The UAE's ambitious tourism plans appear to be on track following the release of a global tourism study that ranks the country as one of the world's leading destinations. The Country Brand Index (CBI) 2008 report, conducted by the US-based hospitality research firm FutureBrand, also indicates the UAE's potential to top Europe and the US in the coming year as the financial crisis takes its toll on traditional tourism regions.
As a tourist destination, the UAE ranked second, behind China, in the rising star category of the annual report. Last year, the Emirates ranked fifth in the same category. "To maintain a strong country brand, there is a need to sustain the momentum through initiatives that deliver the brand's core essence," said Mario Natarelli, the chief executive officer of FutureBrand. "In the case of the UAE, the country has remained in a class of its own in delivering world-class hospitality options that have truly redefined the industry. The UAE's brand initiatives are clearly aimed at reaching higher levels of excellence in terms of service quality, innovation and meeting high expectations of the hospitality market."
But it was in the resort and lodging options category that the UAE stood out, beating the US and the Maldives, which came in second and the third. "I think that the UAE has a better chance than any European country to get ahead in the field of tourism, provided that projects continue to be built," said Alex Kyriakidis, the global managing partner of tourism, hospitality and leisure at Deloitte, an international consultant.
The study involved a three-tiered evaluation system for ranking country brands. The index incorporates global quantitative research and expert opinions, as well as statistics that link brand equity to assets, growth and expansion. Almost 2,700 respondents from the US, UK, China, Australia, Japan, Brazil, the UAE, Germany and Russia participated in the survey, which included both Business and leisure travellers.
However, the report also indicated a drop in the UAE's ranking in the conferences category, from second place last year to seventh place.Japan emerged as the number one conference centre, rising six places from the previous year, while the US dropped one place finish second, with Singapore third.FutureBrand was unable to comment on the UAE's drop in this category, but some analysts over the past year have said that the shortage of rooms in the country was the biggest obstacle limiting the growth of business tourism.
Last month, Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon, the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), revealed plans for the capital to offer more than 26,000 hotel rooms by the end of 2012 to support the growth of conferences and business events. "Overall, there are 50,000 to 60,000 hotel rooms that will be built in the UAE over the coming five years and if the developers manage to bring these projects to life, tourism will continue to boom in the UAE," said Mr Kyriakidis.
On a global level, travel and tourism is the fastest growing sector, accounting for US$5.9 trillion (Dh21.67tn) of economic activity worldwide this year, and generating more than 238 million jobs. The estimated expenditure for total world personal travel this year was expected to reach $3.2tn, while business travel would generate an additional $843tn, said the report. Despite the early signs of the economic crisis, the number of international tourist arrivals from January to April this year increased by 5 per cent compared with the same period last year, to reach 266 million, it added.
In Dubai's case, where the tourism authority has set an ambitious goal of attracting 15 million tourists by 2015, the only way to stay ahead was to continue developing attractions, said Mr Kyriakidis. "Projects such as Dubailand and other theme parks and entertainment facilities will be the key attractions over the coming period and if they materialise in time, the UAE will stay well ahead of the game," he said.