Dubai tourism chiefs' ambitious target to attract 15 million international tourists by 2015 is achievable despite the current global economic downturn, an industry expert said on Tuesday.
However, Dr Cedwyn Fernandes, associate professor at Middlesex University who has also worked for over a decade in the airline industry, said tourism officials would need to change their focus and look east for a growing number of tourists.
He also said more emphasis needs to be placed on the budget end of the market rather than the luxury market, at which Dubai has traditionally excelled.
He predicted that in the near future there would be a significant change in the numbers and demographic of tourists and the infrastructure should be in place to meet the increased numbers.
"The tourism authority in Dubai should focus its marketing plans on attracting tourists from the Arab countries and Indian sub-continent. Moreover the tourist's facilities should also be designed to cater to the needs of the Arab and Indian sub-continent visitors," he said.
Speaking at the Middlesex University's Research Seminar series in Dubai, Fernandes said that the elasticity of demand for tourism from Arab countries was highly income elastic and proper marketing strategies should be put in place to increase the number of tourists from these countries.
His study covered tourists arriving in Dubai from 30 countries over a period of 10 years spanning from 1997 to 2006.
Using this data, the study linked the demand for tourism to real income of the tourists, relative prices between the tourist's home country and UAE and hotel accommodation costs in Dubai.
He added: "Tourists from European, North America and Japan had a positive income elasticity of demand for tourism and a negative impact of relative prices.
"Some evidence of these findings can be seen in the current recessionary trends across developed countries where tourism demand from these countries is on the decline. The strengthening of the Dirham vis-à-vis European currencies has made Dubai a more expensive place with a resultant fall in tourists from these countries."
The study also showed that for visitors from the Indian sub-continent, income was not a significant variable in the demand for tourism to Dubai.
"One reason for this is that there exists a large pent up demand for tourism to Dubai from this region and the numbers of people who can and want to visit Dubai is large," he added.
The expert suggested that the marketing strategy of Dubai Tourism should be focused on how to actualise this demand, for a start it should look at easing visa procedures.
"Dubai has one of the highest hotel room rates in the world and in order to draw in a larger number of visitors, emphasis should be on budget hotels too," said Fernandes.