LONDON // Tourists could be enticed to the UAE with discounts, packages and bonuses as the country's travel industry tries to minimise the effects of the global financial crisis. Both the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and the Dubai Department of Commerce, Tourism and Marketing are attending the World Travel Market (WTM) in London to showcase the Emirates. Hopes for the tourism industry have dwindled since the crisis and activity at the WTM, the world's second largest tourism conference known for big announcements, has been muted.
For the second year Abu Dhabi is the WTM's top sponsor as part of efforts to increase its profile among tourists from Britain, who account for Abu Dhabi and Dubai's largest bloc of visitors. The UAE's economy has been cushioned by oil reserves, but the tourists who fill hotels and eat at restaurants come from the areas that will be worst hit by the global recession. The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority said it expected growth to slow, although it does not expect the crisis to be catastrophic for its long-term plans.
"In general, we cannot ignore the world financial crisis but how much this will affect Abu Dhabi is not certain," said Ahmed Hussein, the deputy director general of tourism with ADTA. "Abu Dhabi is a unique location and it's difficult to say how affected it will be at this time." If growth does fall significantly, Mr Hussein said Abu Dhabi could expect to roll out discounted hotel rates and other perks and incentives.
The ADTA's logo can be seen on banners at London's ExCeL conference centre, which was bought by the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company in May for Dh2.3 billion (US$626 million). "This shows presence," said Mr Hussein. "It shows how Abu Dhabi will be present in the whole tourism industry and in all of its aspects the industry is talking about us." Ian Scott, the director of the Dubai Representative Office in Britain, said the number of tourists coming to Dubai from the United Kingdom had remained strong as the Emirates entered the peak winter season and he did not expect it to drop.
He said the emirate's strategy would be two-fold to offset any problems: it would more effectively advertise the location to trade magazines and travel agents, and continue to fund its major projects. "When times are tough people might not do their third or their fourth holiday, but they're still going to go on holiday that's just the culture in the UK," Mr Scott said. "We're seeing people saying, 'We're not going to risk it, we're still going on holiday but it's got to be good. I need guaranteed sun and a guaranteed service level'. Dubai stands to gain from that."
To attract a market facing financial pressures, Karen Chotteau, the marketing manager from Ski Dubai, said the city's major attractions were starting to organise discounted packages for visitors. Hoteliers said it was too soon to start discounting rates and they would instead look at adding perks, such as a chauffeur service to and from the airport, or complimentary tours in order to attract guests.
Despite fears of a major decrease in the number of tourists, Michelle Grant, the research manager at Euromonitor, said the Middle East, and the UAE had not lost their lustre on the global stage. "The impact has yet to be felt and the Middle East is still an area of optimism and bright spot in global tourism slowdown." Abu Dhabi and Dubai comprise the bulk of the UAE's tourism sector but neither has re-evaluated its long-term targets as a result of the financial crisis. Dubai hopes to attract 15 million visitors by 2015 and maintains that its growth will remain strong. Similarly, Abu Dhabi retains hopes of attracting 2.7 million visitors by 2012. firstname.lastname@example.org