More Dubai hotels going alcohol-free, says top official

Dubai chamber boss says hotels are turning dry to tap into lucrative Islamic travel market

The alcohol-free Rose Rayhaan hotel in Dubai.

The alcohol-free Rose Rayhaan hotel in Dubai.

Dubai has long been known as the playground of the Middle East, where Westerners can drink in some of the flashiest bars in the world.

But hotels are increasingly choosing to become alcohol-free zones in a bid to tap into the growing, and often lucrative, Islamic market, Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry president and CEO Hamad Buamim said.

Alcohol can be legally served in licensed hotels and sporting venues across the emirate and the liberal laws attract tourists and expats by the droves.

But Buamim said the increase in the number of Muslim tourists, especially those cashed-up and coming from wealthy oil states such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, meant some investors were changing tact.

“Certain hotels have started in the last few years where, for example, they don’t have alcohol served in the hotel,” he said.

“This is by itself kind of qualified them, if we were to label them, to be halal hotels. But we’re starting to see more and more of these ones.

“I would say the encouragement is really the investors themselves. Everybody nowadays they talk about Saudis as the biggest market coming to Dubai ... and most of us known that Saudis, especially families, they like hotels with such [halal] labels.

“I know they are limited but they are expanding. There is nothing from the government saying that ‘we need this much’ but we encourage investors to consider something like this.”

The number of alcohol-free hotels remains a tiny percentage of the total rooms in Dubai but Buamim said at least one-third of all the tourists arriving were from Muslim countries.

“Of course Muslim tourists are not necessarily in such [alcohol-free] hotels but this is becoming an opportunity,” Buamim said.

“I remember Dubai always being marketed overseas with a certain lifestyle, maybe this can be also boosted more by going to other markets and marketing Dubai with different images.”

Other cities, including places like London, also are beginning to tap into the Islamic travel market.

Thomas Reuters global head of Islamic finance Sayd Farook said MENA markets represented 60 percent of global tourism expenditure, creating enormous business opportunities for cities worldwide, not only in Islamic countries.

“Imagine the influence that catering to the Muslim markets can have on types of tourism, whether it’s in Dubai or it’s in the UK or it’s in America,” he said.

Other Gulf cities already have numerous alcohol-free hotels as well as dry zones.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are completely dry, while in December 2011 alcohol was controversially banned at Doha’s Pearl Qatar.

The ban has been blamed for subsequent falls in revenue and numerous restaurant closures months later, including an eatery owned by international chef Gordon Ramsey.

However, general manager of retail leasing at the development, Ehab Kamel, argued the change attracted more visitors.

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Please post responsibly. Commenter Rules

Posted by: Sara Ahmed

A Westerner is free to drink alcohol but a Muslim is not free to avoid smelling its stench! A Westerner is free to swim semi-naked but a Muslim is not free to enjoy a pool without seeing appalling nakedness.That is understandable outside Muslims countries but not for Muslims in Muslim countries?
Why can't we have alcohol-free hotels and alcohol-free flights free from the stink of alcohol? Why don't we have segregated modest swimming pools where women have their privacy and men don't have to swim next to nearly naked flesh? 60% of tourists come from MENA yet we don't have the freedom to live our chosen way of life? always compromising to guarantee other cultures freedom without thinking our own freedom.

Posted by: Mike Richardson

Believe me, not all saudis like halal hotels. There are many saudis who drink alcohol whilst staying in 5 star hotels in dubai, ask anyone who works in the top hotels in Dubai. There is a reason they flock to bahrain and dubai other than tourism, its for alcohol.

Posted by: Rashid

Totally agree. I think it is bad that our focus is only on Saudis.

Posted by: ian

note to journalists

the word in the context of the report is 'tack' (as in sailing) not 'tact'


Posted by: leo50

Why not have both alcohol and alcohol free hotels? Market forces will prevail and there should be freedom of choice. The Saudi and Kuwait markets are also crucial to Dubai Inbound Tourism. Many people here are well aware that in previous days the Bahraini Hotels were largely kept going by the influx of visitors from these countries and particularly over the weekends after the causeway was opened, and I am talking locals and not expats.

Posted by: Zack

Let's admit it that Dubai/UAE is the best among all GCC at all. What I love about this country is its security. Everyone respect the law here. I hope it remains as is. You have it all here, temples, mosques, churches and bars. It's all up to you my friend; you know exactly where to go. In my opinion, it's not wise to ban alcohol here. And I highly agree with BrianJ, that UAE will always be a very attractive destination for all kind of nationalities.

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