By Helal Almarri
New theme parks, hotels and marketing strategy will make Dubai evermore urgent as a destination for business and leisure tourists.
Over the years, the emirate’s travel sector has grown dramatically – well over global industry average – supported by infrastructure and investment, furthering its position as a key pillar of Dubai’s highly diversified economy.
Looking back at 2015, the wider tourism industry offers us a unique perspective to reflect on and evaluate Dubai’s travel and tourism sector, in terms of what these past 12 months have delivered within broader macro dynamics, the underlying drivers of our growing contribution to the emirate’s GDP, and the sources of sustainable competitiveness as we plan for the future.
Not dissimilar to many other consumer-oriented sectors, global travel has seen a fairly volatile year on the back of a challenging macro-economic climate, forcing us to innovate constantly in order to sustain the 7-9 percent annual growth that Dubai’s tourism sector has traditionally achieved.
Yet we retained growth by responding with agility, diversifying our markets, and being highly targeted in capturing very specific segments within existing markets. As an example, our double-digit percentage growth in visitors from China, the UK, Germany, India and the GCC, in addition to efforts to penetrate Africa and South East Asia, have more than offset the deficit from traditional feeder markets and have collectively allowed us to deliver over 11.7 million international overnight visitors to Dubai in just the first 10 months of 2015.
Heading into 2016, we will be steadfastly working towards achieving His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s strategic vision for Dubai – to make it the number one destination for travel, business and events.
The 2016 growth agenda also remains in sync with our 2013 strategic plan, as well as the announced target of attracting 20 million visitors per year by 2020. Certainly our learnings over the last two years will inform our strategies, investment decisions and marketing approach to being highly targeted, driving greater consideration, and elevating the urgency to visit Dubai as the destination of choice for both business and leisure audiences.
In terms of our visitor mix, we always adopted a diversified market strategy, building on the convenience and accessibility of Dubai as the global hub for travellers. This core focus on pursuing a fragmented multi-source visitation mix has been important in shielding us from over-reliance on any one country or region.
Dubai will continue to work on building brand awareness and addressing perception gaps in new markets that offer opportunities to penetrate a fast-growing, mass-affluent segment that we seek to attract as visitors.
Emerging markets in the CIS and Eastern Europe, the mature travel markets of Scandinavia, high-consumption markets across China, and Asia Pacific and Africa are some of the regions we expect to tap into with increased flight connectivity, open and streamlined visa policies, and a broad destination appeal that offers something for all travel segments.
Looking further afield at markets where we have direct flight connectivity, we see every visitor to Dubai International Airport as a potential future tourist to Dubai, and have been working closely with the travel trade, hotel and airline sectors to create convenient and easily accessible transit programmes.
Equally important are the markets within our top 10 sources for inbound tourism that have been the stronghold traffic generators, and will be the priority for us to penetrate in a more targeted fashion.
When establishing our long-term strategy, we outlined eight core pillars of Dubai’s destination offering that in turn feed into the agenda for delivering the most comprehensive offering to the international business, leisure and event travel communities.
In addition to catering for the evolving demands of these segments, positioning Dubai as the number one destination for family travellers has been another cornerstone of our strategic agenda.
On the family front, with more hotel developments being incentivised to have family-centric service and product offerings, and with several theme park developments coming on line in 2016, we expect to become more attractive as a vacation destination for young families over the coming 18-24 months.
Dubai’s mature business and consumer events industry has been a key economic contributor for decades, making the delivery of a strong and regularly renewed annual calendar of global ‘must-attend’ events core to the value-creation agenda for tourism.
Working closely with our partners Emirates and FlyDubai, which are launching new routes and adding capacity to existing ones, we will synergise our marketing and promotional efforts, and leverage each other’s investments to yield optimal returns for Dubai.
On the cruise front, Dubai continues to strengthen its regional hub status with seven liners electing to make us their home port that will in turn drive increases in traffic for the mid-market hotel segment.
Hotel inventory through 2015 has seen a healthy growth of circa 7 percent, just short of the growth in tourist volumes, and has been able to sustain occupancy levels – a trend that will continue as we closely monitor the pipeline of new developments and ensure the product mix is well aligned with audience requirements.
A new initiative that Dubai Tourism plans to launch in 2016 is the Dubai College of Tourism, which seeks to not only define service standards and educate all tourist-facing staff to deliver a service baseline reflective of the ‘Dubai’ brand, but also equip the domestic and international travel sales network on our product offering so we are more effective in our outreach.
We have also made significant strides in making visas more accessible and the related process more streamlined during 2015. These efforts will continue through 2016 at both the local and federal government levels.
The strength and stability of the tourism sector and our achievements, particularly through these past 12 months, are reflective of the collaboration and collective contribution of government, public and private sector stakeholders.
The power and spirit of these partnerships are crucial for us to build on the foundation that we have laid, and accelerate the pace of growth during 2016, in order for us to ensure that Vision 2020 is brought to life for Dubai.
Helal Almarri, Director General of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism).