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Tourists of Chinese descent living in Australia visit Beijing Restaurant in Abu Dhabi. They were on a five-day trip to the UAE.
Andrew Henderson Staff Photographer
Tourists of Chinese descent living in Australia visit Beijing Restaurant in Abu Dhabi. They were on a five-day trip to the UAE.

Burj Khalifa, malls and beaches entice Chinese tourists

Formula for a tourism boom: "Chinese people love shopping and Dubai has the largest shopping centres."

Beijing // So many Chinese tourists are visiting Dubai that Jumeirah Beach is beginning to resemble a Chinese beach resort. The number of tourists visiting the UAE from China was expected to grow by tens of thousands this year, continuing a trend that began when the Chinese government lifted travel restrictions to the Emirates last year.

Chinese tourism officials say Dubai is rapidly becoming a favourite destination for travellers, who are taking advantage of their healthy economy and better deals on package tours. About 150,000 Chinese tourists visited Dubai in 2009, according to the Beijing office of Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM). The year before, Dubai hosted 96,300 Chinese hotel guests, indicating a 55.8 per cent rise in Chinese visitors in one year.

"The number of tourists to Dubai is growing up rapidly," said Ivy Gao, a senior executive at the DTCM office who has been to the UAE four times. She expects an increase this year of 15 to 20 per cent. "So many Chinese visit Dubai they say the Jumeirah Beach is just like Sanya," she said, referring to a beach destination in China. "Dubai has things like the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building that Chinese people like a lot. Chinese people love shopping and Dubai has the largest shopping centres. So that's why Dubai is hot."

Tourist numbers have jumped since September, when the UAE secured "approved destination status" in China, which meant agencies could advertise the Emirates and send tour groups. International travel by Chinese people has remained buoyant in the face of a global tourism downturn, in part thanks to China's more rapid rebound from the economic slump. The UAE appears to be enjoying a growing profile, and Dubai in particular has become better known since the opening of the Burj Khalifa.

"I've read a lot of newspaper stories about Dubai," said Zhou Yuang, 41, a doctor who lives in Beijing. "It's supposed to be a safe place, from the publicity you hear about the city." Another Beijing resident, Zhang Yong Feng, 24, who works for a technology company and is originally from Shanxi province, said his impression from the television and the internet was that Dubai was "very prosperous and magnificent".

Liu Wei, 52, a retired employee with a development company, heard about Dubai through a friend's son who studied there. "I am quite interested in the Royal Family and the local food," she said. "I would certainly like to go there." This year, the DTCM plans to extend promotional activities to about 10 "second-tier" Chinese cities. Until now, it has focused on Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, in which it opened offices in 2008.

The DTCM organises seminars at which representatives from UAE hotels and airlines meet Chinese travel agents. Among the new targets: cities such as Tianjin, near Beijing, and Shenyang, in the north-west. These gatherings help tour operators strike more competitive deals with UAE hotels and airlines, Miss Gao said, and this has helped drive down the price of package trips by at least 20 per cent. A four-day, three-night tour to the UAE costs about 5,000 yuan (Dh2,690) with airfare. The Chinese tourists' trips often include legs in Turkey, Egypt or the Maldives.

Within the UAE, the typical itinerary features a night in the Burj al Arab, two nights in a four-star hotel, a desert safari and a trip to Abu Dhabi. Eric Lao, an executive with Uniway, one of the largest Chinese tour operators organising UAE visits, said his company planned to offer longer trips to the capital. "We're going to take more trips to Abu Dhabi, and maybe stay there one more night," he said.

Since the UAE gained approved destination status, he said, his company has been sending about 6,000 people a month; before, the figure was closer to 1,000. "The number of people travelling to Dubai is increasing very rapidly," said Rao Tin, a director at China International Travel Service. "The number this year should be very big." @Email:dbardsley@thenational.ae

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