] have also come up with a plan to develop new attractions across the emirate – including retail developments like malls – while also continuing to develop and improve the city’s existing infrastructure. All of this contributes to improving the tourism sector in Ajman.

“We have very stiff competition in Ajman at the moment,” Hamdani adds, concluding that there are interesting times ahead for the northern emirate.

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