LONDON // Expatriates in the UAE may be a blessing to the European tourism industry as it faces a drastic decline caused by the worldwide financial crisis. Spending by UAE expatriates is a bright spot in an otherwise grim outlook for global tourism. They spent US$6 billion (Dh22bn) in 2007, according to a report released in London yesterday at the World Travel Market by Euromonitor International, a tourism research firm.
With expectations that the UAE's economy will remain strong and the number of resident expatriates will grow, that figure is also expected to increase. Most of the money is spent in Europe, said Michelle Grant, the research manager for Euromonitor. "A lot of wealthy expatriates go to Europe to escape the summer heat, so Europe will probably be the beneficiary of that money." Many of the travellers also go home for visits.
Middle Eastern locations such as Muscat are doing more to lure expatriates, Ms Grant said. The Muscat Festival, which Oman has run since 1998, is popular. Among Middle East expatriates, only those in Egypt spend more than those in the UAE. "Also, more expatriates are entering the region, especially in the finance sector where the jobless have been looking to the region to live and to work," Ms Grant said.
The report said the UAE was better positioned than most countries to weather the financial crisis. The number of hotels in the area is still rising and no major tourism projects have been cancelled. The number of hotels in the country is expected to reach 515 by 2012, up from 453 in 2007. According to the Arab Advisors Group, the number of expatriates in the UAE is expected to grow five per cent each year.
Euromonitor also said the number of budget hotels and airlines in the region will increase, since expatriates tend to prefer to travel cheaply. By comparison, Arabs have traditionally favoured luxury accommodations and flights. Tourism in Asia is also expected to defy the global trend as financial destinations such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Shanghai and Mumbai become global hubs for business tourism, the report said.
By 2012 Asia expects 80 million business travellers. In the United States tourists are seeking holidays that allow them to volunteer or give back to the communities they visit. Conscientious and sustainable travel became popular after Hurricane Katrina, which encouraged Americans to become more philanthropic. In the UK the successes of the low-cost airlines Ryanair and Easy Jet indicate a shift towards cheaper travel.
"They [Britons] haven't stopped taking holidays," said Caroline Bremner, a research manager at Euromonitor. "Where before they might have taken a long-haul flight, now they're taking a medium-haul flight. If they were used to taking a medium-haul flight, now they're taking a short haul, and from there it's domestic." The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority has said it is too early to predict what effect the financial crisis would have on the number of visitors coming to the region.
The London office of the Dubai Department of Commerce, Tourism and Marketing said it expected steady growth in the number of travellers who go to Dubai on holiday. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org