Watch: Coronavirus quarantine in Saudi Arabia offers lifeline to struggling hotels

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Saudi Arabia has quarantined thousands of people in hotels, some in luxury suites, to combat COVID-19, throwing a temporary lifeline to an industry struggling just months after tourist visas were launched.

Faced with nearly 4,500 novel coronavirus infections, Saudi Arabia has halted air travel, locked down cities and imposed nationwide curfews in a crisis that has dealt a blow to the nascent tourism sector.

Offering a ray of hope, however, the government is splurging millions of dollars to quarantine thousands of overseas travelers and those exposed to infected people in otherwise empty hotels around the kingdom.

One four-star hotel in central Riyadh with 100-plus rooms was left with only five guests in mid-March when the Saudi government offered four million riyals ($1.06 million) a month for it to be used as a quarantine facility, an industry source told AFP.

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One of its larger sister hotels was offered six million riyals, added the source, who requested the names of the properties be withheld because of the stigma attached to the disease.

“This is better than running an empty hotel,” the source said.

“The staff had been preparing for layoffs, up to 50 percent pay cuts or leave without pay.”

But things are looking up, for now.

Such was the desperation from a slump in business that multiple hotel chains are chasing similar deals with the government, despite some reservations that being linked with COVID-19 could hurt their brand image in the long term, the source said.

Nearly 1,900 rooms in hotels and other tourism facilities in Riyadh had been reserved for quarantine cases, along with more than 2,800 in Mecca and another 1,900 in the kingdom’s eastern region, the tourism ministry said on its website at the end of March.

This week the ministry said 11,000 rooms around the kingdom had been prepared to quarantine Saudis stranded abroad who are expected to return to the country.

The government spending comes despite a precipitous fall in state revenue as oil prices plunge to multi-year lows.

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