x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

September serves up windfall for tourism

Passenger traffic through Dubai International Airport rose by 6.2 per cent last month as the airport gears up to handle a surge in travellers for the Hajj.

A view of Dubai airport. About 4.2 million passengers passed through the airport last month.
A view of Dubai airport. About 4.2 million passengers passed through the airport last month.

Dubai's airport and hotels had a windfall last monthas visitor numbers surged following a slowdown during the height of summer and Ramadan.

An expansion of routes by airlines using Dubai International Airport helped push up passenger traffic by 6.2 per cent last month.

About 4.2 million passengers passed through the airport compared with 3.9 million during September last year.

"We have had a good year so far in terms of passenger traffic and with the Islamic pilgrimage of Haj just a few days away, we expect to see already robust passenger numbers surge over the coming weeks," said Paul Griffiths, the chief executive of Dubai Airports.

The boost for Dubai hotels was partly driven by continued diverted tourist flows to the emirate amid unrest in other parts of the Middle East and was also helped by the earlier timing of Ramadan in August.

There was a 20.4 per cent increase last month in revenue per available room to US$135.10 (Dh496.20) compared with last year at hotels in Dubai, despite an increase in supply, according to data from STR Global, a research firm based in London.

"The number of rooms in Dubai has increased and the percentage of occupancy has increased," said Syed Zulfiqar Mehdi, the director of sales and marketing at City Seasons Hotel and Suites in Dubai.

"Due to the disturbance in Egypt, the GCC market has moved to Dubai. In September it was the Eid holidays, when a number of people were travelling from the GCC and the school holidays of Saudi Arabia and the GCC were extended."

Mr Medhi said business flows this month and next month were also positive.

"The weather is in favour. Now a lot of GCC travellers are moving to Dubai, especially given that Thailand has floods. From November 4 to 9 we're sold out for the Eid holidays. It's a very heathy sign that the peak season has started with good numbers." Major exhibitions next month, such as the Dubai Airshow, are also expected to help.

There has, however, been a slight dip in the number of European visitors this month, because of economic uncertainty, Mr Mehdi said.

"We were busy for the Eid period," said Wael El Behi, the executive assistant manager at Ramada Downtown. "The business started bouncing back from September onwards. The weather conditions are not that hot compared to August."

Hoteliers have also cited Dubai's relative affordability as a major factor in helping to drive visitors to the emirate from markets including India.

In the first nine months of the year, passenger traffic at Dubai International Airport has risen to 37.5 million, an increase of 7.8 per cent over the same period last year.

There was a decline in traffic on Middle Eastern routes, Dubai Airports reported.

But increased services to Russia and eastern Europe helped boost passenger traffic. The budget carrier flydubai's expansion into Russia in recent months has meant the market expanded by 33.9 per cent. Growth in traffic to Saudi Arabia helped the GCC market grow by 31.9 per cent. The eastern European market rose by 18.7 per cent, with North America increasing 17.6 per cent.

In preparation for a further rise in traffic for the Haj, the airport plans to deploy additional personnel and dedicated passport control counters to handle the movement of thousands of pilgrims travelling through the airport.

The only black spot was a drop in freight movement during the month. It handled 177,128 tonnes of freight last month, 5.5 per cent less than the 187,390 tonnes it handled during the same period last year.