Asian tourists infuse their cultures into Dubai's fabric
At 8.30am the lavish breakfast buffet at Atlantis, The Palm is busy with guests and the Indian businessman Ramakrishna Aberahalli is sampling the dried shrimp wrapped in banana leaf.
It is his fifth time in Dubai and he cannot get enough of the place.
"There is so much change in Dubai," says Mr Aberahalli, one of the rising number of Asian tourists who are visiting the city and rapidly influencing the selection of food at hotel buffets, the languages spoken by the waiting staff and much else.
During their five days in town, his family of four who were travelling with eight other people from India, have taken in a desert safari, Ski Dubai and an Abu Dhabi city tour.
Tourists from Asian economic powerhouses such as China and India have been dubbed the "new global explorers" in a report from the InterContinental Hotels Group and the British consultancy The Futures Company.
The global tourism industry is increasingly being shaped by the growth in outbound travel from developing markets, such as China, the Middle East and India, said Richard Solomons, the chief executive of InterContinental, on the sidelines of the 13th summit of the World Travel & Tourism Council last week.
Asian travellers will account for a third of the world's travel spending by 2020, compared with 21 per cent today, according to the report. Over the next 10 years, more people from Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and Africa are expected to join them as incomes grow in emerging economies and international travel becomes more affordable.
The UAE is already seeing a growing number of tourists from China and India, according to tourism bureaus in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. And with the average spending of a Chinese tourist at Dh4,092 (US$1,114) per UAE visit, the luxury hospitality segment is benefiting.
At Atlantis, The Palm, where Mr Aberahalli was staying, the number of Indian guests has risen by 20 per cent in a year. But even that pales in comparison to the number of guests from China, which increased 67 per cent last year.
Other upcoming markets for the hotel chain, owned by South Africa's Kerzner Group, include Japan, Turkey, Nigeria and South Africa.
"The two real stars are India and China," said Lisa Goswell, vice president of group sales at Atlantis, The Palm. The hotel has representatives in both countries and tailors rates and offerings, to both markets.
A 28 per cent rise in Chinese visitors means Dubai is looking to capitalise on the Dh202 billion that Chinese travellers spend per year worldwide, according to Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
The Chinese New Year travel period, which usually spans four weeks, brought a 30 per cent increase in the number of guests this year over last, Ms Goswell said.
While Dubai is regarded as a shopping destination, underscored by the success of retail outlets within the Atlantis, The Palm, Abu Dhabi is seen more as an experience destination with desert and cultural offerings.
India is the second largest source market for hotel guests in Abu Dhabi after the United Kingdom. Between January and November 2012, 125,180 Indian guests stayed in the capital - a 30 per cent increase on 2011.
The number of visitors from China to Abu Dhabi increased 76 per cent, while Russian arrivals advanced 44 per cent between January and November 2012.
In Abu Dhabi the Anantara chain of hotels is seeing a rise in Chinese and Russian tourists followed by those from South Korea and Japan. The chain's Qasr Al Sarab hotel on the edge of the Empty Quarter in Liwa is especially popular among Asian guests.
The advantage of the Chinese market is that the travellers tend to go round in groups, and "it is easy to adapt your food and beverage offerings to a group", said Nancy Nusrally, a spokeswoman for Anantara Eastern Mangroves Resort in the capital.
But visits tend to be brief - the average stay of Chinese guests is just one night at the hotel.
Nonetheless the hotel has seen a 10 per cent rise in the Chinese market generated by tour operators and direct online bookings in the past six months, Ms Nusrally said.
With the rise of Chinese tourists travelling abroad, InterContinental, which owns the Crowne Plaza and Staybridge Suites brands, is also responding. It has some 50,000 rooms under development in China and about half the hotels it plans to develop in three to five years are in emerging markets.
InterContinental has also customised its offering in China with a new brand called Hualuxe Hotels and Resorts.
Back at Atlantis, The Palm, Mark Patten, the vice president of culinary for the hotel, has monitored the growth of visitors from China, India and Middle East over the past six years. It plans to open a second restaurant offering Cantonese, Szechuan and Shanghai style dishes later this year to meet rising demand.
Chinese travellers "want to try Arabic but you can't change one's mentality if one wants congee [a Chinese porridge] for breakfast that they have been having every day," Mr Patten said. The Indian buffet restaurant Kaleidoscope has 30 per cent Indian, Arabic and Mediterranean dishes, the rest being Asian.
The hotel has also increased its selection of vegetarian dishes to cater to the Indian market, Mr Patten said. "But it is a careful balancing act because when we introduce dishes we have to take some off the menu and someone else might not like it."
His team reflects the guest mix with Indian chefs among his 450-member staff representing the top three nationalities alongside Filipinos and Sri Lankans.
At the breakfast buffet Mr Aberahalli has no complaints. He may well come back for a sixth time, despite spending 600,000 Indian rupees (Dh40,853) during the trip, including buying gold jewellery
"There's lots of pollution and population growth in Bangalore," he says, referring to his home town. "And Dubai has nice entertainment for children."
Updated: April 21, 2013 04:00 AM