x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Gulf travellers flock to South East Asia

Travellers from the Gulf region are increasingly looking to explore destinations in Asia.

Singapore is proving a popular destination for tourists from the Middle East.
Singapore is proving a popular destination for tourists from the Middle East.

Gulf travellers are flocking to Asia to explore a wider range of destinations, tourism boards and travel agents say.

Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are the most popular choices in the region for travellers from the UAE, according to Emirates Holidays. Reflecting this increase in demand,

Singapore yesterday reported a 25.6 per cent increase last year in the number of visitors from the Middle East, compared with 2009.

Destinations such as South Korea and Japan are also growing in popularity among travellers from the region, industry experts said. "If you look at the key markets of where the Middle East travellers have moved towards, it would be Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore to some extent," said Jason Ong, the area director for Middle East and Asia for the Singapore Tourism Board. "We have noticed that travellers are looking at other destinations and they are trying to broaden their horizons for Asia travel."

Visitors to Singapore from the UAE were up 14 per cent last year on the previous year to 56,467, representing a record number of tourists from the UAE. These figures include UAE residents and expatriates. In 2009, the number of visitors dropped by 3.2 per cent compared with 2008 amid a global slowdown in travel.

Tourists from Kuwait to Singapore were up 46 per cent last year to 8,368 compared with the previous year, with the Singapore Tourism Board citing the addition of direct flights between the countries.

Singapore last year reported a record 11.6 million tourists, up almost 20 per cent from 9.7 million the previous year, with the destination adding new attractions such as the Marina Bay Sands entertainment development.

"For us Asia has definitely gone up," said Davinder Kaur, the destination development manager at Emirates Holidays.

"People are getting excited about Asia. The good thing with Asia is that it's value for money and also the level of service and shopping. And the weather is beautiful. [UAE travellers] are exploring new places," she said, explaining that generally these countries were year-round destinations.

Growth in flights connecting the Gulf region to countries in Asia has played a major role in boosting the number of tourists, Ms Kaur said. Tokyo, for example, was proving popular among UAE residents following the launch of direct flights from Dubai by Emirates Airline last year.

Overall, the tourism industry is experiencing a recovery. Global tourist arrivals were up 6.7 per cent last year to 935 million following a 4 per cent decline the previous year, according to the UN World Tourism Organisation.

In Asia, international tourist arrivals grew 13 per cent last year compared with 2009 to reach 204 million, a record for the region.

"More people are visiting Thailand from the Gulf region," according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Dubai and Middle East office.

The authority said Thailand last year experienced a 15 per cent increase in the number of travellers from the Middle East compared with the previous year, despite the political instability in the country.

Both Thailand's and Singapore's tourism boards have said they are trying to attract more people from the Gulf for medical check-ups and treatment.

Meanwhile, the number of UAE visitors to South Korea surged last year, helped by an increase in mutual economic activity, according to the Korea Tourism Organisation. South Korea welcomed 2,477 UAE passport holders, according to figures from the organisation, compared with 887 visitors in 2009.