x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Fewer Britons choose Dubai this year

The number of UK guests checking into Dubai's hotels dipped in the first quarter.

Tourists at Al Souk Al Kabir. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Tourists at Al Souk Al Kabir. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Austerity in the UK is taking its toll as fewer British holidaymakers ventured to Dubai in the first quarter of the year.

The number of guests checking into Dubai's hotels from the UK between January and March fell 2 per cent to 184,203 from 187,948 visitors in the same period last year, according to figures from the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.

But overall, the Dubai market enjoyed a 14 per cent increase in the number of hotel guests. The drop in UK numbers, while small, is significant because more tourists from that country than anywhere else visit Dubai.

"The UK economy is down," said Syed Zulfiqar Mehdi, the director of sales and marketing at the Samaya Hotel in Dubai.

"That is a major cause of the problem. The price might have been a little bit higher compared to last year because in this first quarter every hotel has done very well. People in the UK have a very different budget to travel."

British consumers have seen their spending power decrease amid an economic environment of austerity, including an increase in value-added tax introduced at the beginning of the year.

Mr Mehdi said the unrest in some parts of the Middle East may also have deterred some prospective tourists from the UK from holidaying in Dubai.

"A lot of people who don't have enough exposure to the Middle East mix everything together, even though Dubai is an unaffected area."

The emirate managed to more than compensate for the drop in UK visitors, however, as more guests came from China and the GCC.

Hoteliers reported soaring occupancy levels as many GCC travellers were diverted to Dubai after abandoning plans to holiday in places such as Egypt that were affected by unrest.

A total of 2.38 million guests stayed in Dubai's hotels in the first quarter, up from 2.09 million during thesame period last year, according to the tourism department.

Hotel revenues grew more than 16 per cent during the period to Dh4.36 billion (US$1.18bn), up from Dh3.75bn.

There was an 18 per cent increase in the number of hotel guests from China to 54,802 in the first quarter from 46,401 the year before.

"Definitely the increase otherwise is because Dubai has benefited from everything that is happening around the region," said Harjinder Singh, a hotel consultant at CB Richard Ellis.

A survey by Sunshine.co.uk, a travel agency based in the UK, found Dubai was perceived as the fifth least safe destination by respondents concerned about arrests over alcohol or drug offences.

The tourism department and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office have both issued guidelines warning about regulations on alcohol, swearing, and public displays of affection to British tourists visiting Dubai after a series of highly publicised incidents.

rbundhun@thenational.ae