ABU DHABI // Tourists are flocking to the region in defiance of the global economic downturn, a phenomenon industry leaders attribute in part to cooler temperatures that have extended the holiday season. A new report by the UN's World Tourism Organisation shows the number of visitors to the UAE for the first four months of 2008 grew by 5.7 per cent over the same period the previous year, while the number of visitors to the wider Middle East increased by 12.5 per cent. Occupancy rates for hotels were at 87 per cent.
"It's been a lot busier," said Chris Denil, the complex and recreation manager for the Le Meridien and Westin hotels in Dubai. Beaches have been packed, he said, and the country's restaurants, hotels and attractions were reaping the benefit as residents and tourists made the most of the uncharacteristically temperate weather throughout June and July. During June, the average temperature was almost a full degree below normal, said Darren Eulenstein, the chief meteorologist at the Dubai airport weather office. "This goes against recent trends. Every month, increasing temperatures have been normal. It's unusual to see a month that is below the average," he said.
In the early summer, typically, the region is cooled by a phenomenon known as the 40-day shamal, in which a low-pressure system in southern Iran creates wind in the Gulf states. This year, the shamal has been particularly effective. "The air that sits off the Gulf approaches sea-surface temperatures," said Mr Eulenstein. "This year's 40-day shamal had wider influence than in previous years." Mr Eulenstein said the temperature might also feel cooler because the country had become accustomed to above-average heat over the past few years. "Since 2002, temperatures have consistently been above average. This year, temperatures have been cooler than normal."