x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Egypt's loss is Dubai's tourism gain

Dubai is seeing more tourists coming into the emirate, helped by the fact that a number of travellers are avoiding Egypt and seeking alternative destinations.

Dubai's hotels and tour operators are welcoming more winter sun-seekers as tourists avoid Egypt in favour of safer destinations.

Hotel occupancy levels in Dubai are 20 per cent higher than this time last year, with the instability of parts of the Mena region playing a role in the increase.

"Dubai is a good refuge, in a way, for tourists," said Samir Hamadeh, the director of sales and marketing at Alpha Tours Dubai. "Being one of the safest destinations in the world, Dubai is always the first option for tourists to divert to and seek as an alternative."

Abu Dhabi is also bullish on future tourist arrivals, yesterday raising its target number of hotel guests for this year to 2 million from 1.9 million after it exceeded its expected guest numbers for last year.

Last year, Abu Dhabi received 1.81 million guests compared with a target of 1.65 million, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) said.

The ADTA said it planned to focus on segments of the industry including cruises, heritage, events, and golf this year. "We have our work cut out for us with another 4,000-plus rooms … due online this year," said Mubarak al Muhairi, the director general of the ADTA.

Egypt's economy is heavily dependent on tourism, with visitors flocking to Cairo to see the pyramids, while the Red Sea resort destinations of Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada are particularly popular among Europeans. Tourism accounts for more than 11 per cent of Egypt's GDP. The country's tourism revenue reached US$9 billion (Dh33.05bn) in the first nine months of last year, with some 12.5 million tourists visiting in 2009.

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"So you can imagine if a certain percentage of that business transfers to Dubai, it makes a big impact," Mr Hamadeh said.

"This has been witnessed with the hotel occupancy levels, which have been exceeding an average of 96 to 97 per cent across the board in Dubai for the past one week.

"European tourists are usually very cautious in terms of safety and security, so definitely it affected not only Cairo, but the other cities and the beach resorts.

"We have received so many requests from the European markets to operate charter flights. They are considering diverting routes into our destination. European tour operators are stopping sales on so many areas of Egypt, so they need to transfer all their tourists who are already booked into other destinations."

The Dubai Shopping Festival, good weather and promotions are also helping to attract more tourists amid a recovery in the wider global sector, hoteliers and tour operators say.

Premjit Bangara, the travel manager at Sharaf Travel in Dubai, said there had been a surge in the number of visitors from Libya going to Dubai as a direct result of political instability in the region.

"Normally, Libyans go to Tunisia and Cairo for their holidays," he said. "Because of the unrest, that crowd is coming into Dubai. From my experience, our flights are coming in very full. The Dubai Shopping Festival is also a catalyst."

Mr Bangara said Sharaf's business from Libya had increased by 20 to 25 per cent compared with this time last year.

Business travel from Dubai to Cairo has dried up, he said, adding that it was not the peak season for leisure travel from the UAE.

Mr Hamadeh said Dubai, which was once primarily a destination for the extremely wealthy, could now appeal to budget travellers, with hotels in the emirate, offering attractive deals.

"Dubai has lately become a destination that can cater for different budget requirements, and this has helped a lot for the people moving from Egypt into Dubai," he said.

Hoteliers say the situation means that many guests, including Chinese tourists travelling for the Lunar New Year, have cancelled their trips to Egypt and opted to stay in Dubai instead.

"Chinese New Year brought very substantial business to Dubai," said Syed Zulfiqar Mehdi, the director of sales and marketing at the Samaya Hotel, a five-star property at Deira in Dubai.

"Some of them were supposed to go to Cairo and because of the situation they cancelled their plans and most of them stayed in Dubai. The impact is shown in the shopping malls, the hotels and the tourist destinations. And Dubai's weather is perfect. The impact is favourable to Dubai now."

He said the hotel had also received guests from the GCC and Europe who had avoided Egypt.

"It has definitely helped a lot, but it is not what we are depending on, and we always hope that this turmoil in Egypt ends very soon," Mr Hamadeh said.

 

rbundhun@thenational.ae