x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Dubai tourism has never been more diverse

Tourists to Dubai are coming from an increasingly diverse range of countries as the industry grows, with China and India playing an increasingly important role.

A visit to Dubai is not complete without a tour of Burj Khalifa, the world's highest building. Amy Leang /The National
A visit to Dubai is not complete without a tour of Burj Khalifa, the world's highest building. Amy Leang /The National

Suveckshya Shah was vexed she could not get into the Burj Khalifa on Monday.

Even though hordes of tourists gathered around the entrance to the world's tallest building on a bright, pleasantly warm afternoon in Dubai, tickets were sold out until late into the evening.

"It's really a pity," said Ms Shah, 32, a humanitarian worker from Kathmandu in Nepal. "I wanted to see this building and the seven-star hotel."

The scene this week at the Burj Khalifa reflected the surge in the number of tourists coming into Dubai this year, with visitors coming from a far more diverse range of locations compared with a couple of years ago, when the emirate was largely attracting wealthy travellers from Europe.

Ms Shah had paid a Kathmandu travel agency 56,500 Nepalese rupees (Dh2,571) to join a three-day tour group, which included flights, accommodation and excursions such as a desert safari. She flew into the emirate on the budget carrier flydubai and is staying at the three-star Astoria Hotel in Bur Dubai.

The number of hotel guests staying in Dubai increased by 11 per cent in the first three quarters of the year compared with the same period last year, while total revenues increased by 19 per cent to Dh10.96 billion (US$2.98bn), according to figures from the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.

Dubai has benefited from its relative affordability today compared with the peak of the city's boom in 2007 and 2008, officials say.

Hoteliers have reported increases in the number of GCC tourists coming into the emirate, in part because of political instability in other areas of the region.

"[For] the places which have problems, it's better to stay away until it's finished," said Ali Al Shukaili, 24, from Oman, who was in Dubai Mall on Monday having driven for four hours from Oman's Ad Dhariah region with two friends. The technician was in town for just a day, but said he had visited Dubai a couple of other times this year.

"We're here to see the malls," he said. "It's a big town with lots of people." He estimated the three friends would spend about 30 Omani rials (Dh286.58) each during their visit to the emirate.

The number of visitors from the region, particularly Saudi Arabia, has surged as destinations such as Egypt and Bahrain have become less popular.

Faisal Al Mousa, 32, a bank manager from Riyadh, was enjoying a coffee on The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence, which was bustling with activity late on Monday evening. Mr Al Mousa made the 10-hour drive from Riyadh with a friend, and was staying at the luxury Dusit Residence hotel apartments in Dubai Marina on his four-day holiday. "I'm probably spending about $100 to $200 a day, not including the hotel," he said, adding he had been shopping for clothes and was planning to go driving in the desert. Mr Al Mousa said he had visited Dubai five times this year.

The number of tourists to Dubai from the UK has declined this year, as that country's economy remains weak. By contrast, the number of tourists from emerging economies such as India and China has increased.

Dr P Banerjee, a medic from Calcutta, was on his second visit to Dubai, this time bringing his wife.

"We booked the package in Calcutta for three days and two nights. It cost $300 per head, excluding the air fare." The price included a city tour, dhow cruise, and desert safari. They had flown into Dubai on Emirates Airline and were staying at the Imperial Suites, Dr Banerjee said on Monday, as a couple of large tour groups from Thailand and Japan snapped pictures nearby.

The expansion of the aviation industry in the emirate has played a major role in bringing more visitors into Dubai.

"Always it is so important for a destination such as Dubai to have a vibrant airline that is willing to commit to expanding," said Gerald Lawless, the executive chairman of Jumeirah Group, which manages luxury hotels including the Burj Al Arab.

"Certainly we see huge growth from a small base of Chinese visitors. Another interesting development is that the number of European visitors, the absolute number has not decreased, and we do find that the Russian market is very important. Into Jumeirah, [Russia is] now almost equal to the UK in terms of the number of people staying with us. As the airlines open up new destinations, we get new visitors from these destinations."

One of those airlines, the rapidly-expanding budget carrier flydubai,brought in the tour groupfrom Nepal that included Ms Shah.

She said she would be back to Dubai soon - so she could finally admire the views from the Burj Khalifa.

rbundhun@thenational.ae

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