By Joanna Hartley
Growing numbers of visitors from affluent Asian countries flock to Dubai on holiday.
Tourists from Asian countries such as India and Iran are patronising Dubai hotels in growing numbers, while Arab visitors from the GCC are declining, according to new figures from the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).
The shift in tourist demographics reflects Dubai’s growing appeal among newly affluent Asian consumers and a growing interest in the Gulf for exploring emerging alternatives such as Oman, analysts say.
The number of Asian visitors to Dubai in the first nine months of last year increased by 11 percent over the previous year, reproted Abu Dhabi daily, The National.
The two predominant contributors were Iran and India, which together made up more than half of the total from the region.
However, numbers of Arab tourists from the GCC fell by 15 percent, the figures showed.
The data also showed that the total number of travellers from the Middle East – including from countries such as Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon – dropped during the first nine months of 2008.
“GCC travellers are now looking at other emerging destinations in the region such as Jordan, Oman and Kuwait rather than revisiting Dubai,” said Caroline Bremner, the head of travel and tourism research at Euromonitor International, a global market research firm.
“There is a drop in Arab visitors because other countries in the region are becoming so competitive with prices and Dubai is far from being a cheap destination,” said Ms Bremner.
The total number of tourists visiting Dubai hotels in the first nine months of 2008 was 5.4 million, according to the DTCM figures.
This is 6 percent higher than the year before using the average quarterly figure of 2007 as a benchmark.
Europeans dominated the numbers, with 1.7 million tourists in the nine months, followed by Arabs and Asians, both around 1.3milion for the January-to-September period.
The DTCM is targeting the GCC market in a new marketing campaign announced last month to boost the number of tourists to Dubai in the face of the global economic crisis.
The plan includes deep discounts on room rates, ranging from 40 to 60 per cent, in addition to a 25 percent discount on the price of food and beverages during the Dubai Shopping Festival, which started on Thursday and will continue until Feb. 15.
Khalid Ahmed bin Sulayem, the director general of the DTCM, last month said the campaign was part of an effort to sustain tourist numbers in 2009 and other promotions would be announced throughout the year.
Ms Bremner said Dubai should target Asia too.
“I think that it’s a good idea of the DTCM to continue to target the GCC countries, but they should also start to target emerging markets in Asia like India and China because that’s where the growth levels will really come from.”
Analysts said Dubai could still exceed 2007’s total annual tourist figure of 6.9m, despite the reports of falling occupancy levels, particularly in December.
“Dubai could have easily attracted 1.4million visitors during the last quarter of 2008,” said Elie Armaly, the business development director of Roya International, a Dubai-based hospitality consultancy.
DTCM has previously said it did not plan to revise its target for 2015, to attract 15m tourists. Ms Bremner agreed.
“I think that in the coming two to three years, when the market will recover, there will be no need to revise the 2015 target.”
Well that was in the highflying ages, beginning of 2008. I would be interested how it is Q4/08 and beginning 09
with the implementation of the new visa regulations and with passport controls at the airport/entry points, DTCM or other government statistics should be available sooner in terms of the key feeder markets for Dubai, AD and the UAE... Transparancy would certainly help and support hoteliers to shift their actions and focus if necessary to adjust their business model to the market needs, while being supported by 3rd party data. Collecting and auditing hotel data requires a lot of time and I m not surprised that DTCM is not in a position to release Q4 08 figures and certainly not the one for early 09. But Q3 is long due and any other travel data relatated information will help operators, investors being more efficient. keeping the head in the sand and not assessing the situation from an objective point of view is not helping anyone. It's not a guarded secret that hotel operation is in the high sixities/low seventies occupency in early January.
Dubai will not be able to increase nor sustain on Tourism if the current cost of tourist visas are not reduced. Countries like Thailand, Malaysia & even Singapore are offering fantastic deals on hotels, shopping, activities & visa convenience. It's time the concerned authorities revamp their strategies & promote Dubai as an ideal destination. DSF has already showing this trend!
Expanding the tourist market is a positive phenomenon and helps mitigate regional swings in the fortunes of economic growth. In the early days of Islam, were not non-Muslims allowed in Mecca to circumambulate the Kaaba? While changing back to the policies of those days may not be currently possible, allowing non-Muslims into Saudi Arabia to travel along a ring road (distance circumambulation) around Mecca might appeal to many if there were historical and cultural attractions along the route. They might even get the odd convert to Islam as a byproduct of the investment. They could schedule certain times of the year for such activity so as to not interfere with traffic during the Hajj.